The attempt to build a more politically knowledgeable and active student body is a positive movement. Yet more often than not, it is portrayed as the opposite.
This opposition is rarely based on solid argument, fact or data but rather ideological bluster that doesn’t stand up against scrutiny.
There are still those who believe and want to maintain a students’ union and a student body that is apolitical.
The reality is that the student body has consistently rejected this status quo. In 2011 a constitution was introduced that removed the Orwellian bar on foot of political activity, and just recently the Union constitution further entrenched the idea that political activity is not merely a choice, but a necessity for the functional operation of our students’ union.
Those who hold the viewpoint that political activity is a necessity for the Union are quite open about this and their motivations to achieve it. It is quite a simple belief based in the vision that the more students who discuss issues, make decisions on those issues, and act on those decisions, the more likely it is that goals regarding particular issues will be met. The result of this process is having a more informed, engaged and empowered student body.
The activists within the students’ union and the student body which engages with this activism have delivered results.
The Union didn’t spend €10,000 on building a religious symbol on campus; the Union did get the introduction of split-payment of fees for students; the Union have introduced a free ID form for students who forget their cards during exams; the Union did get Eduroam extended to Campus Residences and the Union did ensure that the exam timetable was altered so that students could vote in the Marriage Equality Referendum.
These are just the headline achievements. There are a plethora of other small and faculty based achievements that have occurred because of students being politically active.
What have those that oppose political activity achieved? The simple answer is nothing. They did not and do not intend on achieving anything. Silence is their aim. They rely on the information deficit within the student body and they thrive on the disengagement of the student body from Union processes.
There is never a cold eye cast on those who oppose such activity and their motivations. These people do exist and do attempt to affect their opposition. These people exist across campus within the office of student life, the union executive and societies. They operate in the dark and never have their arguments, actions or motivations challenged.
Well its time that some sunshine was let in. It’s time they had the courage to advocate for their position in public.
In the past their opposition was a mere annoyance, however it has become more dangerous.
The onset of a general election and its result will impact the higher education sector dramatically, regardless of who is elected.
While this Damocles sword does hang over the sector and students in particular, our influence on this will be defined by whether we are non-political or political and whether we are re-active or pro-active.
Locally there are still an enormity of issues that affect our students. They range from ensuring course quality assurance, equitable access to services, and provision of safe and secure accommodation – amongst a long list of others.
Fundamentally there is the belief that we are stronger as a collective unit rather than as individual students. That is the real difference between a political and a non-political Union.