It is common knowledge that students are apathetic toward the UCLA student government. With lackluster and rarely completed platforms, rampant groupthink and disregard for campaign decency, most of us feel even thinking about becoming involved in our Undergraduate Students Association Council a waste of time. This is understandable, as numerous politically active students avoid USAC to focus on internships, with most others only knowing it as “those ‘eager’ people who ‘talk to me’ on Bruin Walk one week of the year.”
I was in this boat, too, as USAC barely crossed my mind before my second year. Yet, addressing some of the misconceptions surrounding USAC might motivate some of us to become involved, or even run for council.
One misconception is that USAC cannot achieve anything substantive. This is somewhat true, as average council members do not prepare enough to implement their pledges. This inactivity is best evidenced by the “fact finding” many members undertake during fall quarter, so as to determine if their promises were actually feasible in the first place. Expectedly, these members frequently find crucial aspects of their platforms unachievable once in office.
Of course, we all make mistakes, but when you run for office and make promises to serve almost 28,000 students, you must hold yourself to the highest standard. As such, it is inexcusable that the average council member over the past three years could only receive a three out of five platform completion score from the Daily Bruin. And given the five members I partnered with over the past year, the score inflation is obvious.
Students disproportionately place the blame for the irrelevance and failures of student government on the institution itself, rather than on complacent officials. However, blanket statements about the council are unfair to dedicated members, who of course exist. As founder of Vote for Our Future, I believe our External Vice President Rafi Sands is one of the hardest working students I know. He was a director of BruinsVote!, whose campaign Vote for Our Future helped organize. The EVP office put in extraordinary hours in our campaign to register 10,000 students to vote for the 2016 election. This was an amazing accomplishment, and in large part due to the leadership and strategies Sands brought to the table.
Historically, it is proven that those who prepare can achieve their goals and make important change. For example, dedicated council members of the past have led student efforts that transformed UCLA into a national symbol of resistance against discrimination and war, made funding available for all student groups and enacted limits on campaign spending to promote equity. Whether you’re north campus, south campus, go to Bruin Plate, or god forbid, Covel (it was a monstrosity back in my day), USAC provides us with a unique opportunity to be the change we want to see. With a $10,000 stipend (yes, council members “earn” over $10,000 per year from our student fees), jurisdiction over a $4.5 million budget and praise from potential employers for such financial and leadership experience, the benefits of running for USAC far outweigh the costs.
However, complacency is a bipartisan feature, and much more frequent than methodical preparation. Our President two years ago promised a cafe at Powell; our current President promised tailgates at Pauley for all away football games when he was General Representative last year. How are those working out?
Nevertheless, this does not mean we should give up on our institutions, but instead give up on status quo council members. If we acknowledge the potential of USAC, and turn out to vote for creative students who prepare, rather than simply voting for our friends and those who look like us, the impact of our council would be tremendous.
Of course, the supply of prepared candidates is usually low, and distinguishing the complacent from the competent is not easy. To fulfill our potential, we need candidates to run who put as much effort into platform preparation as they do writing sappy Facebook posts, changing their profile pictures and chasing us down to vote like they were Lonzo Ball on the fast break. Candidates must research the feasibility of their platforms before election season in order to more effectively better our campus, which will in turn decrease apathy by increasing credibility.
While understanding our campus may seem daunting, the helpfulness and willingness of our administrators to assist students has, in my experience, been phenomenal. It is not difficult to find out what platforms are feasible. If you have questions, you can easily find someone to answer them: use Google, do some research and send an email to an administrator to schedule a meeting. You can also email me at [email protected] if you are interested in an issue, such as election reform, but not sure where to start.
If this piece has reaffirmed your frustrations with USAC, sparked your interest in making change or you just saw the $10,000 stipend, tune in for my next submission. In it, I discuss what it takes to run for USAC, and how to win. I’m confident that if enough prepared, passionate and sincere individuals take the challenge, we can make USAC work for all of us. In our history, we have overcome much greater obstacles. After all, you don’t have to bring Pepto-Bismol to Covel anymore.
Jacobson is a UCLA alumnus with bachelor’s degrees in economics and political science. He was previously a member of the UCLA Mock Trial Team, an intern for the White House Council of Economic Advisers and an organizer of the petition to recall the 2016 Student Government Elections after his work for multiple student government campaigns.