These were the first words spoken to me in the Kappa Alpha Order basement a week after my election to the SGA senate. As uncomfortable as I felt, I attempted to put on some sort of façade and listen as attentively as I could. I had been told The Machine was great – that it was powerful and could get me places. I had a deep desire to improve this campus and make student lives better, and I truly believed The Machine was the best way to do that. So I ignored the hairs standing straight up on the back of my neck, remained quiet and didn’t ask questions.
I was promised I would never be told to vote against my conscience.
I received a text from my Machine representative giving me directions on which Machine candidates to vote speaker of the senate and secretary of the senate before our first meeting. I just so happened to be a friend and teammate of one of the independent officer candidates, so I expressed my concern. I was told I needed to “not bring any unwanted attention” and to “not make people raise their eyebrows this early on.” I wanted to be a good Machine senator. I wanted to be as loyal as I could to the greek community, so I did what I was told. I remained loyal even when I was uncertain that what I was doing was right, and that uncertainty started early.
It was painstakingly clear the only reason the senate would not approve the appointment of President Spillers’ chief of staff was because he wasn’t who The Machine picked. We were told that he “wouldn’t be good for the greek system.” I remember having conversations with other Machine senators who believed blocking the appointment was unfair and that President Spillers had every right to choose who he thought would be most qualified for the position. To be honest, we were all a little afraid of what would happen if we didn’t vote how we were supposed to. Would we be in trouble? Would our fraternity or sorority suffer? What would this do to our future SGA careers? I finally mustered up enough courage to abstain from that vote and from voting on certain issues I didn’t agree with The Machine on.
Everything was fine until it wasn’t. I stopped getting texts from my Machine rep. The side of the senate chamber I usually sat on was quieter than usual, and I ended up moving. The only warm greetings I received at meetings were from independents and The Machine senators who were as frustrated with the situation as I was. Through countless instances of underhanded tactics, of canceled meetings and forced votes against legislation I agreed with, the uncertainty was gone. I was certain I wasn’t doing the right thing by staying where I was.
I refused to let an oppressive system silence my opinion any longer.
I understand the purpose of The Machine. I understand it is a voting block designed to cater to the interests and needs of a specific group of people. What I don’t understand is why The Machine intimidates and suppresses the voices of students while simultaneously sabotaging any progressive plans independents propose, especially when those plans would help every individual on this campus, including greeks. I want to make clear the greek system is not under attack, nor is anyone or anything threatening it. The only thing The Machine is actually threatened by is the possibility of losing power and its stronghold over greek and campus politics. When I ran for senate, I ran because I wanted to represent my brothers and sisters in the greek community, but not just the greek community.
I wanted to represent all areas of campus. I wanted to represent my teammates in the Million Dollar Band, my Crimsonette sisters, my classmates in the Honors College, and most of all, the students I don’t see every day. I wanted to give a voice to the voiceless, and the people I was made to support were always the loudest.
I left last week’s senate meeting in tears and with a sore arm. I raised my hand to speak in favor of a resolution The Machine opposed, and while every other senator who wanted to speak was called on, I was ignored. “What were you going to say tonight?” a Machine rep texted me later that night. I was going to say this. I was going to ask my fellow senators to join me, to refuse to support a system that helps the few at the expense of the many. But as much as I’d like one, I don’t need a revolution. Even if no one joins me, even if people who once spoke to me turn their backs on me, even if no one whose mind can be changed reads this article, I won’t regret writing it. Because I’m finally doing the right thing. I’m finally free.
Alex Smith is a sophomore majoring in political science. She is an SGA senator for the College of Arts and Sciences.