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Davis, California

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Column: We the people

Sandbox Politico

The United States Constitution begins with the phrase, “We the people.” Constitutional scholars take this beginning as an implicit argument for a living constitution — we the people. Because every time a new reader recites those words they become an included participant in the foundations of our democracy, thereby reaffirming the message of the document as a whole.

ASUCD also has a constitution. It begins by detailing the membership of ASUCD, “all regularly enrolled undergraduate students,” or we the people. You see, every time I, or anyone uses the term ASUCD to refer solely to our student government, we’ve committed a misnomer. Those letters in fact designate every student who happens to pay the fees which prop up our student government.

The question then becomes not who is a part of ASUCD, but who is an active participant in it?

Those initial words of the U.S. Constitution’s preamble are meant to serve as a check, ensuring the political sphere will never get clogged up with a revolving door of career politicians, instead constantly ushering new voices into the fold. Unfortunately that check has proven insufficient in the modern era.

We don’t have that problem in our student government; new voices crop up all the time. But there could and should always be more.

Democracy functions best when you have a competing series of interests constantly vying for control of the plurality. That’s where you get compromise from and that’s where you get better policy.

On the other end you have apathy. “Apathy is the enemy of democracy,” my State Capitol tour guide told me and my mother the other weekend. He was frustrated so few people came to watch open sessions of the California Assembly and Senate, and I had no answer for him. I myself have been working across the street from the Capitol all winter and had yet to observe one floor session.

The special thing about student government is that we, we the people, have no excuse for our apathy. Our representatives are immediately available to us, our senate meetings are held right on campus, our fees are transparently appropriated before us on a yearly basis.

Let’s get one thing straight: It gave me no pleasure to write last week’s column. I would have much preferred to issue every single departing member of ASUCD an A last week. Think how good we’d all feel in that world, think how good campus would look with a class that strong. But sadly I couldn’t do that.

Don’t you find that problematic? Don’t you think or at least hope the 12 senators and the executive representing you are the best this campus has to offer on a yearly basis? Don’t we the people deserve that much?

Yes, you do deserve the best. But where do you find those people? Try starting with yourself. You have all the tools to, at a moment’s notice, run for senate, or just drop by a senate meeting and chew out some self–important people sitting behind a table. Think how good that would feel.

This is me pulling back the curtain on my motivations for writing this column from the beginning. I did it to engage and educate all of you, and to make you want to engage your student government right back.

Look how much I’ve done with just this dinky column (pieces of legislation authored as a result of it, vetoes occurring or being overridden because of it), think how much you could do if you choose to stand up and be heard — we the people.

Because ASUCD needs you, the people, to make it better. It doesn’t get better through the actions of one individual, it gets better through a culture of dedicated persons pulling together because we care enough to better the lives of our peers — we the people.

You see that culture all across campus. It’s the feeling prospective students get when they come here for the first time and they can’t help but notice how nice everyone is. It’s the odd camaraderie we all share; when someone wipes out on their bike and no fewer than three strangers stop to at least ask if they’re OK.

That intangible culture is what we like to call Aggie Pride, and as all Aggies are in fact ASUCD, it is also ASUCD Pride.

But sometimes our student government loses track of those good sentiments. So it’s up to us, the people, to every now and then slap them in the face (rhetorically) and remind them of the basis of their jobs. Because ASUCD isn’t just for all of us, it is all of us — we the people.

JUSTIN GOSS occasionally likes to get sentimental and introspective. If you miss the more vitriolic, sardonic Goss, he can still be reached at jjgoss@ucdavis.edu.


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