Sitting through a relentlessly cordial Executive meeting last Tuesday, I couldn’t help casting my mind back to the halcyon days before VSM.
Voluntary Student Membership (VSM) happened a few years ago. Older students will wearily roll their eyes at hearing that fucking acronym (sorry, initialism) for the billionth fucking time; younger students will appreciate my double use of the word “fucking” but won’t really know what this sentence is about; and first-years probably don’t read the editorial anyway because I’m old and I spell words out in full and I don’t twerk or write about Dora the Explorer.
Basically, before VSM, everybody had to be a member of VUWSA, even the ones who really hated VUWSA. And if a large proportion of the student body didn’t want anything to do with VUWSA, VUWSA didn’t really have to care because, well, see above.
It was the constitutional equivalent of locking a bunch of aggressive howler monkeys in a small room together and watching them splatter each other with shit. It was fucking marvellous. Between 2009 (when I first started paying attention to student politics) and 2011 (when VSM passed) I ate so much goddamn popcorn.
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Almost every student president was either a member of Young Labour or an outright commie. Those that didn’t openly shill for the revolution of the proletariat, the forcible redistribution of wealth, and collective ownership over the means of production were instantly labelled crypto-fascist ACT sympathisers by said commies.
It was an era of Olympian levels of entitlement from the beardies and weirdies. Associations still carried out most of their voting through village-hall style general meetings, and left-wing groups would habitually stack the meetings to vote in a set of (often extremely bizarre) external policies. I was at Otago, and as recently as 2010 some of the policies on OUSA’s books included:
“That OUSA put pressure on the Government to oppose all European immigration into NZ until the governments of Europe and Northern America stomp on their Neo-Nazi fascist groups.”
“That this SGM recommends that OUSA spend $250,000 on its own penis-shaped skytower, design to be commissioned by Stephen La Roche and built by IGM.” [Later amended to specify that the tower instead be vulva shaped.]
I can’t speak to similar things happening at VUWSA, but I understand the 2008 VUWSA president used to openly campaign for the Workers’ Party in his official capacity as President. There was also, of course, The One With the Psychic Hotline and The One With The Pimped Out Van.
Best of all was the constant presence (but only because they were forced, they were FORCED) of ACT On Campus. Aside from an unfortunate tendency to use rape analogies to try and win Facebook arguments, ACT On Campus were a reliably game, entertaining bunch of swivel-eyed batshit loons.
God how I hated them at the time. God how I miss them now. Getting into 50-comment arguments over the finer points of the right to freedom of association, or whether altruism is all a sham (OMG, cos, like, helping orphans made Mother Theresa feel good, so she was actually being selfish all along!), were some of the most satisfying stretches of self-righteous rage I have ever experienced.
The debate over VSM was especially great. One student president got drunk and called Sir Roger Douglas a “dinosaur” and a “cunt” on Facebook. The same president was also physically assaulted by an ACT On Campus member, who had been waving a sign saying “I love liberty”. A good third of all conversations in 2011 ended in personal abuse.
Recently David Seymour declared how great it was that VSM passed. I found this ironic. The reality is that though ACT won that battle, it may have lost the war.
ACT has always relied on a hearty wedge of youthful arrogance and naïveté, which is needed to keep blood pumping to the party’s shrivelled patrician heart. Without ACT On Campus, the party is basically a vegetable. Pre-VSM, ACT On Campus had the ultimate stage on which to play the pantomime villain of student politics, a role it fulfilled to near perfection. Now, its vituperative message has no place: why bitch if you can just leave; and if you have left, why enter the discussion at all?
What I’m portraying as great (because it was hilarious and helped to fill column inches by the truckload) is now anathema to VUWSA. Ideology is a dirty word; nobody at VUWSA gives away their beliefs for fear of plunging the organisation back to the “bad old days”. Rick Zwaan would probably be really pissed off if I told you that he’s actually a massive Greenie, so I won’t. VUWSA is financially somewhat poorer, but objectively better in every other way than it was before VSM. ACT On Campus have crawled back to the Fourth Circle of Hell, or wherever it is they hang out. Facebook is civilised.
God, it’s just. So. Fucking. Boring.