Incumbent Democratic Trustee Joel Ferguson is on record as being opposed to MSU joining the Workers’ Rights Consortium, which U of M joined years ago, which would see to it that MSU apparel will not be manufactured in third world sweatshops. Not a single Democrat or Republican serving on or running for the Board is supporting this demand for MSU to respect basic human rights. This is unacceptable. Ben Burgis is the only candidate on the ballot this fall calling for MSU to join the WRC.
Incumbent Democratic Trustee Joel Ferguson supports moving MSU’s College of Human Medicine to Grand Rapids, a move that the overwhelming majority of people in the MSU and East Lansing communities oppose. This speaks volumes about the fact that, although they are given their jobs in a statewide partisan election, the current Trustees act like the Board of Directors of some corporation, totally unaccountable to the general public. Ben Burgis, unlike the Democrats and Republicans on the Board right now, supports keeping the med school where it is.
Incumbent Democratic Trustee Joel Ferguson helped see to it that the Board meetings where they picked MSU’s new President without any student, faculty or public input were held in secret, with the media and public excluded. MSU’s Intellectual Integrity Officer resigned in protest over this decision, which makes a mockery of democracy as a concept. If we the people are not allowed to see the records of their meetings, how can we make an informed decision about whether or not to re-elect them? Ben Burgis is the only candidate on the ballot this fall who thinks that all Board of Trustees meetings should be open to the public.
The Big Picture: Will the Election Make a Difference?
A lot of people who agree with all of this point-by-point might be cynical about the importance of voting. After all, many people think, politicians are all bought and paid for, and elections rarely make a difference. This is all true. Right now in the US huge corporations fund both major parties, and the same corporations own the major media and set the terms of the political debate. Hence Bush and Kerry disagreeing only over the details of how to enforce the Patriot Act and conduct the war in Iraq. Hence no one in the media asking Joel Ferguson or his Republican counterpart Randall Pittman tough questions about why they want to keep their meetings secret from the public. In that kind of political culture, why bother voting at all?
Well, first of all, because there really are vital differences between the candidates. Should the medical school be shipped out of town? Should the MSU administration have to bargain in good faith with unions on campus? Should MSU help the U.S. military kill Iraqis? Should Spartan caps be manufactured by people making $2 a day in countries where union organizers are routinely targeted by death squads? These are important issues, and without providing an alternative on the ballot, many, many progressive voters will simply vote straight-party Democrat and thus vote for a candidate (Joel Ferguson) who is on the wrong side of all of these issues.
At the same time, though, as important as it is to get people into office who are on the right side of these issues, election campaigns must be fought on the basis of more than just these (very important) immediate demands to make things better in the short term. They also must be used to help build the larger movement. All radical electoral campaigns, from city council through MSU Board of Trustees through the Presidency of the United States, need to be used as a platform to agitate for the only real long-term solution to war and injustice: for ordinary people to rise up against the system of private ownership of the economy, seize control of their workplaces and communities and bring about a truly democratic transformation of American society.