Every year the delegates to the United States Student Association’s National Student Congress must approve the Association’s campaigns for the year — establishing priorities for what the group will work on between then and the next Congress. Voter work and federal higher ed policy are locked in as perennials by USSA’s governing documents, but everything else is up for grabs.
This year seven of thirteen proposed campaigns made it through the delegates’ first round of vetting, but in the second round attention quickly focused on just three. Two of them — student loan forgiveness and support for the DREAM Act — had been approved unanimously in the first round, and drew little criticism in the second.
The third, “Legislating Shared Governance,” was where things got interesting.
Crafted by activists from Wisconsin, a state where students have a statutory right to participate in college governance, the proposal called on the Association to craft a national analysis of “campus and statewide conditions of student rights … abuses of student rights … and prospects for reform.” It further directed USSA to devote resources to defending and expanding students’ rights in campus governance, to create organizing materials and conference workshops in aid of such campaigns, to support legal action by students in defense of their rights, and finally to
“through its member campuses and statewide student associations, conduct a campus, statewide, and national grassroots and lobbying campaign to ensure state legislatures and university administrations codify these rights in state law and university policy.”
In the second round of debate a motion was made to select the DREAM Act and loan forgiveness plans — and only them — as USSA campaigns for the coming year. The shared governance proposal was offered and rejected as a third campaign in an amendment to that motion, but as debate continued it became clear that the DREAM/loan-forgiveness combo couldn’t win the plenary’s support without it.
And so, after several hours of debate and more than a few off-the-floor negotiating sessions, the amendment was offered again, and accepted.
Why was there so much disagreement? Mostly, I think, because while USSA’s officers and staff do a lot of non-electoral organizing work (and training), the Association’s official campaigns have in recent years primarily been federal legislative advocacy projects, and this isn’t that.
But as folks from Occupy to the DREAMers to USSA’s own partner the Student Labor Action Project (SLAP) have been demonstrating in recent months, there’s a lot happening around youth and student organizing right now that’s only peripherally (if at all) connected to legislative lobbying. This is a movement moment, and it’s going to be fascinating to see what USSA makes of it in the coming year.