Why I Dropped Out: an Editorial from a Former ASSU Candidate

Posted by at 3:38PM

James Mwara '13, who recently withdrew his candidacy from the ASSU Executive race.

The following post is from James Mwaura ’13, who recently withdrew from the ASSU Executive race with his running-mate, Charles Mbatia ’13.

It is with great disappointment that Charles and I are announcing the end of our campaign. It seems we attempted to climb a mountain too high, faced a tweeter/video blogger too relentless, challenged a political schematic too masterfully designed to maintain the status quo. We attempted to play Ralph Nader in a Bush-Kerry election, assuming Bush was of less-than-wholesome mental stability and Kerry backed by a not just the Democratic party, but an organization deemed so righteous that challenging it would be abandoning all political sanctity. We entered this election with a goofy grin on our faces and a catchy campaign slogan, and leave with a piece of useful knowledge which I am eager to share with all you:

The ASSU will remain exactly the same forever, unless something really, really radical happens. By exactly the same, I mean a SOCC-endorsed, GAIA-endorsed group of a few dozen students whose interests are more closely aligned with a mock government high school group than the members of a “democracy” managing a budget of several million dollars and a constituency of more than 14,000 individuals. (While this does little to appease offended parties, I only put “democracy” in quotations because the University has the ability to nullify almost everything ASSU does.)

Charles Mbatia '13, James's running-mate.

I’ll begin with a story. When winning this campaign still seemed feasible, I was told that I needed to attend an ASSU meeting to lobby for public finance money, as my petition had fallen short of the necessary number of valid signatures. The meeting ended up being one of the most enlightening and most disheartening moments of the campaign. For over 45 minutes, ASSU senators debated with the executives on wildly miniscule features of Michael Cruz’s brainchild, the new ASSU Constitution. The arguments included the removal of double negatives, the wording of various sections, and other mundane issues. It was easily one of the least productive assemblies of people I had ever witnessed. The meeting concluded with my meekly bringing up my finance conundrum, which was fortunately unanimously approved. (This was later retracted, as it turned out that the graduate and undergraduate sides of the ASSU Senate had failed to pass the same version of the original public finance bill.) 

In short, I am deeply disturbed with the current state of the ASSU. During this meeting, the effort put into making eloquent, well-thought statements was astounding, while the desire to make actual progress was almost totally absent. If this document passes, all of you can rest assured that more work was put into how it sounds than how it can help you. I urge everyone to go take a look at the document, and marvel at the sharpness of its preamble.

It would seem that Charles and I have the ammunition to attack the incumbents, but unfortunately our opponents, another team of “outsiders” are themselves ensconced in a political safety web that I have no business running against. I speak of the mighty SOCC, GAIA, and other Stanford political parties. To preface, I am a biracial Earth Systems major, making me both a student of color and a champion of sustainability. However, I believe these two groups especially represent everything that is wrong with the current election system. They take positions on issues which no one is against, (is Stewart MacGregor-Dennis anti-diversity? Of course not) and advertise their candidates relentlessly, no matter the integrity of the rest of their platforms.

Please look at the flyers that SOCC-endorsed candidates spread around campus and search for substantive ideas instead of the usual election-season buzzwords. Some, especially the one mimicking the Pirates of the Caribbean, are so utterly worthless that it is shocking. However, SOCC will plaster campus with their flyer, these candidates will receive facetime, and they will most likely be elected. Essentially, needs of a select few students (those student groups involved with SOCC) determine the political climate of this campus, and their agendas are sure to be pushed through the ASSU due to the ASSU being composed of their allies. This is not to say that SOCC’s goals are not noble (as this would personally be racially contradictory); I instead wish that many more student groups and demographics were able to so dramatically tip the scales either way and ensure their interest are catered for.

Charles’ and my slate had a very simple purpose: better represent the student body. We wanted to do so by seeking discounts for students wherever possible, solving problems that actually existed, supporting Chi Theta Chi in its hour of need, when ASSU failed to do so, and figuring out how to end the vicious student group lobby cycle. It brings me great sadness to say that we have to abandon these issues. I hereby would like to apologize to XOX specifically, who we promised to support and raise awareness to their cause, as well as other students we spoke with over the last few weeks. You guys deserve a voice, and I genuinely hope the ASSU shifts its focus back to you.

In conclusion, this election was unwinnable. On one side we faced a failed incumbent, to whom losing this election is not an option. On the other, we faced a political machine who we could not dare to challenge, despite it representing quite comprehensively who Charles and I were, both culturally and intellectually. While I officially endorse the Zimbroff-Wagstaff slate, I cannot say that I know who will win this election, and I cannot honestly say that it matters. SOCC will live on, SMD will remain ridiculous, and the ASSU will remain inefficient and poorly represented.

I vote we fill Lake Lag. I want to drink a beer and catch a fish.

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11 Responses to “Why I Dropped Out: an Editorial from a Former ASSU Candidate”

  1. Anonymous Student says:

    Just because you get discouraged doesn’t mean you should drop out. If you think the ASSU is bad, think about how ridiculous actually government must be, but you don’t see Obama making excuses left and right.

    It will take a real leader to tackle these ASSU problems, not by proposing an “innovative” 2.0 government but simplifying basic processes and uniting whoever it is that makes decisions behind you.

    This blog post hasn’t shed light on anything new. Most of Stanford knows how pathetic the ASSU and election season is — the wonder of it all is oblivious candidates deciding to run without knowing the reality of how stuff gets done. Now feel free to call me out for talking smack and not putting myself out there and trying to change how stuff gets done, but I spend my time elsewhere making an impact. It’s amazing that even at Stanford we mirror the dysfunctional political climate of the nation..

  2. Adam K says:

    James Mwaura for President

  3. Stanford Student says:

    I find it hilarious how much trash you talked about SOCC, yet interviewed for it while you were campaigning. Sounds like somebody’s hating and clearly salty over the process. Students of color, collectively, make up the majority of our undergraduate population. Call it a collective interest in trying to fund community centers or supporting ethnic theme dorms, something that you, James, do not do. They have every right to ensure that the students representing them are mindful of these issues. So they have every right to form a coalition and endorse candidates.

  4. undergrad says:

    The constitution is a very important part of the governing documents. Although you might not think that combing through it word-by-word is necessary, I disagree.

    It’s interesting that you were “deeply disturbed” by the ASSU, and decided to drop out of the race instead of make the ASSU better. The election was “unwinnable” because you decided not to try.

    It’s never the critic that counts. Every single article about the ASSU talks about how it sucks, but without any constructive criticism.

  5. Katy says:

    You are a winner.

  6. Guest says:

    WRITE-IN

  7. ASSU “insider” says:

    Thanks for writing this editorial, James, but a good portion of your article is simply factually incorrect. I question whether you would be an effective ASSU Executive, if you don’t know basic facts or don’t follow news about the ASSU. I think a basic understanding of the institution in which you’re trying to lead is necessary.

    Couple of things I want to point out:

    1) “If this document passes, all of you can rest assured that more work was put into how it sounds than how it can help you.”

    The document isn’t going to pass…the effort was abandoned by the Governing Documents Commission. If you’re an ASSU Exec candidate, shouldn’t you be keeping up with that news? The constitution is the most important document of the institution that you were trying to get elected to lead. http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/04/02/gdc-abandons-push-to-place-assu-constitution-on-ballot/

    2) “(While this does little to appease offended parties, I only put “democracy” in quotations because the University has the ability to nullify almost everything ASSU does.)”

    The ASSU is an independent 501c3 nonprofit organization that is separate from the University. Please at least glance over the ASSU Constitution and read Section 6, the Independence clause.

    3) “For over 45 minutes, ASSU senators debated with the executives on wildly miniscule features of Michael Cruz’s brainchild, the new ASSU Constitution.”

    If you were elected and this document passed, you can actually be sued in Constitutional Council for any violation of a clause. And I’m not sure if you understand how law works, but oftentimes, the most minuscule detail or the tiniest of grammar can change interpretation of language entirely. Sorry if we were trying to do our due diligence in ensuring that the constitution that will be governing what elected representatives in the future can do (and to ensure that student rights aren’t violated in any way in the Constitution) is properly and carefully written.

    4) “(This was later retracted, as it turned out that the graduate and undergraduate sides of the ASSU Senate had failed to pass the same version of the original public finance bill.) ”

    Actually, it wasn’t retracted because the status quo (prior to passing the bill) is that exec candidates would still get public financing. The bill in question only affects the Senate race… Note that Cardona/Wharton received public financing two years ago, way before the bill was even discussed. http://www.stanforddaily.com/2010/04/05/assu-executive-cardona-and-wharton/

    5) “We wanted to do so by seeking discounts for students wherever possible, solving problems that actually existed, supporting Chi Theta Chi in its hour of need, when ASSU failed to do so…”

    This statement is also factually incorrect. Please read: http://www.stanforddaily.com/2012/03/14/chi-theta-chi-says-talks-with-university-are-promising/
    “the University maintained that it would assume control of the XOX house despite protests from the XOX community and the ASSU Undergraduate Senate.” and http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=360329144001307

    6) “They take positions on issues which no one is against..”

    Actually, that’s not true either. http://stanfordreview.org/article/socc-protests-against-budget-cuts/
    http://stanfordreview.org/article/students-fast-protest-community-center-cuts/
    I would argue that those issues were pretty controversial….

    If you were elected, you would be learning all of these facts during the first few months of your term. That means, you would have spent a significant amount of time (that you really should be serving students) on just dealing with the learning curve…and in effect, not being an effective ASSU Executive during those months, because you wouldn’t even know how to work with the institution yet since you don’t have basic knowledge or understanding of it.

    Many points in your platform also contain similar factual errors, but I won’t point them out here. Please at least find out what an institution/organization is before running to lead it next time.

  8. James M says:

    If SOCC represents the majority, then I guess I am fighting for the voice of minorities. (The irony here is fantastic) I rashly applied for the SOCC endorsement because I thought the interview and endorsement was based on values (which I also seem not to share), rather than knowing, agreeing with, and promising to continue dozens of individual initiatives. This is, in essence, a lobby, no matter the benevolence of the issues.
    In response to me being a quitter, I dropped out because I 1) could not win and 2) would not be able to change anything if I did. I would be working with a senate full of candidates with no real platforms or desires, as their platform was basically written for them by their endorsers. If accepting reality and moving on is pessimistic, then slap me silly and call me Thomas Malthus.
    This fails to mention the circus show that this election has become, and I am more than grateful to have distanced myself from such shenanigans.

  9. me says:

    I vote we fill Lake Lag. I want to drink a beer and catch a fish as well.

  10. Student says:

    Seriously James this comes across as pretty weak. Why did you declare to run if you hadn’t done any research into how the ASSU works? Can’t you suggest some potential fixes?

    People give Stew a bad time but at least he was committed and worked his ass off for the ASSU. You can always give someone feedback but can’t always start the initial fire.

    Pretty disappointed that the best you did was write a blog post…

  11. RIGHT ON says:

    Well said. You would have had my vote.

    I guess we are lucky the ASSU isn’t actually important;I don’t think I have ever heard a single positive thing about it.

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