Yesterday was the second day of the 65th annual USSA National Student Congress, and it was mostly been given over to workshops and caucus/region/committee meetings. But there was also a lot of discussion in the meetings and the hallways about legislation and regulations to put forward at Monday’s plenaries, and a new electric charge in the air.
The big event of the day was nominations for national officers, which took place at lunch and set up the most interesting, and least predictable, USSA leadership race in a very long time.
For several decades, each year’s USSA vice president has run for — and won — the presidency. This means that running for veep, in practice, has meant setting yourself up for a two-year commitment, since it’s always been correctly assumed that you’d run for and win the presidency the following year.
For a long stretch before and after the time that I was involved as an undergrad, each year’s outgoing vice president/incoming president made it clear who they wanted to work with, and the organization ratified that choice in the vice presidential election. The incoming president had to choose someone who would win, which meant that they had to take organizational opinion into account, but the system wasn’t particularly democratic. My own memory suggests that folks who ran against the insider candidates tended to do so assuming they’d lose, and often made that fact close to explicit by running for president instead of veep.
But vice president races have gotten more contested in recent years, while interest in running protest candidacies for president has declined. When the current president, Victor Sanchez, won the vice presidency two years ago, it was in a closely fought race, and this year there are no fewer than four candidates for veep — each with a real constituency and a plausible path to victory.
The first vice presidential candidate nominated yesterday was Dylan Jambrek (Facebook | Website). Jambrek served as vice president of Wisconsin’s United Council, one of the country’s pre-eminent state student associations, last year, and if elected he would be the association’s first white male officer since the 1980s.
The next nominee was Sophie Zaman (Facebook | Website). Zaman has worked as the director of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, a student-run group at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She is the only vice presidential candidate never to have served on the USSA board of directors.
Next to be nominated was Ernesto Zumaya (Facebook | Website). An undocumented student and activist from UCLA, Zumaya would be the third consecutive USSA vice president — and the fourth in five years — to emerge from the University of California system.
Finally the delegates nominated Matt Corder0. Cordeiro is the immediate past president of the student association at Rutgers, perhaps USSA’s most activist member campus, and a founding organizer in New Jersey’s new state student association. (Cordeiro’s campaign has neither a Facebook page nor a website, but he did have the standout line of yesterday’s nominating speeches: “I like long walks on the picket line and revolutions in the rain.”)
A candidate Q & A is scheduled for dinner tonight, and voting will be by secret ballot at tomorrow’s plenary session. If no candidate receives a majority the two vote leaders will meet in a run-off.