Student movement or stagnant movement? My problems with the NUS Black Student’s campaign

Politics aside, I was really looking forward to getting involved in the black student’s campaign this year.  However, after attending the campaign’s annual summer conference, I have some serious reservations.

My suspicions began when I looked at the conference’s final motions and amendments document. I thought the steering committee were supposed to be impartial, but any motions submitted that criticised the structure of the campaign had been scrapped altogether or had been warped beyond recognition. I can only imagine this happened at compositing- a meeting at NUS HQ that motion proposers had to attend to put forward the case for keeping their proposals. The problem was, not everyone could go, thanks to money or travel issues.

One motion in particular that stood out was entitled ‘winter conference is too cold’. The motion resolved to do away with the campaigns annual winter conference and replace it with regional activist training days. In the final motions and amendments this had been merged into a motion named ‘winter conference is amazing’. Training days were only mentioned in the final resolution, cleverly phrased so that no delegate could take parts and attempt to scrap winter conference at all.

Clearly, there are political elements to the black students campaign’s steering committee. Members of the committee were clearly politically affiliated to candidates running in the election. I later discovered that Pav Ahktar, chair of steering, was black student’s officer from 2004 to 2006, and had graduated a very long time ago.

Pav’s political affiliations were confirmed in the election for next year’s steering committee, in which he recommded that delegates should also vote for Bellavia Riberio-Addy, who incidentally, is also a former black students officer . Personally, I object to two former black students’ officers running to be elected on to the steering committee as I don’t believe they can be impartial after being involved in the campaign for such a long time .

I believe the student movement is transient by nature, and for that reason, should always be kept regenerated, fresh and new. I didn’t see that in this campaign. I saw students and graduates who had been involved for 5 to 10 years moving from post to post. I think this suspicious, and indicative of a select few who  obviously do not want to let go.  It is a phenomenon that strangling progress and putting off new delegates.

My dissatisfaction came to a head when I decided to run for women’s representative on the black student’s committe. Standing orders (the same standing orders I had read on NUS Connect and in my delegate pack) dictated that there were two open places available. This is why I ran.

When we entered the room we had to wait 45 minutes because one candidate (who has been on the black student’s committee for 7 years) insisted that one place should be reserved for further education candidates only.

Upon consulting steering, the room was informed that a place should be reserved for further education, that this had been forgotten on the standing orders, and that we had the opportunity to take it to a vote.

Now, I agree with this proposal in principle, but in the context of the women’s caucus I thought it was an absolute farce. The candidate who ran for further education women’s place was Rebecca Sawbridge, who has comfortably sat on various positions on black student’s committee for seven years. Conveniently she was the only further education candidate in this election. In this election, I saw a committee member (who had already enjoyed too much time sitting at the table) reserving herself a place on the committee for another year. I was outraged.

With the same people maxing their term limits and moving from post to post to post, year after year after year, I believe that the black student’s campaign is stagnant. This is a case of the same people, with the same ideas, same politics, and ultimately, the same cliques. First time delegates who are keen to get involved are shafted by old timers using their political persuasion to fix things and create certain wins for themselves. When we are welcoming delegates to their eight year on committee, something is seriously wrong. In all honestly, I think some campaign and steering committee members think they are the black student’s campaign, as if it could not survive without them.  The democracy is warped, and the movement is going nowhere.

I also object to the way the motions are set out in the black students campaign. Delegates must vote on four main motions with a series of amendments after each one- forcing delegates to accept the a main motion whether they like its content or not.

I think committee members should accept criticism gracefully. The campaign needs progress and reform.  When new delegates are unsatisfied,  it’s not helpful to brand us ‘right wing’ just because you don’t like constructive criticism. I do believe the black students campaign is in the stranglehold of a select few individuals who are hanging on to the campaign like a comfort blanket. Ultimately, this results black activists who are being shunned, and black students who are being failed.

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  1. mattblackall says:

    Fantastic post. The background to this issue was bought up at this years’ NUS Conference as a motion was put forwarded saying you should only be able to do 2 years on the campaign committees; however it needed 75% to pass and only got around 54%. The reason it didn’t pass was because of the liberation campaigns complaining that the NUS should not dictate how the liberation campaigns should run – which i agree with, but it takes the micky when people who hadn’t been students for years are able to run for an important position within a student campaigning group! Stagnation or what! There consequent labelling of those they don’t agree with as ‘right-wing’ also makes me feel ashamed of labelling myself as ‘left-wing’

    My housemate did go to BSC and he said that there was one guy who is now a lawyer who lives in Belguim and who hadn’t been a student for 10 years+ who was voted back onto committee. I’m lost for words…

    Reply

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