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Chris Luck

Chris Luck is the SU's Democracy Officer.

Pulling the pin out of the grenade...

I’ve been a Sabb for 2 years now, at Warwick for 5 and heavily involved in the SU for 4 (I know, urgent need to get a life right?!).  The weird thing about that time for me though is that I’ve spent a lot of it with my mouth shut.  I started out all those years ago in something that was called ‘Elections Group’ where my job was to deliver Union elections and I had to stay totally impartial, and whilst not having a public opinion was tough at first, it’s since proved a habit I struggle to get out of.

But with less than a month to go and with my projects winding down it’s probably time I got some stuff off my chest and with that in mind I want to make two very quick points, about ‘campaigning’ and ‘ethics’.

Campaigning’

I can feel a sniper trained on me for what I’m about to say…

The standard approaches to student campaigning don’t work on me.  I was always a pretty average student: I had part-time jobs, I was involved in societies, I lived on and then off-campus and I have always cared very much about student issues.  I’m against the fee rise, I try and recycle, I’m pro-equal rights and like to think I go out of my way to help people; but a march, placard, campsite or megaphone will never work on me.  An activist (who is probably loading the rifle now…) will tell me that other more mundane methods simply don’t work and that they have no choice but to take to the streets and whilst that may appeal to some, it doesn’t appeal to all.  My message?  If you’re a campaigner try more than one approach – learn from viral marketing campaigns, try the reasonable approach as well and you might mobilise a student movement which has the potential to win on any issue if it is strong in number and intelligent in approach.

Ethics’

Well, I’ve started writing this now *looks out for sniper over shoulder*

The word ethical really, really bugs me.  The reason?  I genuinely don’t understand how it is ‘ethical’ to impose one person’s ethics on another.  Facing the Bacardi issue head on, I can understand why some people don’t want to drink it (either because they don’t like rum or due to personal ethics) and I can understand why they want us to sell an alternative that they feel more comfortable with.  I get that and I also understand the theory that if enough people boycott a product then the company could be forced to reconsider unethical practices in order to remain profitable.  But outright banning a product in a Students’ Union isn’t the way to win that battle – it just distracts from the actual issue in favour of people talking about who has ‘power’.  Absolutely raise awareness of issues, absolutely introduce alternative products but don’t impose boycotts until you’ve at least tried to win over hearts and minds – that way you’re at least not trampling on other people’s personal ethics.

 

As I dodge bullets left, right and centre I hope I’ve made you think.  Many of you may completely disagree with me and that’s fine, a few may agree but all I ask is that you take the time to think – what would convince you to get involved and how can the student movement better approach issues such as fees, buses, price and quality?  It’s clear our current approach isn’t right, but what is?

Comments

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Jasper Pearce
11:21pm on 3 Jul 12 Chris, a couple of points, On Campaigning, I’m not sure what you’re suggesting – of course activists should be reasonable and be intelligent in their approach, but I don’t know of many campaigning methods that don’t involve some sort of loud, obvious activity; the compelling academic arguments are effectively made all over the internet and print media, and if the only thing left is active campaigning then it is clearly better than nothing. Marches, megaphones and placards are useful precisely because they are the only thing that regularly gets on the news, and getting publicity for causes is the main point of doing anything. It’s not as if fees rose because we didn’t make a compelling intellectual argument or failed to mobilise a movement. On campsites, I’d argue that ‘Occupy Warwick’ did a fair bit that satisfies your conditions – there were lectures by academics, pamphlets of essays, and plenty that can be considered ‘reasonable’. On Ethics, the issue is obfuscated by the tenuous argument against Bacardi – there are more ‘unethical’ companies, and if a less controversial boycott had been passed then I don’t think so many people would immediately agree with your position (few people seemed to get so riled up around the BAE boycott, for instance). I don’t agree with ‘trampling over people’s personal ethics’ any more than you do, which is why I think the SU should try, as far as possible, to deal with companies that no-one has a serious, burning objection too – because I haven’t yet met anybody who has a serious moral love for Bacardi rum. This is a members-based organisation, students should clearly have a right to regulate which companies the SU buys from, and the fairest way to decide which is through the democratic structures. There were clearly problems with UC doing that for people, but when a student stands at the front of a General Meeting and argues a case, and the case is considered strong enough by the student body (overwhelmingly!), then that event is in itself the student trying to ‘win over hearts and minds’, with a successful vote proof that enough have been won to make the whole thing legitimate. Such is democracy, my Democracy Officer. But c’mon gang, don’t send abuse to Chris Luck, he’s absolutely lovely.
Samuel Fry
12:37am on 3 Jul 12 If I could add my thoughts to this very interesting blog post. The second part of the blog post is, to my mind, pretty obvious. Boycotting Barcardi was only done to show symbolic support for the communist government in Cuba; it had nothing to do with students or social justice or anything really. It raised lots of questions about power -- about why a small group of campaigners and politics geeks should have the power to micromanage which products are sold in SU outlets. Spending three General Meetings deciding whether or not to boycott something that very few people regularly drink is in my view a chronic misuse of Union resources. It also damaged the reputation of the trustees, since they were forced to make a highly activist decision. Personally, I would much rather the SU not boycott anything, leaving the political elite to talk about more useful things. On the first part of the blog, I broadly agree. The problem with street campaigning/ protests is that they are inherently left-wing. In general, conservatives do not take to the streets in protest; those that do tend to be ultra-leftist, anti-capitalist, socialist, CND-supports, which is very much a minority political view. Social media is a better method, but is so overused already that it’s difficult to see much growth. At the end of the day, the SU’s campaigns are most effective when they are local (ie aimed at the university, the council or local businesses) and individuals should either contact politicians or join a political party to make a real difference. Having said all that, I do look forward to next year and, as a part-time officer, my own campaigning. The democracy review has undoubtedly improved the SU by making it more accessible and campaigning will be better, with the new staff and better structure. So to summarise, these are both massive problems but thank you Chris for sorting them out!
Jonathan Sewell
11:08pm on 2 Jul 12 Don't worry, you're not alone in your views at all - I couldn't agree more. I'm glad that you took the chance to post all this while you still could, as I got the feeling that the events of the past year or two had been sliding backwards and forwards with what you personally believed to be the correct course of action! But therein is the reason you were so good at your job - you never let anything get in the way of what the students wanted. I don't know about anyone else, but I'll miss you Chris!
David Reed
10:52pm on 2 Jul 12 I have a lot of respect for Chris. Great guy. But when the SU has finally committed resources to facilitating student social action - has fully reformulated its democracy - and is poised at the absolute, crucial moment for either winning over the next generation of active citizens, or allowing those students to fall into individualistic consumer logic.... Let's just say its disappointing that you never really 'got' this "student movement" thing. What it could be about. And I feel great sadness, once again - that those at Warwick who defied the interpretation of their experience given to them through corporations, governments, sponsors, and vice-chancellors - have failed to deliver that dialogue through their Students Union. That's a tragedy in my eyes - and its far too easy to blame the stupidity (and it WAS stupidity) of banning Barcardi. Evidently, this is not the fault of your blog. I think your response is totally justified - as I have made clear to you personally countless times. It's merely... frustratingly, gratingly simplified. And so far worse than that; because I *know* that you know exactly what I'm talking about in terms of this debate, I find it deeply patronizing that you have pandered to the apathy and false division which characterizes its simplification. Don't legitimize that. Incidentally, I disagree with the terms of your straw man "controversy". And I refuse, absolutely, the divide between activists and non-activists. But most pressingly of all, I genuinely regret the chasm that has opened up between those who give too much of a shit about all this stuff, and those that give far, far too little. Because if we have to draw a line in the sand between these people - then I know where you and I stand.
Matthew Rogers
10:16pm on 2 Jul 12 I realise it isn't, just adding my tupporth to the debate. :-)
Christopher Luck
10:11pm on 2 Jul 12 Matt - this isn't a criticism of the efforts of campaigners, it's simply pointing out that sometimes the approaches taken aren't inclusive. I'm trying to spark debate, not criticise - it's a debate that should be had and is long overdue I think. Pascale - thanks :)
Matthew Rogers
10:07pm on 2 Jul 12 Some interesting points, but I think campaigners are often expected to launch hugely successful campaigns with extremely limited resources, and when they don't they are viewed as an abject failure and disproportionately criticised for even attempting to make a difference. Passion and drive don't necessarily breed a knowledge base in marketing and media expertise. Hopefully the recruitment of a new Campaigns and Policy Support Coordinator in SU will increase support for campaigns next year.
Pascale Karanjia
9:45pm on 2 Jul 12 Great Article!

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