Tuesday, April 25, 2006

UMASS Dartmouth Student Trustee Race: A Regret

Last year, I ran an unsuccessful campaign to become the Student Trustee. The race was extremely difficult - I was one of four candidates. It was UMASS Dartmouth's year to be one of the schools that had complete voting power (as opposed to merely a voice without a vote) on the UMASS Board of Trustees. Two of the candidates were fairly well funded - I spent almost a hundred dollars of my own money just on copies made at Staples (and, remember, I'm a poor college student) and I was completely drowned out.

One of the candidates I thought had spent thousands. He probably spent hundreds more than I did, but it turned out his uncle owned a company that made the thousands of bumper stickers, pins and T-Shirts that made his name well known on campus (and he only had to pay the cost of the materials). He had professional banners that hung down the Student Center and academic buildings on campus. Oh, did I mention he had large swath of volunteers or the fact that he was the Student Senate President?

Another candidate had a huge field of volunteers, was a Student Senate member and former managing editor of the college newspaper (the Torch). Did I mention he has lived on campus since 1999? He advertised that a little too much, if you ask me, even if he was currently in a grad program.

This candidate also had a prominent newspaper article with a huge picture that sparked a huge debate between myself and the Torch. I had written a very short letter to the editor (perhaps a third of the size of the other candidate's propaganda piece) to announce my candidacy and lay out my positions - a letter that was never included, despite the fact that I was left with the intentions that it would be. It started off a very public exchange on a college website called Facebook between myself and the candidate who was the former managing editor of the Torch. He didn't think there was anything wrong with only including one article of one candidate who used to run the paper in an issue that was going to be laying around UMASS Dartmouth for the entire week of the election, while the other candidates had no voice in the paper whatsoever.

Ultimately, that whole fiasco was pointless. I did not finish well because my campaign didn't have the muscle of those two other candidates and I certainly didn't have the money to compete with the first candidate I described. I would have lost either way because I was completely blindsided by the lengths to which the other candidates would have gone to in order to win an election for a college position - an important one nonetheless, but still taking place only at UMASS Dartmouth. I would have started my campaign earlier and fought harder if I had known, but this blog I'm writing is all salt in an old wound. As it stood, once the first two candidates got wind of what was going to be my hat-trick - going door to door to hundreds of dorms - my opponents quickly moved their forces to do exactly the same.

I don't regret running. First, the entire Torch fiasco ruined the chances of the second candidate I described - who was facing an uphill battle anyway - by revealing a lot of views I'll describe as unique and unappealing. More importantly, it taught me a lot of things about running a small, local campaign. You need to start early and you need - more than anything - friends who support you. I could have won, despite the money problems and despite any of the election drama that took place. I had a great message that worked with people who heard it, I just didn't have the 20-30 people to deliver it and I certainly didn't give myself the sort of time I needed to run a successful campaign (I entered the race late - I didn't want to rush into something that was going to be a huge time commitment and previous Student Senate elections weren't anything like mine, so I was caught unprepared).

Here's what I do regret: I just logged on to Vote UMASS today and only one candidate is running for Student Trustee, with no posters in sight, and that candidate isn't named Ryan. I had a chance to make an impact, even if it wasn't a year I could have voted on the Board of Trustees (and just had a voice), but I failed to take it. Today, I failed at being a progressive - I failed at being a person who cares passionately about the issues - and that makes me feel really bad about myself. One year later, my Student Trustee campaign has taught me the most important lesson of all: put your time and effort (and money, if you have it) where your mouth is.

If we see the world and are unhappy with what's taking place, we need to be the ones who take it back. We can't leave it to anyone else, the world is too important.

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