Apathy from independents gives the Machine its powerBy Michael Smith | 02/25/2018 6:39pm
Since the spring of 2016, my freshman year at The University of Alabama, I have dreamed about the year when The Machine finally comes crashing down.
That year, a glut of independents ran for SGA positions, with every Executive position contested and every college's Senate race competitive. We lost six of seven Executive spots, only winning the seventh due to a disqualification, and captured less than a third of the Senate. Last year, independent candidates were few and far between. We lost seven of seven Executive spots and captured less than a third of the Senate.
With candidacy applications due Monday of this past week, I don't know if independents will cover the Quad on Election Day or if the ballot will be full of unopposed races. All I know is that I am worried.
I am worried that maybe that dream of The Machine falling apart will never materialize. If it hasn't happened in over 100 years, why would now be different? Maybe I was foolish, destined to be driven to dreadful resignation by my senior year, like decades of independents before me.
Like any type of grief, this resignation leads many students to place blame, bargain hypotheticals and accept defeat. Most boil down their conclusions to something along the lines of "The Machine is too entrenched as a system to be defeated, with a rare exception here and there."
My issue with this conclusion is not that it is untrue; it probably is correct. However, I object to the passive way that it is said. Independents act like entrenchment of The Machine is a given, something that came about exogenously, something that just happened.
The Machine didn't just happen. We, independents and Alabama's non-Machine student body more broadly, gave The Machine its power.
There are only around 9,000 students in Machine-aligned Greek houses, yet they can expect their Executive candidates to get 7,000 to 8,000 votes in contested races. Meanwhile, out of the other 27,500 students eligible to vote, only about 6,500 do, a turnout rate of one quarter. It is obvious why independents need a miracle to ever win.
While we independents can blame this lack of turnout on many things, my personal go-to being rain on Election Day, we all know deep down, there is only one true reason: apathy. Most students see student government as a joke, as riddled with corruption as it is meaningless. Thus, no one cares enough to vote, handing the keys for The Machine to run the student government as a joke, creating a vicious cycle.
But, to be fair, almost every university has a student government that its students see as meaningless. That doesn't answer the pure monopoly The Machine has on student government and administrative power. A large chunk of the blame again falls back on independents; we shoot ourselves in the foot each chance we get.
All three years during my time here, independents roll up to Senate with 15 to 20 senators out of 50. But, week after week, senators miss sessions, forget to send proxies or schedule classes at just the wrong time. Our numbers dwindle to a point where The Machine has a 35-vote supermajority and the ability to call a constitutional convention on their own. All leverage is gone.
Then, spring rolls around, and campaign season is in the air. However, due to a combination of fear about Elections Board sanctions and a fear of revealing their tactical secrets, almost no one commits to running for any position, with some of our greatest candidates left on the cutting room floor with no time to find replacements.
However, maybe even worse is when independents are committed to running for a certain position, without considering any external factors. Thus, over the past two election cycles, for example, independents have had two candidates running for president against one another. This splits the independent base, suppresses turnout, gives The Machine candidate a shaky 54 percent majority, and both independents come out embarrassed.
Yet, perhaps the most crucial factor tying these elements together simply boils down to laziness. Call it what you want, but at least Machine members are putting in the work. They may be doing the work for despicable reasons, but one hour of hard work doing bad things beats 10 minutes attempting good things every day of the week. If we are too lazy to share a Facebook video, change our profile picture, read a bill, sign a petition or take five seconds on myBama to vote, maybe we don't deserve power.
Some may see these observations as pessimism, others will see it as realism. However, against all odds, and maybe past all reason, I am still an optimist. Because eventually, something will have to break through. If not this year, then the next, or the year after that. The when and why will be determined by those students who eventually realize they have all of the power they need and don't get caught up dreaming.
Michael Smith is a junior majoring in economics. His column runs biweekly.