Category Archives: Opinion

Student Government, Spokes Council, and the Rethinking of Senators

For most of my college career my involvement with Student Government had been nonexistent at best. During the past semester I slowly found myself slipping into this isolated and endearing little mess of politics through my involvement with its Public Relations committee and my position as a manager of the campus Television station. From my understanding the Purchase Student Government is in a much better state than it was in the early 2000’s but its easy to tell that its still in need of a lot of growing, which seems to be happening currently. There’s a lot of voices chiming into a discussion that might lead to gradual reforms of this non-for-profit cooperation masquerading as a government.

My slight antagonism toward the PSGA isn’t completely secret. I ‘m frustrated by the lack of transparency, the half-assed attempts to expand political activity beyond a small though flexible friend group,  its idleness in the face of a campus administration that refuses student input, and the petty political squabbles and ego-trips that seem to happen on a weekly basis. I will not discuss these aspects in full here but offer them to shed light on where I stand. All that considered, I think that both the PSGA and those that currently hold office have a lot of potential. I have hope for the ongoing discussions and would like to publicly enter my voice into them.

A month ago a dear friend of mine, who is one of the more fiery and controversial senators in these discussions, and I were discussing matters involving the PSGA, the Purchase General Assembly (a non-PSGA affiliated group allied with the Occupy movement of which I am proudly an active member), and the idea of Student Unions. When my friend mentioned his idea to make senators hold mandatory town hall meetings my imagination began to race.

I had moments before introduced him to the idea of a Spoke Council. Spokes Councils sparked a bit of controversy at OWS before the November eviction due to the way they had be implemented. While this attempt hadn’t been the best, Spoke Councils have proved throughout history to be useful tools in the implementation of direct democracy. “A spokes council is a directly democratic structure that was inspired by the Quakers and numerous indigenous cultures and used widely in the Women’s Movement, the Anti-Nuclear Movement, and the Global Justice Movement,” as explained on occupywallst.org.

Using its implementation at Zucotti park as an example I’ll try my best to explain the nature of a Spoke Council. At Zucotti there are more Working Groups and Caucuses than I believe anyone has kept track of and thus a lot of members there in. In order to bring some form of organization to meetings that had been held as General Assemblies the spokes system was implemented. In this system each working group chooses one representative called a Spoke that will speak on behalf of the group. The Spoke only holds their position for a single meeting before being rotated.

At the Spokes Council,  a Spoke relays the will of their group to the rest of the meeting. The group that a Spoke is representing must reach consensus on what the Spoke can say. For instance, if their is a proposal seeking consensus on the floor then a Spoke’s working group would internally reach consensus on whether or not they agree with the proposal. The Spoke would then relay this message.

The Spoke is thus only a medium through which a larger ensemble of individuals relay their wishes. The Spoke cannot have their own agenda and may not go against the wishes of the group.

Now in representational democracy the closest equivalent is a senator. A senator is elected and then supposedly speaks for the will of their constituents. That’s it. There’s no more true accountability beyond this point. A senator is free to follow whatever agenda they wish with their only constraint being a fear of not being reelected. This rings true from the U.S. government to Student Governments.

You’d think that liberal college students might try to push slightly away from the norm rather than upholding it. A Student Government would in fact be a perfect testing group for utopian ideas of governance like a spokes council.

In my correspondence with my senator friend I proposed a system that would overlay the Spokes Council system over the preexisting Senator system. At Purchase each Senator represents either a place of residence, a board of study, or, recently, athletics. In this hybrid system a Senator would take on the role of Spoke for the group they represent.

Each Senator would be required to hold at least a single Town Hall meeting each month. At the meeting they would be completely transparent to their constituents about their own recent actions in Senate and other recent developments within the Student Government. Further, whenever a highly important legislation is to be voted upon Senators must have an emergency town hall meeting; important legislation may include changes to the constitution or anything that would have a noticeable effect on the campus community.

At the meeting, community members may have the ability to, based on consensus, hold a the Senator to or prevent the Senator from certain actions; a quorum could be instated to maintain that its not just a few individuals holding a Senator hostage. The Senator may also take any idea discussed at the meeting and bring it forward as long as they aren’t barred from doing so by the community members.

One possible barrier to this may be a lack of attendance at Town Hall meetings. A once a month meeting seems doable for any college student but getting interest in the meetings may be another thing entirely. This would require the the PR committee and the Senators do their fair share of outreach. For Senators that speak on behalf of places of residence, they may enlist RAs and CAs to help increase attendance at Town Hall meetings.

This concept is rough. I’m not offering a finished product but rather a new path for which the current discussions may turn toward. If you have an interest to do so, please challenge some of these ideas or lend alternatives with the goal of strengthening this concept.

As I said before, Student Government should be a site of radical political experimentation. And please don’t be afraid of failure PSGA. We are students. Failure is something that we must do to learn and grow. Take risks and make change.

I like books that don’t end… (Of prefixes to fiction and the Thursday Next novels)

That’s a rough quote from myself upon finishing Jasper Ffforde’s “The Well of Lost Plot”, a Thursday Next novel, this morning. My father gave  me the first book, “The Eyre Affair,” on tape a month or so ago and I haven’t been able to stop reading the series yet. This series fits perfectly into the little world of my typical readings of which Pynchon sits prominently. In this world meta and post precede the word fiction to such an effect that one can barely see the noun but must focus on the signifier.

The next series can be summed up in something that seems like the rambling of a madman. Imagine 1985 but where the new emergent technology is no longer computers, which don’t exist, but rather technologies and abilities that allow one to enter the world of books which is no longer a rhetorical place but rather a very expansive but strangely small world where Miss Havisham can have a professional rivalry with the Red Queen. Other common place elements in this world include gang warfare between literary fans, time travel, the cloning of long gone species, vampires, werewolves, extreme taxes on cheese, and the domination of plays and literature over moving pictures.

To say the least this is quite a wonderful little fairy tale of a world that Fforde has created and of course this just makes up a small portion of the back story. The main plot, which follows Thursday Next, draws heavily from the adventure and spy genres.

Without revealing to much, its the plot that brings me to write this half-review. I have never before had to wait for the last twenty pages of a book to know what the true plot was. “The Eyre Affair” had been very blunt and had given us the basic premise fairly quickly allowing it to be a fun joy ride of adventure and I was caught off guard when I found myself over halfway through this book without really getting into something resembling a plot.

A genre that often does this same thing to me is mystery novels but if Fforde was attempting to make this book such he didn’t quite do it. The clues are few and far between for it to be such. Instead it made me feel as if I was watching a serial television series such as Doctor Who: tiny little stand alone plots that slowly reveal itty bitty portions of a larger plot.

While I did very much enjoy this book I find myself slightly empty right now. There’s something I expect from a novel and Fforde managed to hold that thing above my head. He’s still doing it and that’s why I already have the next book, “The Well of Lost Plots,” sitting on my desk.

Now of course I should be used to this being a fan of Pynchon and all but with Pynchon there’s a clear agreement between him and the reader. He IS going to be HARD to read, figure out, understand, sometimes enjoy, and he will almost definitely not offer a true plot so you shouldn’t bother yourself looking for one but should rather just enjoy the artistry.

Fforde on the other hand doesn’t write literary art but rather paper back adventure books. The deal is often different here. In this deal the plot should be somewhat straight forward, at least by the last quarter of the book, the reality of the world remains somewhat intact, and the world is believable enough to create real suspense. Fforde doesn’t allow such things or rather he achieves the end results without following the normal rules. But in doing so he makes one painfully aware that they are reading a book.

Very painfully aware. And in this way Fforde may even be a better example of post-modern literature than the great Pynchon. Not a better author but just more on point with what he wants to do. He is not writing mystery novels about crimes and murders but rather about the written word. He’s making us not love his characters but rather to love plot devices, word-play, and other literary necessaries that are often over looked.

Fforde is writing a book and nothing more than that.

New York Students Rising Conference Starts Tomorrow at noon in NYC

The website

It seems appropriate that the same summer that Occupy Wall Street was being envisioned also saw the beginnings of New York Students Rising (NYSR). NYSR, a network of SUNY and CUNY college students, was created with the purpose of amplifying the pleas of state college students for an end to the cutting of state funds, an end to the rising of tuition, an end to unfair student loan practices, and the beginnings of students having more say in the administration of their campuses.

In the words of their site’s about page:

NYSR is a statewide network of students and campus-organizations dedicated to defending public higher education and empowering students in New York State. From our campus administrations to the halls of state government, students are an under-represented constituency whose fate is at a perilous crossroads. Students are facing higher tuition and incurring greater debt to attend public universities that are under-funded, increasingly influenced by private corporate interests, and run by unaccountable administrators who receive a disproportionate amount of university resources. There is a pressing need for students to unite and organize to protect our common interests.

Prior to this year I had been going through a big patch of cynicism when it came to activism. On March 4th, 2010, a group of roughly fifty students, including myself (though my main contribution came in the form of providing dumpstered food, led a direct action on my campus which saw about 300 students occupying the Student Services building. The action was able to change the nature of this building for at least one day; similar to what OWS did with Zucotti park for about 2 months though not as amazing. However a lack of a follow-up and certain overbearing personalities among the main organizers led many to feel as though the action had been a disaster and discouraged about student activism. After many years of going by the activist label, had  a good and needed moment of self-critique and self-reflection which left me unsure if what I new of activism could work.

That’s why I found it strange how easy I had been convinced to join one of the first meetings of the Purchase chapter of NYSR. The meetings leading up to the first action, in October, were small and seemed to wreak with the same cynicism I had. There were of course more resilient members of our small meetings who didn’t focus all their attention on not repeating March 4th at all cost and who were able to lead the way to a very well done action.

Soon after this day Occupy Wall Street began. Occupy Wall Street seemed to bring new life into those had become cynical of activism including myself. Both those of my generation and those prior were excited to see members of all generations ending what had been a long state of apathy.

That’s when NYSR went silent though. This doesn’t mean that the college activism had stopped though. Many of those involved with NYSR seemed to transition easily to the OWS movement. New networks on top of NYSR were also formed including individual networking between colleges and more organized groups such as the Student General Assembly at Washington Square park. There was a lot to focus on and so NYSR was put on a hold it seemed.

Tomorrow begins the Winter conference for NYSR. I will be attending alongside fellow students from an array of SUNY and CUNY Colleges. CUNY has been very active in the past couple of months alongside OWS. Their relative closeness to each other allows for strong networks and organization. The SUNY Schools are a lot further apart. NYSR and other such networks are beneficial for bringing together the students of the state college system of New York. Fragmented we just seem like college kids raising a fuss. Together, as the entirety of SUNY and CUNY system, with our teachers, faculty, parents, friends, and supporters behind us, we can accomplish our goals.

After more than three months of the OWS movement, I feel that tomorrows conference will be a powerful one. Student activists have learned a lot since the last NYSR and first NYSR conference this past summer. Keep an eye of the students. We are fighting for the future of not just our education but the education of all. Education is a great tool in combating the numerous issues facing our world today. Public education makes it easier for all who are willing to learn to do so. Education should not be given out based upon the monetary assets of oneself or family. Wealth does not determine intelligence then why should it determine who can attend college.

For the sake of our future, we must fight for affordable Public education.

UPDATE: Keep March 6th open and plan to go to Albany…

I Am Not a Luddite

Cartoons like the one above make me frustrated. This frustration lies beyond the generalized stereotype of Occupy Protesters that it portrays. No it isn’t because cartoons like this miss the point that many Occupy identified individuals don’t believe in an end to capitalism. My frustration lies in the idea that an activist must be a Luddite. I’ve seen this so many times, have read it, and have been confronted about it. This idea that the Occupy movement must denounce technology.

Now I know that the argument isn’t as simple as this. The argument stems from the idea that if the Occupy movement is against large corporations they must resist all the commodities that these  corporations produce. The argument is valid but off the mark a little. The Occupy movement isn’t just about avoiding options that support large, corrupt corporations but also about finding alternatives.  When the Occupy hive mind announced that individuals should remove their money from large banking corporations they had an alternative ready: credit unions.

There are many within the movement who have for years been “off the grid.” Dumpster diving, foraging, and participating in other such activities. This is great. They are able to reduce their personal impact on the world around them greatly.

However, most of the world seems very hesitant toward taking on such lifestyles. Thus that is where alternatives come into play. Alternatives make moving away from corporate control a bit easier for most of those living comfortably within the dominate Western culture.

Now there are certain things that don’t need alternatives, such as McDonalds and Starbucks, and on that topic I agree wholeheartedly with the critique presented in the above cartoon.

There are also certain things that don’t yet have an alternative that are begging for one. The big one is computer technology and this brings me to the point of this essay.

Just like there are dumpster divers, squatters, and others that reject cooperate control by separating themselves from the problem there are Luddites. There is a strong history of Luddite beliefs within activist movements with the most notable one I can think of being the Environmental movement. This tradition, however, does not permeate throughout all movements that carry the activist or radical flag.

Computer and internet technology come horribly full of social and economic issues, however, they also present great opportunities. The internet has paved the way for “alternative globalization” where global connections are formed between individuals and not between markets. Social media has revolutionized how activism works and how movements are built. The list goes on but my point is that computers and related technologies are great tools. They are also a permanent reality. As much as frightened Luddites may wish for computers to disappear I don’t foresee this happening any time soon.

The Luddite tradition, in this case, is not only flawed but perhaps a tad dangerous. Like other aspects of the corrupt market system that controls the world, removing computer technology from ones life does not make the issues inherent to the technology go away. Consuming without a care in the world isn’t any better either though.

This is not a defense of Apple or any other related corporation. There are some pretty large issues with companies such as these; planned obsolesces, gold and silicon mining operations, and environmental impacts among them.

We need alternatives. There are plenty of software alternatives but the list becomes much smaller when it comes to hardware.

A solution is the individual who both embraces and is critical of computer technology. One who is technologically literate both as a consumer and a producer. From this group perhaps will rise those who are willing to take on the challenge of providing hardware alternatives.

Even more needed are those who are willing to teach the average consumer how to create, repair, and recycle the physical components, ie. computers, of this technology. There are some groups who have already appeared. Slash Root in New Paltz, New York is one such organization. From their facebook: “Slash Root is a freedom-focused technology collective offering web / python software development, consultation, computer repair, and more” with the more including education.

There needs to be more however. Many more.

The issues that the computer industry creates will not be challenged by a few who reject its products. As much as this essay has been a critique of comics like the above one and a place for me to vent my frustration with them, it is also a call to the Makers of the world. We must learn more and educate more. We must create a culture where the control of computer technology, one of the greatest tools ever created by man, is in the hands of the average citizen. We must also examine and find alternatives to the flaws inherent in this technology.

To the activists of the world, we must not reject technology out of hatred for what harm it creates. We must actively challenge it.

To the political cartoonists of the world… I’m not even going to bother. You’ll keep on with your half informed wittiness till the end of time no matter what I say. And good for you. You offer the challenges that the rest of us must rise to meet.

So as much as you frustrate the fuck out of me sometimes, thank you.