Three Cheers for (Student) Democracy

It’s been said that laws are like sausages – it’s best not to see them made.

I could not disagree more. As faulty and messy democracy can be, the people have a right to know how and by whom their laws are made.

Even though the student government association here does not make any laws, its elected officials have as much power as the university, or even the students, decide to give them. And as such, any law or rule which prevents students from electing their representatives, their own spokespeople, is unjust.

As it stands, the SGA constitution does not allow for any non-SGA member to run for its top offices, which stifles complete participation and does nothing except make the institution feel stuffy and elitist.

Indeed, for ordinary students to consider the Student Government legitimate, they must feel welcomed to participate – and that includes the right to choose their executives.

If we are to take democracy seriously, in any form, we must take special care to ensure that the field is level, the candidates qualified and the elections fair.

Violating any one of those principles at the expense of another is a fundamental danger to democracy, whether on a national level or at Georgia State.

Even such a perception can be contrary to the entire point of the SGA: to get students involved in the administration of their education and to prepare them for leadership positions within the public sphere. Therefore, avoiding the appearance of cronyism should be a primary concern for any organization, especially one that claims to represent the students and put the students first.

After all, as a microcosm of larger county, state and national republican forms of government, the SGA has been granted a special responsibility to fulfill. Unlike clubs or sports as the university, the SGA has no parallel because it exists as a training tool for democracy in action.

And because its power does not come from its own authority but, rather, by the authority given to it in trust by the university and the state Board of Regents, it should seek to lessen every burden to participation – certainly not to increase them.

Because ultimately the constituents, in this case the students, should have as much power as possible to elect who they want for elected positions and not just who the SGA deems is qualified.

Because, as limited in power as the SGA truly is, it still represents a loud and essential voice for the students.

And, because democracy is a messy business and we cannot, nor should not, try to interfere in its process.

To do so would threaten everything we claim to represent.


Update: In the week that this appeared in print, the Georgia State Student Government Association passed legislation to update its bylaws to allow non-SGA members to run for executive positions. Details available here.


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This is the personal page of Chris Shattuck -- an Atlanta-based media professional with a background in business reporting, nonprofits and agency PR.

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