As I noted in my previous post about last month’s US Student Assocation Congress, USSA’s presidential election attracted considerably more drama than the vice presidential, despite the fact that it was uncontested. The veep race was, however, a fascinating one.
There are limits to how much I can say about the vice presidential contest. I know both candidates pretty well, and respect them both, but as an alumnus of USSA I wasn’t privy to much of their campaigning. My sense of the specifics of their platforms and agendas is incomplete, and the differences in their vision for the Association were nuanced enough that I don’t trust myself to lay them out here without misrepresenting one or both of them.
So what can I say?
Well, the two candidates share a lot in common. Both are veterans of USSA, and both hail from colleges that lie at the core of USSA’s current membership. Maxwell Love is from the University of Wisconsin at Madison, USSA’s first home and the site of its constitutional convention, a university that has always been a mainstay of the Association and of American student organizing. John Connelly is from Rutgers, a relative newcomer to USSA membership, but a campus that has seen extraordinary student power activism in recent years and is one of the founding members of New Jersey United Students, perhaps the most exciting new state student association of the moment. Both Max and John racked up impressive lists of campaigns and victories in their just-finished undergraduate years.
Another trait the two share is more surprising, at least in the USSA context — both are white men. In the last quarter century, as USSA has intensified its commitment to racial and gender justice work, each of its full-time officers (unless there’s someone I’ve forgotten or missed) have been women, students of color, or both. White men have frequently served on USSA staff during that time, and on its board of directors and part-time officer positions (as the Association’s National Secretary in my undergraduate years, my name is on that latter list), but none has served as president or vice president.
To elect a white man to the national office would have been a departure for the Association in and of itself. To have done so in an election in which no woman or student of color ran indicates, I think, a shift in organizational culture. This shift is not a shift away from anti-racist or anti-sexist organizing — those commitments remain strong in USSA. Rather, I think it’s a reflection of the Association’s growing comfort with that focus as one that does not need constant re-affirmation.
It’s also, I think, a reflection of the maturation of the student organizing milieu, and of the character of these two candidates. Max and John are both sure-footed anti-racist and anti-sexist activists, comfortable with both the rhetoric and the practice of that work. Their comfort with issues of identity, inclusion, and social justice is powerful, and that comfort was far rarer among white male student activists a generation ago.
For all their similarities, Max and John differ in one interesting demographic respect. Though neither comes from a wealthy background, Connelly identifies, and is identified, more strongly with a working class identity than does Love. The USSA Working Class Caucus has been a growing presence in the Association in recent years, as the student movement has turned more forcefully to economic access issues and as (in part inspired by Occupy) activists have become more comfortable discussing class alongside race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, and ability. This difference wasn’t a major issue in the veep race, but it was discussed more than I’ve seen class identity talked about in previous USSA campaigns, and it reflects the growing salience of such discussions in the Association.
Okay, so that’s (some of) the background. What of the election itself?
Well, it was close. Close enough that there was a runoff in a two-person race — a story for another day. In the second round of balloting, Max Love defeated John Connelly by a margin that was clear and decisive but not overwhelming. In advance of the election there was some concern about potential dissatisfaction by certain campuses in the event of either candidate’s loss, but both Connelly and Love committed to working through those concerns, and at the end of the Congress my understanding was that most folks were on a pretty even keel.
Obviously there’s much more to say about the new officers and the coming year’s plans, and I may try to conduct and post interviews with Love and Sophie Zaman later this summer. But for now, that’s the nuts-and-bolts version.