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Students’ Union advocacy needs to extend beyond elections

August 2, 2017 —

With less than three months until Calgarians go to the polls, election season is in full swing. That means it’s advocacy season for the University of Calgary Students’ Union.

SU vice-president external Shubir Shaikh is spearheading this year’s advocacy efforts, with a strong focus placed on secondary suites, public transit and encouraging students to vote. Along with other SU members, Shaikh has started meeting with candidates and plans to reach out to every nominee.

Though the SU’s list of advocacy topics is dull, they’re doing their due diligence to ensure politicians are familiar with issues that affect students. And once classes are back in, they’re certainly going to try their hardest to get as many students as possible to vote.

But what’s going to happen after the municipal election is over? Electing officials who support student issues is important, but they also need be held accountable once they’re in office. While it’s great that heavy advocacy is happening now, it shouldn’t be limited to election season.

The SU has lagged behind on organizing students in the past few years. Other than election-time “Get Out The Vote” campaigns, the SU hasn’t rallied a large number of students behind a cause since students protested against market modifiers in 2014. There’s been a few attempts since then — most notably, encouraging students to show up to court in May 2016, less to protest the U of C’s battle to gain control of MacHall than to witness an abstruse legal hearing — but none have managed to unify the student body in any significant way.

Even president Branden Cave’s stances on issues that students should be fired up about are more in line with the establishment than with students. When asked about a possible Aramark strike in an SU presidential candidates forum, Cave endorsed strikebreaking and said he would help the mammoth food service company undermine organized labour. And in response to the NDP’s proposed salary cap for university executives, Cave placed administrators over students by claiming high salaries are important for the U of C to compete with the private sector.

These are things that students should be upset about — not to mention the first-phase downsizing of the Green Line LRT or the fact that some low-income students are overpaying for public transit because they have to buy a UPass with their student fees.

Students are a huge bloc that can have a large political effect — when they are actually mobilized. Rallying the notoriously apathetic U of C student body is a tough task, but there hasn’t been enough effort in the last couple of years to organize them around a central cause.

To the SU’s credit, Shaikh said he plans to meet with all elected candidates after the election and added that a post-election letter-writing campaign in support of secondary suites and other issues is in the works. These initiatives are promising, but communication needs to be maintained throughout the newly elected officials’ terms. And if students don’t see results on issues like secondary suites, the SU’s response should move beyond easily ignorable letter-writing or hashtag campaigns.

We’ve seen in the past that students have power in numbers. But if the SU wants to be an effective advocacy organization beyond election season, they need to keep their foot on the gas and embrace the organizing power of students.

Jason HerringGauntlet Editorial Board

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