Tweeting my head against the wall: A GM Diary

Despite being heavily involved with student journalism at RHUL for over two years, I had never actually attended a GM until the one on the 2nd October.

I had heard a lot about them though and – I’ll be honest – it was almost universally negative. ‘They’re way too long’, ‘the people are self-important’, ‘they don’t change anything’, etc. Despite this, I approached the meeting with an open mind, and here is my experience.

The GM kicked off with the four ‘sabbs’ giving very brief accounts of what they’d been up to since they’d been appointed. For them it was a grand debut of sorts, I suppose. You can read the minutes or their blogs (once they’re updated) if you want the full version of what they’ve been up to. Highlights included VPEW Kenny Aruwa boasting about his collection of condoms and VPComCam Jamie Green’s high school photo (see above).

Then came ‘Ask an Officer anything’, where we learned amongst other things that the SU budget is not currently published, but that greater transparency will now be pursued for by Doug German; that the fire alarm in the SU is so seemingly short-tempered because it is often ‘maliciously activated’ by people trying to sneak into SU nights; and that it is far too early for SURHUL to make any statements about who is playing at the Summer Ball, a subject dear to many Hollowegians’ hearts.

Then, in what I was told is a very unusual move, we were informed the sabbs had ‘starred’ every single motion (about fifteen) on the agenda, which meant that unless anyone in the hall requested otherwise, they would all pass into the constitution automatically. There was an awkward silence as the Union Chair, Joe Rayment, explained this to the hall, twice, to make sure that they fully understood their presupposed unanimity. It became apparent there was a thin line being walked: a compromise between greater SU efficacy (which has often been demanded, so credit where it’s due) whilst also maintaining democracy. Finally, tentatively, two motions were unstarred and moved to debate.

The first motion unstarred was passed uncontroversially. The enigmatic-sounding but ultimately harmless motion to ‘update Regulation E’ (which was just to constitutionally ensure certain society members attended certain meetings) was proposed by VPSA Ian Stewart, and passed with just one abstention.

However, the second one caused a few more problems. The motion, written by Jack Saffrey-Rowe and enthusiastically seconded by VPComCam Jamie Green, was to ensure that SURHUL would support the upcoming Trade Union Congress demonstration on the 20th October. SURHUL is already mandated to support anti-cuts demonstrations (which this effectively is), as passed into the constitution last year. However, It faced opposition from Joshua Charles-Cheung and Peter Hammond. In the end, the opposition was outmanned and outgunned, and the motion passed with a vast majority, but not before voices were raised, and unneccesary personal comments made.

And on that note: here’s the thing I found most notable and strange about the GM: Twitter. So many people on twitter! People discussed the GM as it happened using the hashtag #surhulgm. Now some of these people were watching the meeting online and simply using twitter to get involved, but most were actually just in the room, the same room as each other, sitting mere feet away from the people they were having silent, fervent, para-conversations with. Conversations and comments that were often sardonic, snide, personal, and would certainly never have been made to their subjects’ faces. That characteristic element of twitter – the vast anonymity of the internet – was briefly stripped away, and revealed its smaller-scale function to be a way of name-calling and jeering without any of the consequences.

That the debate was enthusiastic was brilliant – coming from the student’s union of a university so often deemed ‘apathetic’ – but that it spilled so rapidly into ad hominem, generalising arguments from both sides at the first sign of disagreement was very disappointing, even despite Doug German’s tweeted plea to ‘please play nice and accept that everyone has their own opinion. #haveahappyagm’. I couldn’t agree more with the tweet’s sentiment, but can’t help but think that saying something aloud might have been more effective.

Afterwards followed a lengthy string of elections for hall representatives and subcommittee positions which, again, if you’re interested, will be available on the SU website when they upload the GM minutes.

So, stay tuned for more GM diaries throughout the year. Maybe.

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