Losing My OUSU Virginity

Well, it was… interesting. To be fair, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I would even go as far as saying I enjoyed it.

When we arrived there was a strange atmosphere; people seemed to be excited which was weird given that everyone was saying it was going to last hours and hours. We were hit with un-organisation straight away, with not enough orange voting cards, agendas, or voting slips, in addition to there not being enough seats in the lecture theatre. So we had to try and find a comfortable spot on the steps at the side. At this point I’d already tucked into the wine gums I had to try and make the long meeting ahead slightly better (special thanks to Chris for advising me to bring food).

Then on to the motions. Fortunately, everyone recognised that it was going to be a very long meeting given the controversial issue of the BDS movement. However one particular person, to the annoyance of the attendees, requested that the BDS motion was moved right to the end of the agenda. With a resounding no (given that over half were literally only there to vote on that motion) we proceeded in the intended order.

Finally we were on to the BDS motion, the bit everyone had been waiting for. There were two amendments to be made, which, after quite a long period of debate, both failed. So, a waste of time. It was here that I came across the strange notion of having to vote for moving to a vote. Very laborious, but at least we got an arm work- out. I quote: “curls for the girls” and “all about the gains”. (Barrie)

Interestingly, the BDS motion was hardly debated at all. I mean, the first thing we heard from the opposition was in the summary speech, so in effect he had to summarise something we hadn’t even heard about. One girl spiced things up by asking if we could do a straw poll on who in the room had been mandated to vote, which got an ‘oooooooooo’ from those present. Probably the most interesting thing that happened. But we didn’t even have the debate as someone called ‘move to vote’ and it was voted that we vote. So that was that.

The rest of the meeting opened my eyes to how Oxford students can be very pedantic. I mean, to be fair some of the points made were quite good and useful, but I still don’t really get why someone decided to point out a grammatical error in a motion where they had missed out the word ‘is’. As a linguist, obviously grammar is important, but when we’d already been there for 2 hours ish, no one really cared. Even the Chair of the meeting, whom Jack described as “Will the cutie pie” looked bored.

So overall, after asking “what’s going on?” numerous times, after witnessing ‘selfies’ being taken in the meeting, after being excited by recognising some people I saw on Shark Tales, and after realising I could never go into Politics, I can conclude that my first experience of an OUSU meeting wasn’t particularly amazing, but wasn’t as horrifically boring and tedious as I expected.

Sian Kelly

OUSU: Forgiveness and Love

Miley Cyrus has contributed much to our culture.

Perhaps her most important contribution was her 2010 track ‘Forgiveness and Love’. It reminds us that in the end, no one loses or wins. It shows us that the ability to let go of hate is the most important one we can possess. It impresses on our hearts that with enough hope, we can always start again.

And I think Miley’s right. Last night OUSU Council voted to censure two of its own. We voted, by secret ballot, to condemn the lack of handover given to two part time officers by their predecessors. The atmosphere: fraught. Allegation after allegation. Accusations of personal rivalry on the part of the proposer of the motion. Correspondence read out in front of everyone. No small amount of shock when one of the most prominent figures in OUSU was publicly condemned on behalf of the students of the university. By a margin of one vote.

And you know what? That’s OK. Forgiveness means an understanding that a person – or an organisation – is so much more than one of their actions. That they can change.

Two weeks ago I censured OUSU in my own way. I wrote five hundred words attacking them. I used the word ‘hate’. The post received six times the normal number of reads and parts were reprinted in Cherwell. I stand by every word, but tonight I have something new to say. The OUSU I saw last night was different. It was unafraid of controversy, unafraid to attack with words. Unafraid to censure. Passions were raised and argument was had, and democracy settled the result. And in two weeks the students censured will come back and give their views on new motions and new controversy – and that’s something to be proud of. Forgiveness wins. We can forgive, too. All it takes is a little hope.

And as for love? I didn’t see him last night, I don’t think he was there. But I don’t mind anymore. I walked out of the room smiling. Because forgiveness isn’t that limited – the most important person to forgive is yourself, and the same goes with love. Perhaps to forgive yourself takes a hope that you don’t make the same mistakes a second time.

I think that part of the reason we hate is that we are afraid to love. The fear is understandable, but it must be fought with everything we have. There’s a lot in OUSU to hate, but the central idea of a student union – uniting students – must be defended as a good one. We must have the hope to love the idea that as individuals we mean little but as a collective we can give each other meaning. And as a collective that values debate we can give each other purpose.

Christopher Casson

I now hate OUSU. Here’s why.

I rarely get angry. I think it’s usually better to be nice, and understand that sometimes people make mistakes and do stupid things. I do enough of them myself to know how often it happens. But I’m angry today, and I have been for a couple of days. Really, really angry.

On Wednesday night OUSU voted to condemn the Oxford Union for inviting Marine Le Pen to speak. To repeat that: we voted to condemn the Oxford Union, for inviting Marine Le Pen, to speak. We voted to condemn an organisation whose sole purpose is to encourage free speech and debate, for literally doing their job. We also asked them to check with OUSU in future before inviting possibly controversial speakers. But that isn’t what’s made me angry. I’m angry because I was the only person in the room who stood up against it.

The debate went basically as follows:

Proposer: Marine Le Pen is leader of an organisation which is Islamophobic. They have members who are Holocaust deniers, and are generally xenophobic and bad people. Fascists, even. We should protest against them speaking at the Union.

Me: We can disagree – and protest against – what Marine Le Pen and her party stand for without protesting against her right to speak. Doing that amounts to censorship and is an attack on free speech.

Proposer: This isn’t about free speech (yes, she actually said this). This is about not giving her a platform.

Me: What gives you the right to decide who should have “a platform”? (I got no answer to this. I think the answer is that some people think that their views are self-evidently true, should not be open to question, and that these people think they have the right to decide what others can and cannot hear).

Anna Bradshaw (Vice President for Women): This isn’t censorship because only governments can censor things.

I really like Anna. She’s done a lot of good things for women while she’s been in office, and moreover she’s an extremely kind person. But this is an idiotic argument. It is exactly the kind of thing that was used to justify the motion put to us. We also heard that free speech was something only governments need concern themselves about, and that us as regular people need not worry ourselves about it.

An amendment to include a blanket ‘no platform for fascists’ policy in OUSU was only just defeated by the Council.

In the end we mandated Louis – OUSU’s president – to email every student to inform them of the protests taking place against Marine Le Pen’s visit to Oxford, and mandated the OUSU Exec to send a strongly worded open letter to the Union. We’ve recieved cutting replies from some of the standing committee, and quite right too. Today’s Times – the actual Times, has picked up our letter and written an equally sassy editorial against us. These things are some comfort, but they are not enough.

During the debate I wanted to scream at them, ‘this is why everyone hates you!’

I still do.

Christopher Casson

Seventh Week in OUSU Council: Real or not Real?

Catz brought a motion to Council this week. We were asking OUSU to negotiate with the university towards feedback for prelims being given to students. Were negotiations to fail, we would coordinate a campaign of Freedom of Information requests for the data, to make the point about how important feedback is to us.

It was all going so well.

Just as Council’s about to start he walks in. He takes the seat next to me. ‘Help’, I squeak, to no-one in particular. He knocks his hand into mine as Louis is giving his President’s Report, meets my eyes, and then points-smirking-at a note I’ve made: ‘Lou- ridiculous clothes’. ‘I’m writing a blog about this’, I whisper. He doesn’t react to this information. I try to focus on the motions:

We reject funding ‘Oxford Women for Women International’, on the basis that there are more appropriate sources of funding.

We pass a motion creating a new part-time executive officer to look after the interests of student parents and carers.

We amend some fundraising regulations.

After a great speech by our own JCR President, and fielding of questions by both of us, we pass our prelims feedback motion without opposition. I cheer under my breath when this happens, and I hear a chuckle from next to me. I glance sideways. He’s smiling. I try to think of good conversation openers for when Council finishes; I come up with a great one. Terrified, but determined to do it anyway, I wait. I listen to a motion about amending election regulations, heart pounding. But before the end, and after exchanging scowls with the Chair of Council and checking his watch, he leaves. Council goes on. Apparently there are people in Oxford objecting to some new graduate accommodation because it blocks their views of Port Meadow. After looking at the detail, we reaffirm our position that the objections are untenable.

I take a midnight walk that evening. It’s a habit I’ve been trying to kick: too much thinking happens on them. Of course, lots of people take midnight walks, but they usually end up in clubs. I decide that it’s probably time to let go.

I think the point of prelims feedback is that you work really hard for something which is then just used to judge you, when it could also be used as a learning opportunity – something you can point to and say, ‘that’s where I can do better next time’. It can become just a part of your narrative about yourself. I also think that – especially if you don’t do as well as you’d hoped – having a written analysis of a situation can help you let go and move on. It can make it feel more like a story; less painful. Less real.

Christopher Casson

Fifth Week in OUSU Council: Everybody Lies

‘I’m surprised you’re not running’, he says. It’s mid OUSU Council, and we’ve broken for Pizza before Central Hustings. He goes on, saying that there’s usually only one reason to be ‘such a passionate speaker’ in Council and that’s because you’re jockeying for an elected position. I bite my lip, risking another glance into his eyes. I try to say, ‘I guess I’m just a passionate guy’, but what actually comes out of my mouth is a mumbled, ‘just not really that interested’. He smirks. I take a bite of pizza to prevent myself from saying anything else. At this point we’re interrupted; I’m only half disappointed.

The passionate speaking in question-at least, with regard to this week-was about an emergency motion that we were presented with yesterday, on the day of Council itself. It was-again-about free higher education. The London demonstration that we’d already voted to support had been challenged by the National Union of Students with safety concerns. I made a mini-speech in the guise of a short factual question, detailing the conversation I’d had with the demonstration’s organiser that afternoon, and my opinion that the safety concerns raised were on the whole spurious (and probably politically motivated by the NUS). This was also the opinion, as it turned out, of the vast majority of people in OUSU Council, even those who had originally voted against supporting the demonstration: Council voted overwhelmingly to reject the ‘safety concerns’ the NUS had raised on their facts, and we will, along with Student Unions up and down the country, continue to support the demonstration. (If you’d like to go on the demo, check out the email Jack has sent out, and please ask either of us if you have any questions).

The hustings in question are for OUSU’s new elected officers; they come in part and full time varieties. They look after areas such as welfare, equal opps, charities and communities, and there are also positions like LGBTQ, BME, and Women’s positions which run (among other things) equality campaigns. These hustings are coming to Catz this Friday at 6pm in the JCR. Please come down and hear what they all have to say! (They’re all really nice, and it’s a really good opportunity to ask them questions ahead of the election, which is next week).

If you read my last post you might remember that the current VP for Welfare, Chris Pike, was suspended two weeks ago. He’s now been unsuspended, though all details remain, for the moment at least, confidential. (I don’t know either).

Those were the most important things that happened, but look out for the various notices about campaigns and events that OUSU’s running-there are quite a few happening soon.

Despite the distraction I eventually finish my pizza, and I watch Central Hustings. They’re really interesting, and I’d really encourage everyone to come down to the JCR on Friday at 6pm. If nothing else it’ll get you fired up before the entz.

Christopher Casson

Third Week in OUSU Council: Time Can Be Rewritten

‘OUSU Council is the decision making body of OUSU – a kind of student Parliament.’

At least, that’s the idea. Two weeks ago Council was on the front page of the Cherwell- the combination of poor chairing and a lot of first timers at Council had resulted in chaos in its first meeting of the year. I was there, and I can tell you that it wasn’t pretty. There was procedural motion after procedural motion, objection after objection. We were trying to vote on whether OUSU should support free higher education, but you wouldn’t have known it from the debate that we had.

We decided to postpone the vote and ask each JCR for their opinions. Catz JCR debated and voted: with 131 votes in total, 67% of us supported the motion. Yesterday OUSU Council met again, and it seems a significant majority of colleges agreed with us; the motion passed comfortably. But it passed with a Catz amendment-we asked for the removal of all references to modelling our university system on Germany’s. This was met with laughter and cheers. I also got an answer to a question that came up in our JCR debate: I can confirm that the fact that we now support free higher education will not prevent us from welcoming suggestions to lower (but not abolish) tuition fees.

The OUSU VP for Welfare and Equal Opps, Chris Pike, has just been suspended after complaints were made. We don’t yet know what complaints; the procedure requires that everything remains confidential until the investigation is over.

It’s a similar story with the NUS referendum that happened last term. Someone had hacked into OUSU’s computer system and voted 1000 times, again, the investigation is ongoing and until it’s over we won’t be told anything about who or exactly how.

One more thing to report. When I stood to be your OUSU Rep, I made one promise. I promised to put a motion to Council to set up a website where any student could tell OUSU what we think they should be working on; for us to give them our ideas. My point was that by making it easier for everyone to engage with OUSU, it’d be able to work more on the things we as students actually care about. Everyone would be able to see, and even vote on, other people’s suggestions. ‘I’m not Nick Clegg’, I said: I would definitely definitely definitely be keeping this promise. Negotiations with OUSU’s Exec followed. Louis Trup, OUSU’s President, agreed to second it. Drafts were circulated. Speeches written. The final motion submitted. It was due to be debated yesterday. Except, it wasn’t debated. There was no opposition, no one had anything to say against it. They didn’t even bother to get me to do my inspiring speech: the motion just passed automatically. Yay!

OUSU is very far from perfect, but I think it’s now heading in the right direction. We can’t change its past, but we can be a part of writing its future.

Christopher Casson