Last week I was pretty pissed off.
For those of you who aren’t yet regular readers, I encourage you to go online (if you’re not online already) and read “A bright idea” in The Aggie’s opinion section. Remind yourself just how easy it has become for the university to ignore our best interests and put our collective coin purse by the wayside. I expressed my frustration with a group of likely hard-working students designated to listen to other students’ ideas and bring them to our chancellor. I made the argument that our means of administrative access are underdeveloped if not completely ineffective.
The next day, The Aggie ran a headline suggesting another way to bring an issue up with our university, a way to avoid the middlemen and go straight to the top. The headline read, “Regents may grant students privilege of direct contact.” How generous of them.
The article enumerated how ASUCD is introducing a new “mandate” to the UC Regents. This “mandate” will allow the regents to decide unilaterally whether they should vote to allow students to apply for access to any one of the 26 UC Regents for an hour or so. ASUCD “is currently waiting to hear back from the regents on whether or not the mandate will be voted on at the regents’ next meeting. However, the mandate has not appeared on the agenda for this weekend’s meeting.” That’s one powerful mandate we’ve cooked up.
Its author, ASUCD University Affairs director Matthew Blair, a senior political science and history double major, was quoted saying “we’ll basically have the ability to lobby the regents,” with the editorial caveat “[if the mandate is approved.]”
When I read that magical L-word, “lobby,” my heart went all aflutter. I started spouting incongruous word-salad and frothing at the mouth. “Lobby” is one of my favorite words in the American vernacular tradition! Some would argue lobbying is what makes our democracy distinctly American (whether for better or for worse). The Oxford English Dictionary defines the verb “lobby” as “to frequent the lobby of a legislative assembly for the purpose of influencing member’s votes.” By definition, the act of lobbying requires one to be a regular.
Consider for a moment that most clichéd of television moments where a character walks into a bar and casually orders “the usual.” The bartender generally knows this character by name, often the names of his or her spouse and children too. Most importantly, the bartender knows what business they came for, since they came for the same business they come for every week. They came for “the usual.”
This cliché is what it looks like when a true lobbyist walks into a Congressional office in Washington D.C. He’s likely had an appointment for weeks because the scheduler knows him by first name and knows the consequences of keeping him off the books. He’ll likely be back again this time next week, if not sooner. He exchanges pleasantries with the representative’s chief of staff, “How’re the kids,” “Staying dry out there?” etc. Most importantly, he sits down at the conference table, pulls up his business socks and orders “the usual.” That is to say, he comes virulently representing the same group of interests every single visit.
The reason he is so successful at representing the interests of his members in legislation is that he has become a regular. His visits can be so frequent because he has something that I argue students (even the ones organized in the UC Student Association) don’t.
He has leverage.
When a congresswoman votes against gun reform, she is actively resigning to the fact she will not receive tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the NRA members in her district. When a congressman votes against health care reform, he can bet he’ll lose the votes of thousands of AARP members.
What happens to a UC Regent when he or she raises your tuition?
What happens when UC Davis’ administration ignores the possibility that they could save hundreds of thousands of their students’ dollars by investing in the future of their lighting infrastructure?
Congress may not be perfect, but at least their offices have doors.
Do not mistake expressing your displeasure with the state of affairs to a Regent over lunch with lobbying. Lobbying requires leverage. Leverage can make you a regular. Unfortunately, leverage is something we students haven’t had in quite some time. It is the reason our Student Regent, Jesse Cheng, thinks that our getting to “eat lunch with all the regents on Wednesdays” would be impressive.
It is the reason we can’t cook up much of a “mandate.”
JOSH ROTTMAN will have the usual. He can be reached at email@example.com.