| Power vs. Justice
|Politics get dirty even when it’s trivial.
After observing the power politics inside the parties of both
Democrats and Republicans over the past two election cycles,
I am reminded of when I was first introduced to the blood
sport. It was just a few months after I graduated high school.
My phone rang in the late afternoon on a Fall day. The
chairman of the Election Committee for the Student Government
Association was calling. He said, “It’s 5pm: the deadline for
turning in expense reports, and I haven’t received yours.”
“Oh,” I replied, “I didn’t think I needed to provide one because I
didn’t spend any money.” I was just a few weeks into my
freshman year in college, and decided to run for class president.
I had enjoyed student government so much in high school that
I wanted to continue the experience into college. I was paying my
own way through college, so I didn’t have money to run a
campaign. I got together with two friends and we made eight or
ten signs using the backs of old poster boards, pasted on cut-outs
from magazines and comic books, and wrote some silly sayings
we thought would make people laugh. Mostly I just asked people
to vote for me.
“That doesn’t matter,” continued the SGA Election Chair, “you still
have to file a report with zero as the total. You can be disqualified
if you don’t turn one in.”
“I don’t want that to happen; I’ll bring one right over.” I got in
my car, rushed back to campus and turned in the report less than
an hour later. I thought that was the end of it...
...and it would’ve been, if I hadn’t won the election.
The election was held a few days later, and I won by a large
enough margin to avoid a run-off. There were five people who
ran, but the candidate who came in a distant second was a
fraternity member. More than 95% of the SGA representatives
were members of fraternities and sororities. Before the day was
over, I received notice that I had been disqualified for turning
in my expense report after the deadline. The fraternity member
was declared the new winner.
It seemed so unjust that I went to see the Dean for advice. He
told me that I could appeal it to the Student Court, so I did. The
Student Court (also made up of a majority of Greek-letter
organization members) referred it over to the Student
Government Association for a vote. I was told that I’d be given
an opportunity to present my case before the entire body.
I asked my friend Ken Frankel, a pre-law student at the time, and
the son of an attorney to represent me. Ken and I consulted with
his dad, who recommended that we should argue, “the
punishment should fit the crime.”
On the day of our hearing Ken did just that. He passionately
explained to the SGA how I was young, naive, and didn’t
understand the rules, however once they were explained to
me - I promptly complied. He said it was unfair of them to
disqualify me after I won, that if missing the deadline were so
important then I should have been disqualified before the
election. He agreed that I broke the rule, but that it was
because of ignorance not intention. He stated that they
would not just be punishing me, but everyone who voted
for me. He asked them to find a more appropriate penalty that
wouldn’t take away the voice of so many students.
His plea was followed by some lively discussion, but mostly
from the few independent members of the body who felt that
I should not be denied the office I had won. The fraternity and
sorority members insisted that I broke the rules, that rules are
rules for a reason, and there can be no exceptions. Other than
those few independents, all the votes went against me.
It was over. That evening we shared the results with Ken’s
father. He looked at me and said, “Son, you’ve just had your
first taste of politics.”
A nasty taste indeed. It seems that the desire for power -
even if it is only to sponsor dances and other student
activities - trumps empathy, justice, and reason. Never again,
would I have any interest in student government. Nor would
I have any interest in joining a fraternity (something I had
once wanted but couldn’t afford). I would forever remain a
Gamma Delta Iota.
© Robert Evans Wilson, Jr.