Saturday, April 25, 2009

Who did Jesus elect?

God smites Christians

The student government at American River College in Sacramento has been having difficulty telling the difference between rendering to Caesar and rendering to God. (They get the two of them mixed up.) That confusion has now been resolved, the students at ARC having voted to sweep the dominant Slavic Christian coalition out of office. A slate of students calling itself ARC Students for Change triumphed in an election that boasted a staggering 9% turnout. (Yes, we're grading that on the curve because a typical school election sees ballots cast by only about 1% of the student body.)

My friend and former student “Steve” is a professor at American River College. He served as a poll worker in the two-day election. The college administration decided it would recruit faculty members to monitor the voting and validate student registration before handing out ballots. Since the student council incumbents were not particularly careful about following rules or discharging their responsibilities as elected officials, it was probably a prudent move by the ARC administration. Steve said that many voters had Russian-language fliers, indicating that they were probably supporters of the highly organized Ukrainian immigrant community that dominated campus politics during the past year. A joke going around on the Sacramento campus was that ARC stood for “A Russian College” (although Ukrainians are not necessarily fond of being described as Russians).

During the ascendancy of the extremely conservative Slavic Christians, the student council endorsed the anti-gay Proposition 8, decried the pro-gay National Day of Silence, and opposed a fund-raising rock concert on campus (most musicians being satanists and all). The recent campaign featured a pledge by ARC Students 4 Liberty (the slate formed by the incumbents and their allies) to support a Student Bill of Rights. That sounds harmless enough, until you find out that their notion of a student bill of rights is one that gives them the right to decide what the correct answers are in their classes. Does your astronomy professor say that the earth is 4.5 billion years old? Not a problem. You have a right to say it's only 6000 years old because God told you that. Did your anthropology professor try to teach you about human evolution? Scratch out Cro-Magnon in your textbook and write in Adam and Eve. See how that works?

Well, it didn't work. The Change slate took 14 of the 17 elective positions, including the presidency. The so-called Liberty slate tried its best to smear Change presidential candidate David L. Fisher by distributing a flier accusing him of drunk and reckless driving. Steve didn't know if there was any truth to the allegation, but it was a remarkably swift descent to the gutter. He pointed out that the Liberty candidates were quick to rip off the platform of the Change slate, since Change had made a textbook rental program a key campaign plank. The Liberty slate embraced it as if it was its own idea. (Apparently “Thou shalt not steal” does not apply to your opponents' political programs.)

The losing presidential candidate on the Liberty ticket, Yuriy Popko, declined to concede gracefully. He was quoted in the Sacramento Bee's on-line report as saying, “The administration and faculty have conspired to remove us from office since they don't approve of the image of ARC as having a conservative student body.”

The college president issued a statement Friday afternoon with some mild comments about the election:
This was a highly contested election with some strong disagreement among the candidates on the purpose and direction of student government at American River College. There were healthy discussions, and some less than positive, in which students learned directly about the nature of the democratic process and freedom of speech.

There is no doubt that debates and differences on issues will continue at ARC. While we promote open expression within the bounds of courtesy, sensitivity and respect, not all students have learned or exhibited these values. Our education process continues.
As you can see, the college president was careful not to identify those who behaved badly during the campaign.

Steve agrees that the administration and faculty were probably pleased to see the defeat of Popko's slate. He, personally, was delighted. As far as any conspiracy goes, however, Steve said it was simply a matter of getting out the vote and monitoring the election to prevent cheating. Students received an e-mail reminder about the two days of voting (Tuesday and Wednesday) and the polls were kept open both days from 9:00 in the morning till 9:00 in the evening. Some teachers announced the start of balloting in their classrooms and a few offered extra credit for voting. Steve says that might be appropriate in a political science class, but he didn't offer any points to his algebra students. The Liberty slate immediately accused the faculty of offering extra credit for voting against the Liberty candidates, but Steven is certain no professor was foolish enough to do that. Just getting out the vote was likely to dilute the support for the right-wing Christian coalition—unless, of course, they were truly representative of the ARC student body.

It seems they weren't.


Phillip Moon said...

When I lived in Washington State, there was a young Russian woman who work with me, and I can attest to the fact that the Russians were not too happy being mixed up with the Ukrainians, either. Her comment on one occasion had to do with them being superstitious religious fools.

No love lost there.

Zeno said...

Steve says the Ukrainian community in the Sacramento region is dominated by an extremely conservative brand of evangelical Christianity and seems very cohesive. The enroll in classes in clusters, too, but that could be for language support, since many have poor English skills.

Of course, this is just the part he sees on his campus. I don't know if it fairly characterizes the larger Ukrainian community in the state capital.

Eamon Knight said...

Have they tried to spin their loss as a racism issue yet? They would have a point, in that I keep reading about this "Slavic Christian" thing, when the real problem is that they are quasi-theocrats, who just happen to mostly be from a particular locally prominent ethnicity.

Boudicca said...

Lovely to see the system worked!

Escuerd said...

I also hear that there's a strong fundy movement among the slavs in the Sacramento area. I only heard of this when I saw a news article about a group of these lunatics (I seem to remember an association with a group called "Watchmen on the Walls", though I don't know if that's right) who murdered a man, Satendar Singh, because they believed him to be gay:

Here in L.A. the Russians are concentrated heavily in a mostly Jewish community in West Hollywood, right on the border of the ghaytto, and I don't think there's a great deal of tension there. But for some reason, it looks like Sacramento is the destination of choice for fundagelicals from that part of the world.

Interrobang said...

The right-wing former-soviet-union theocrats are pretty active in Portland, OR, by all accounts as well, at least if my friend who lives there is a reliable reporter. They're Dominionists, generally, and nuttier than a truckload of fruitcakes.

Anonymous said...

I am a member of the winning ARC student's for Change ticket, I understand how many people can see this as a racially divisive election, and frankly I have to agree. Yet you must understand who drew the line in the sand. The Students for Liberty know their bloc of supporters and know exactly how hostile their ultra conservative views are outside of their tight knit community. For that reason their campaign signs for the student recall was completely in Russian, only translating them into English once we used their own signs as campaign material against their narrow mindedness. They followed the exact same pattern this election time as well, using an English Flier which was very neutral, and printing a Russian flier, which once translated had a very interesting spiel about us as homosexual activists promoting the gay agenda. It took time to get the flier translated for they refused to hand out to anyone who wasn't Russian. Its true this election was very racially slanted, but not by us.

dr. luba said...

Just don't frame this as a Ukrainian issue, but as a fundie issue. Most Ukrainians are decidedly NOT evangelicals (and disagree with most of their beliefs, particularly the not drinking vodka part), but a large group of them emmigrated to the US and have settled in clusters.

It's only fair, I suppose, as you continue to send your damned missionaries to Ukraine to produce even more of them.

Eamon Knight said...

Anonymous: Thanks for the local POV (I'm a long way away, in a different country). I wondered if there was something like that going on. Ethnicity ought to be irrelevant to these fracas, but when the "ethnic" groups starts by framing it that way, it's sort of impossible for it not to become a definer of the "sides".