Rage against the Machine
Editor’s note: Three greek-affiliated SGA Senators came to The Crimson White to discuss their interactions with The Machine. Their names have been changed for their protection. They are identified here as Logan, Taylor and Jamie.
That’s the crux of the Machine’s power. That’s the way it maintains its influence in the SGA’s Senate: through innuendo, veiled threats and the looming menace of social exclusion to members of the greek system.
“It’s not just in the Senate,” Taylor said. “That’s just where it’s verbalized and put into a visual form the obstruction that they like to place, trying to prevent any non-Machine-backed progress on campus. And I’ve gotten to see the struggle that takes place when someone’s trying to get things pushed forward here without that support, the way that they can sway things.”
Creating the slate
Each house has a senior representative and a junior representative. The senior representative selects and trains the junior representative, mentoring them through the Machine processes, Logan said.
The reps are responsible for communicating with Machine-backed candidates and elected officials, and relay messages of reinforcement to Senators as to what the Machine expects as they cast their votes throughout the year, often pertaining to each Senator’s specific house, Jamie said.
“You get texts,” Jamie said. “Only on certain bills that they talk about in their meetings, you’ll get a text saying as a house, you’re not supposed to vote yes on this one, or you’re not supposed to vote no.”
The reps initiation process is not explicitly defined, Logan said, but has a root in hazing activities.
“I spoke to a Machine rep and they definitely go through extensive hazing,” Logan said. “And they describe it as being something that brings [them] closer and teaches [them] to look out for each other... it’s like, ‘We’re all gonna have to suffer this so we might as well get to know each other while we do it, make it as enjoyable as possible.’”
Jamie said hazing is mostly emotional for girls and physical for guys.
Logan said the reps will often meet and discuss intra-Machine topics freely with one another, but said the question remains of exactly where, when and how often they meet.
“It just depends,” Logan said. “Sometimes they’ll get emails, sometimes they’ll get texts. Sometimes they’ll rent out a bar for a night.”
Prospective SGA Senate candidates contact their houses’ reps and request to be considered for backing, Jamie said. The reps then take this information to the rest of the Machine, where the individual’s resume will be presented and all except the reps of the potential candidate’s house in question will vote on the individual’s viability as a candidate.
“I know that they can also speak in favor of this person, tell you why they picked this specific candidate,” Logan said. “And again, they do also look at what you’ve been involved in previously, and also your mindset -- do they think that you would be one to conform and go with the way of things, or do they think that you might think differently?”
The selection of the Executive Council candidates works similarly, Jamie said, but there’s a greater emphasis on the potential candidate’s record in the Senate.
“There’s several candidates in the Machine that all want it really badly, and you can kind of see it when they come to Senate and propose things that they’re trying to set themselves up for their platform and what they want to campaign for,” Jamie said. “So I think with exec, it’s a lot louder and you see a lot more things happening with that, more so on campus. It’s not so much simply resume-based. They’re going to look at what you’ve done, what you could do.”
Considering the extensive selection process, the Machine has a surprising hands-off policy when it comes to election platforms, Jamie said.
“I wasn’t directed on anything,” Jamie said. “As far as I know, it’s entirely up to the candidate.”
Logan also said The Machine doesn’t interfere with the candidates’ campaigns to any great extent.
“I even asked my rep, ‘What can I do? Would you suggest going to any specific groups and talking?’” Logan said. “There was no, ‘Make sure your platform includes this.’ It was all up to me.”
Taylor said platforms aren’t as important to candidates with Machine backing.
“A lot of the people in the Senate who have initiatives that they’re trying to push and plan were non-Machine candidates,” Taylor said. “They have to give people something to remember them by, and to get people to vote for them.”
Jamie attributes the lack of Machine interference to a general need for power as opposed to support for any particular candidate’s platform.
“I don’t think the Machine cares. I think the Machine just wants to have a majority in Senate,” Jamie said. “That’s all they care about.”
“The Machine always tends to shut down anything that the independents propose, and it seems more so that they do this simply because they’re independents and they’re not on the Machine’s side,” Logan said.
Logan said there have been many cases where the legislation proposed wouldn’t negatively affect greek life.
“I think that’s just where the whole dirty politics comes into play, because they’re simply shooting it down out of spite,” Logan said.
Logan wanted to do this to promote awareness and educate people on what really happens.
“I feel like no one wants to step up and say, ‘hey, this is what actually goes on. This is the obstruction that’s happening,’” Logan said. “No one wants to stand up and say this is wrong. This is what’s going on.”
Jamie said what gets lost is that elected officials are supposed to be doing good things for the student body. Jamie said that when independents present good ideas, the Machine fights them on the floor until the bills die, even though they may be in the best interest of the student body.
“When we get elected as senators we’re supposed to be representing our college, not our sorority or fraternity,” Jamie said.
Taylor said much of what the Machine does is just a power grab. Taylor said when the Machine sees progress from an independent sector, it scares them.
“They’re afraid that if they’re able to start getting things forward then maybe their power becomes less relevant,” Taylor said.
Logan said they specifically instill fear in fraternities and sororities by threatening to take away privileges such as swaps. Taylor said the Machine uses this fear as a rallying point. “The Machine says independents are against greek life to scare people,” Taylor said.
“That can get people who are in those houses to be actively against the independent forces, just purely out of fear,” Taylor said. “What they’re being told is that there’s an enemy, when in fact it’s just the machine afraid that they themselves are going to lose their power.”
Logan said the independents support Machine legislation that they feel is helpful to the student body.
“When the roles are reversed and the independents draw up something that would be genuinely helpful to the student body as a whole, you don’t get those votes back in return,” Logan said.
Many of the proposed legislations, be it by Machine Senators or independents, often have pre-scripted statements of affirmation and negation from Machine-backed Senators that Jamie said follow the Machine party line.
“Senators who wish to show their loyalty to the Machine’s cause often come with statements prepared,” Jamie said. “I’ve even witnessed a senator read a statement straight from her laptop in a session.”
The three spoke about SGA President Elliot Spillers and the Machine’s aim to stop many of his legislations.
“I think the reason for that was that they tried to make it look as dysfunctional as possible with him as president and to try to make it look like he wasn’t able to lead or do anything,” Taylor said.
Jamie said the Machine attempts to shut down senators this semester who may plan on running for president next semester so when they campaign they have nothing to run on.
Independents, Taylor said, are very capable and talented people who are able to fill the roles traditionally dominated by Machine influence.
“I think especially recently with the influx of out-of-state students and the real shift of demographics at the University,” Taylor said. “I think it’s becoming more the case that the relevance of the Machine with respect to leadership roles is becoming less and less as a given and more and more of them holding on to something they see is potentially slipping through the cracks.”
Peyton Shepard, Elizabeth Elkin and Sean Landry contributed to this report.