My date with UMSU

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Oh UMSU, it has taken years, but it seems you’ve finally grown into what I need you to be. I once thought you were self-serving, but you’re finally standing up for something larger than yourself. Now we can work towards common goals together, which is why I finally said “Yes” when you asked me out, once again, this Nov. 5.

“How wonderful,” I thought. “I’ve worked in plenty of soup kitchens, volunteered for Siloam Mission and Winnipeg Harvest; we will have so much in common this time.” You even wooed me with sweet nothings on signs and messages around campus: cardboard painted with “125,000 Manitobans live in poverty,” and purple chalk graffiti messages in the tunnels, “Stand up for the 42,000 Manitobans relying on food banks.” You were even a hit with my friends, who helped you encourage students to sign Target Poverty postcards. I think it was the very professional-looking video you made me that really made me weak in the knees. You were doing so well, and I could hardly wait until our date.

I trusted that all of the flowery phrases and praises you’ve been giving me really showed you had turned over a new leaf and weren’t the same old students’ union that hurt me in the past. I remember when you used to speak of keeping the tuition freeze and reducing fees, but then those didn’t really work out for you (or me), did they? You seem more politically intelligent in taking on poverty. I thought maybe you had decided to cut your losses with those other two seemingly more achievable campaigns you lost and become the champion of fighting poverty.

You are so clever, UMSU. If anyone of free thought does not support your “new goals,” they could easily be ostracized as supporting the evils of capitalism that leave so many of our society disadvantaged. It looked like you were doing something worthwhile, helping the “little person” stand up for his or her rights against the big, bad government. You couldn’t just come out and demand what you used to, could you? In these days of economic recession, a completely self-serving cause such as keeping money in students’ pockets is more difficult to justify than something with such far-reaching, feel-good implications as helping the 1,111 people on waitlists for Manitoba Housing.

Now, I’m not the type of student that will call off plans made at the last minute because I get cold feet. No, I was prepared to give you a chance to prove that you actually want to help people other than yourself. I guess that’s why even with all of my suspicions and false hopes, I went to the Day of Action with you.

Sadly, it didn’t take long for your true colours to show. UMSU President Sid Rashid kept shouting across campus that “students are the future!” to rally the troops. You’re right, Sid, but what about all of those people in poverty we were supposed to be helping? How is calling on the government to “prioritize post-secondary education” going to support the families of the 33,000 Manitobans who are unemployed? What about the one in five children living in poverty? They have an entire childhood to get through before they will be ready to go to university.

Clearly, we need to take concrete action to help the less fortunate. Maybe I should go back to the mission, or the soup kitchen, where I really made a difference. I know that you spent many weeks in preparation and many dollars in propaganda — err, advertising — for the group of students you were courting. All it produced was a field trip to the Legislature to once again state that students need additional government handouts. You stole something very important away from the true cause of this date: people in poverty.

I’m sure that soon there will be multiple accounts on the various successes of our date, with inflated numbers of participants and something of a victory speech about how our goals are being accomplished and students’ voices are actually being heard. These might even appear in this very edition of the Manitoban.

Let me ask you one thing, UMSU: did you feed anyone living on the street through your actions? Did you lend someone your coat, or a place to sleep during cold winter nights? No, you were once again raising the cry that students pay too much for education in this province (Manitoba has the lowest tuition in Canada after Quebec and Newfoundland, and is only 2/3 of the Canadian average, according to Stats Canada).

Shame on you, UMSU. I wish you hadn’t hidden behind such a noble goal in order to advance your own agenda. We deserve better from our students’ union. Let all of us with broken hearts begin by demanding transparency from our own student government. Why don’t you stand up for what you really believe in, UMSU? Don’t confuse your goals of lowering tuition fees with the need for affordable housing, or additional jobs, or better living conditions for those who are in real need.

Oh, and don’t bother calling, either.

Adam Cousins enjoys wine, roses and long walks on the beach.