The United States Student Association conducted its plenaries yesterday in sessions that began at 10:30 am and continued until nearly two o’clock the following morning. Along the way, the Association addressed more than forty items of business.
Tensions ran high before the plenaries over two resolutions — a proposal to create a “straight male caucus” within the Association and a call to overturn the board of directors’ opposition to Arizona’s SB 1070 law. But though emotions remained raw throughout the discussion of both bills, debate itself was civil and courteous on both sides.
The resolutions cast a spotlight on USSA’s long-running battles over constituency representation and the scope of its activities. With both being resoundingly defeated on the plenary floor, the short-term result in each case was to affirm the membership’s commitment to its traditional course. Conversations throughout the Congress in recent days, however, demonstrated that students from across the organization’s political spectrum are actively seeking out new ways to resolve the disputes.
Although most of the day was taken up by votes on administrative resolutions — a number of which will have real significance for USSA going forward — the real meat of the plenary was the consideration of what are known as “action agenda” items.
USSA’s action agenda items constitute its core organizing campaigns for the year. This year, two such items — a student vote campaign and the Association’s work on the federal budget and appropriations — were locked in as organizational mandates. That left the plenary to decide which of seven other proposals it would direct the organization to work on.
Two of the seven were withdrawn during the course of the plenaries, folded into administrative resolutions that the Association would engage on a smaller scale. Another three — on campus sexual assault prevention, university admissions reform, and support for free and universally accessible education at the community college level — were either tabled or voted down. In each case, a significant portion of the plenary expressed strong support for the proposals themselves, but argued that they were either too ambitious or not yet fully enough developed for the Association to take on as full-fledged organizing campaigns.
That left two campaigns that USSA did embrace, and will be taking on.
First, there’s the DREAM Act, one of the Association’s biggest projects in the year just ending. Stalled just short of the finish line in Congress, the Act would provide undocumented youth who were brought to the United States as children with a path to citizenship through college education.
Second, there’s a new Economic and Education Recovery Campaign, whose centerpiece is lobbying for the Local Jobs for America Act in coalition with USSA’s longtime partner Jobs With Justice. As the proposal for the campaign put it, this action item seeks to bring together “USSA member campuses, student labor organizations, [and] local community and civil rights organizations” to help the Association “build its organizing capacity and recruit new members.”
Those are the highlights of the session, but there was obviously a lot more. Congress attendees, feel free to pipe up with your own perspectives!