The recent Woroni article ANU and Political Membership misconstrued criticism of Young Labor and failed to address the real problems with student politics.
The author legitimately denounces cyber-bullies. No one should be vilified or subject to abuse online or in person. Rather than the usual comments about parking tickets and photos of cute ducks on campus, Stalkerspace recently degenerated into an online public shaming mechanism. A hub of Schadenfreude to bring out the worst in ANU students.
While Young Labor members should never be bullied, the collective is not immune from critique.
Firstly, the ANU Sport campaign brought to the fore many of the issues with Young Labor’s campaigning on campus. The author misrepresents the criticisms levelled against the “Your ANU Sport Ticket”. It was not merely the fact that the President of ANU Labor was running on the ticket. The ticket was supported by ANU Labor in emails, and the campaign was supported by prominent Young Labor Members. It would have been extraordinary for students not to have drawn a connection between Young Labor and “Your ANU Sport”. Yet at no point in the campaign did Young Labor admit the connection. It is acceptable for young political groups to run such tickets. However, if they chose to run such opaque campaigns, they should anticipate suspicion.
This suspicion is exacerbated by the fact that ANU Labor is rarely seen campaigning for actual policy issues. After years of ANU Labor election tickets with insipid policies that disappear post election, students should not be blamed for questioning what Young Labor actually stands for. When ANU Young Labor’s most prominent Union policy is to bring Brodburger to ANU, is it really unreasonable for students to suspect candidates might be motivated by their political careers rather than a burning passion for business in the Union building?
The author describes his motivation to drive policy change as driving his desire to join Young Labor, and to run for ANU Sport. Noticeably lacking in his article is any mention of such policies. Visit the Young Labor Facebook page and there is not a post in months about policy but rather countless images of Young Labor members with Labor Party Politicians.
If ANU Young Labor wants to rectify its image problem at the University, one suggestion is to communicate to those outside the system what policies they stand for, to campaign for more than just candidates. Labor members such as Melissa Parke are admirable for their vocal opposition to Labor policies they believe to be unjust. Young Labor could also publicly support campus groups campaigning to effect change. It should inspire students with more than the mere fact that Labor is not the Liberal Party.
While the author purports to have “great respect” for those who seek to effect social change, subsequent statements demonstrate contempt for grassroots activism. The author quotes Saul Alinsky, telling activists to “cut [their] hair, put on suits, and infiltrate the system from within”. It should be possible to advocate for a plurality of approaches to effecting change without denigrating others. The author claims “flaunting your radicalism is self-serving”. By implication, those who look like hippies are at worst, tactless and self-important, at best ineffective. If the author’s perspective is representative of ANU Young Labor, it makes the disconnection between the group and activist groups understandable. It also helps explain the absence of Young Labor contingents at protests.
Furthermore, “working within the system”, is not as simple as presented. Effecting change is not a binary question of working either inside or outside the system. It is a question of gradation, with all activists ultimately attempting to change the system. Working within the system does not necessitate advocating a two-party system, nor is it mutually exclusive with activism from the outside.
Followed to its logical conclusion, the author’s argument leaves you questioning why he has not chosen to join the Liberal Party to help oust the “blumbering idiot” Prime Minister.
No doubt the majority of Young Labor members have the best intentions in entering politics and there are individuals within ANU Young Labor who I greatly respect. However, the way the collective interacts and communicates with broader student populous is problematic. To demonstrate their respect for grassroots activism, they ought to support and engage with their fellow students on campaign issues, rather than relegating them to irrelevance and treating them as “outside the system”.
This article is a response to ‘ANU and Political Membership’ by Michael Pettersson, which you can read here.
Odette Shenfield is a campaigner for Fossil Free ANU and currently interns with The Australian Greens.
Image from superfamous.com