Shock and awe at the emergency general meeting

On Thursday, January 29th, a university record was broken. It was the first time in four years that a Union General Meeting reached quorum. Over 350 people turned up to vote on whether the Students’ Union should support the action of the students who staged an ‘occupation’ of S0.21 for nine days in solidarity with the victims of Gaza and in protest of the university’s relationship with arms companies.

The atmosphere during the two hour democratic marathon that took place in MS.02, which was stretched beyond full capacity, was tense and excited. Indeed the exchange grew so heated that the chairman was eventually forced to ban people from clapping, as more than one student found it intimidating. Indeed although the ban on clapping could have been implemented earlier, the chairman was an important arbitrator of good sense in a debate that often veered into a semi-intellectual version of WWF.

It is extremely positive that so many people turned out to register their opinions, and more positive still that an eighty-four percent majority decided to support the direct action exhibited in S0.21. The disgruntlement of a number of attendants, which led to their unsuccessful bid to adjourn the meeting, is understandable, given the slightly intimidating bias in the room. However, their claim that the process was ‘undemocratic’ was unsubstantiated. The Union had made considerable efforts to publicise the events, and cannot be blamed for the apathy of students who chose not to attend.

While the huge attendance was encouraging, the quality of the debate veered between tedium and insight. Unfortunately the debate was often more like a football game rather an election on Union policy. Furthermore, too much of the discussion deviated from the issues at hand.

A large number of students who attended the debate because of their concern of the situation in Israel and Gaza were to be disappointed. As Simon Fuchs elucidates in this edition, there was a confusing conflation of the campaign against the arms trade and the humanitarian campaign for Gaza.

The debate centred mainly on the issue of Warwick’s relationship with arms companies, even though the purpose of the sit-in was to express solidarity with the students whose education had suffered under the Gazan conflict. Warwick University’s ties with the arms trade, although an issue for concern, was only tenuously connected with the conflict in Gaza.

As a result, there was widespread confusion about what was being debated for a large part of the meeting. While the students returned an unambiguous verdict on what position the Student’s Union ought to take, there is a danger that the volatile, distracted debate could lead to disillusionment with student democracy. This would be the most painful unintended consequence of the emergency general meeting, as it would negate the commendable efforts of the sit-in’s organisers and the Union to bring pressing issues to the forefront.

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