Over the past several weeks, a campaign to vote ‘abstain’ on Thursday’s ballot Measure A-ROTC Advisory Question has spread through email lists and gained traction among several student groups, including the Students of Color Coalition (SOCC) and the Women’s Coalition (WoCo). Literature on the Campaign to Abstain is being propagated through fliers, Facebook and pamphlets left in student dining areas.
The advisory question featured on this year’s elections ballot will ask students whether they support the return of ROTC to campus, with three possible responses: support, do not support or abstain. Last week, senators attempted to suspend the rules during their Senate meeting in order to repeal the ballot measure, but failed to garner the required 10 votes. The bill was initially passed unanimously.
John Haskell ’12, a student at the forefront of the movement, said that it is not to be taken to be an anti-ROTC campaign, but rather an option for students who either do not feel educated enough to vote or see the issue as one of civil rights. He said that students on both sides of the issue have joined the effort.
“There are lots of reasons that people are abstaining, and it makes the most sense for both sides,” he said.
Haskell said that approximately 40 students met during finals week last quarter to discuss mobilizing the Campaign to Abstain, but that it is “really a grassroots movement.”
“For me, I’m not voting no because I don’t believe this is an issue about ROTC, this isn’t a stance on ROTC, it’s abstaining from a poll that suppresses the minority voice,” Haskell said. “When the elections process happens, it’s a lot about mobilizing and getting people to vote for a candidate. That process can trivialize what it means to understand an issue. For this in particular, [the measure] has a lasting impact that goes beyond the elections season.”
However, some students feel that the campaign is another channel to stifle student debate and serves to further the anti-ROTC cause.
“A student who doesn’t identify with a minority group should still have a voice in what happens within their community,” said Sebastain Gould ’12, a veteran. “Tyranny by the minority is no worse than a tyranny by the majority.
“I do believe it is an anti-ROTC movement simply because they don’t take into consideration the lives of the ROTC cadets and the veterans on campus when they talk about these issues,” he added.
Although Stanford Students for Queer Liberation (SSQL) president Alok Vaid-Menon ’13 represents an anti-ROTC viewpoint, he said that voting to abstain limits passing an opinion on civil rights issue.
“Even people who may be pro-ROTC recognize that it will be the majority opinion coming through on this ballot box, and the minority opinion is going to be neglected, there are a lot of people who are the sympathetic to nondiscrimination,” he said.
“Voting ‘no’ is still passing an opinion on civil rights,” added Leanna Keyes ’14.
Gould remains skeptical. He said that these conversations will continue to take place with or without a poll of the student body.
“Voting on whether or not you believe we should have ROTC—because it would function as a community center—is not different than voting on a group for special fees, because your vote ensures those groups’ existence,” he said.
The results of the measure will be nonbinding; the ad hoc committee investigating the ROTC issue has indicated that the poll would be weighed similar to the open letters that were solicited in the fall.
“We want to find alternative ways to oppose discrimination on our campus, rather than relying on a ballot box to foster justice,” Haskell wrote in an email that has circulated to many chat lists. “We are striving to uphold our collective investment, as Stanford students, in equal opportunity, as well as the values espoused by our non-discrimination clause. We are creating precedent and making a statement for justice with this vote.”
“If you’re going to vote, then vote,” Gould said.