Your Union needs you – and you need your Union

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Democracy these days: it’s not looking too good is it? As Greece, the cradle of democracy, burns, the British government re-launches its attempts to push through an NHS bill which nobody voted for; and as the embers of the Arab Spring turn to ash, the Republican Presidential nomination race makes a mockery of the very principle of rational human beings deciding who governs. Oh, and Bacardi has been banned in SU outlets. Dark times indeed.

In Greece, of course, the problem is that people who want democracy are having it snatched away. At Warwick, the problem is that people who don’t want democracy are having it thrust upon them. In Egypt desperate citizens know all too well the dangers of losing the democracy that they have fought for; here, students regard their chance to engage with governance with the sort of disdain that would make life easy for any Middle Eastern despot. And that’s a serious problem.

The way some students talk about ‘the Union’, you’d think it’s an active conspiracy to take the student experience, suck the fun out of it and then abandon it. The money pumped into the Duck and the Bread Oven, the investment in Nightline, the legal advice, the support in academic issues, the organisation of Varsity, the lobbying of the University, the support for international students – these are just some of the many services offered by our Students’ Union. Yet this is blithely disregarded by the ignorant and the uninformed: the sort of people who think the Copper Rooms just sprung up out of the ground, and that efforts to extend and improve academic feedback happened entirely independently of student influence.

The furore over ‘Bacardi-gate’ is symptomatic of the total failure of some students to even try to understand how the Union works. The faux moral outrage of those who saw it simply as a chance to reinforce their existing stereotype of the Union as a Politburo-style Communist dictatorship got tiring pretty quickly – especially when many of those who whinged about it then couldn’t be bothered to turn up to vote against the motion at any of the subsequent general meetings. If you ignore your vote, you essentially abandon your right to complain. People seem to forget that. The sad reality is that often those who ignore student democracy are the ones who complain about it most vociferously.

Yes, Union Council occasionally votes through ethical policies, and they do tend to get on people’s nerves. I can understand why endless debates on the morality of water, kitkats and rum wind people up. But you know what you should do if you don’t like it? Shut up and vote next time round. Don’t sit back, carp about how ‘the Union’ doesn’t represent you, mock the terrible electoral turnouts and then fail to register your opinion at the ballot box. Don’t make a meme about how rubbish you think the Council is, don’t turn your nose up at the various engagement initiatives, and for God’s sake don’t launch a petition to get a giant rotating piece of ‘art’ on the Union’s logo.

The Union is a serious organisation with serious principles. There are students who rely on it: for employment, for advice, and to support their societies. Better to get used to that, positively contribute and get engaged than to wallow in your own apathy.
Be grateful that, unlike Birmingham students, none of your Sabbatical Officers have got themselves arrested. Consider yourself lucky that you’ve actually got representation of sorts, and that your Union is a powerful one. And thank God that so far, that bloody Koan isn’t stamped on all official SU documents.

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