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Letter: Join us in creating democracy

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Criminals walk among us: the Ohio University Board of Trustees. I charge them with theft. They have hijacked a public institution of higher learning. Now they hold our livelihoods, our freedom and our futures hostage.

The investigation is finished. Collective anger at university spending, crushing student debt and their refusal to listen to students’ concerns and input: this is our evidence and our arrest warrant.

It’s not fair because no one should have stolen from us in the first place, but the only way we are going to get justice is to make them share. This is why we protest, and this is why I’m running on the BARE ticket for Student Senate.

Taking power back from these thieves is one thing, but once we’ve got it, how will we hold on to it? The two goals are not mutually exclusive: it is the crux of student unionism.

The Ohio University Student Union is more than an activist group. It is a proposal for how a university should be governed. Not only do we challenge the undemocratic university structure that leads to annual tuition hikes that feed wealth inequality, we seek to build the structure that will replace it.

This year, Student Union members of Senate passed speaking and voting rights to all OU students. Now all students can vote during Senate meetings.

As we continue to grow, we will have to build structures capable of sustaining democracy. The empowerment of everyone to affect university decisions that impact their lives is the goal of student unionism. To ensure this ideal, the future structures that will replace the status quo must be democratically built.

But there are models we can look to for inspiration; participatory democracy is possible. In Quebec, thousands of students participate in what are called federated student unions. In 2012, they elected to go on strike to oppose a tuition hike, and they won.

How their model works: unions are organized at the department level, and they federate into the college level, which federate into the university-wide student union. The university union does not control the lower unions; instead, the lower unions decide how the higher unions will act. This is bottom-up democracy.

Now it is 2015, and the Quebec student unions are on strike again. They are demanding control of their lives because nothing less will protect them from tuition hikes, from unfair university spending, from oppression.

Now it is 2015, and a student movement is brewing at Ohio University. I hope you join. Democracy needs everyone. Yes, I want you to vote BARE, but I also want you with me as we build direct democracy at OU. I hope next time we take to the streets to disrupt a society which does not belong to us you will be there. When it comes time to claim this university, our futures and our lives as ours and no one else’s, I hope you will be there.


Ryan Powers is a sophomore studying philosophy. He is also running on the BARE ticket for Student Senate. 

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