Grassroots: Together’s unlikely partner

Rhyss Wyllie campaigning for Grassroots.

By SYBILLA GROSS 

Grassroots are back in the game after their notable absence from the MSA election last year,  and this time they are teaming up with Together.

According to Rhyss Wyllie of Grassroots, the coalition between the two parties has come about through a common desire to upend Go!’s control over the MSA, while also wanting to introduce greater institutional transparency and encourage greater student participation.

“I think Mickey [Michael Fisher, Together’s presidential candidate] will be a good president, and while there have been a lot of deliberations in Grassroots about this, overall, we just think this is the way to shake up the union and get more voices inside it rather than keep it as a one party dictatorship again and again,” he said.

Grassroots (previously Switch) have historically been Go!’s main opposition, however  they briefly teamed up in 2014, taking two positions under the Go! ticket. This partnership proved unsuccessful and has not continued.

The following year, in 2015, Grassroots ran a full ticket against Go!, suffering a resounding loss across all positions.

Mali Rea,  who was the education and social affairs officer in the 2014 collaboration with Go!, said grassroots was  “pretty weakened” by the losses in 2015.

“That was so much work and we were pretty crushed, we were all just so exhausted from it,” she said.

Grassroots spent 2016 recuperating by engaging with student activism because, according to Mr Wyllie, they are first and foremost an activist faction.

For this year’s elections, Grassroots have reconsidered their approach, prioritising student engagement through clubs and societies, a strategy which led to the partnership with Together.

Mr Wyllie, who is Grassroots’ candidate for a general rep position on the student council, said Together had explicitly asked Grassroots to take care of important political positions.

“We think we can have a Left-wing a union with Together in power because we’re going to be in the political positions,” he said. Those positions include: education public affairs officer, environment and social justice officer and Lot’s Wife editor.

However, questions over the compatibility of the partnership are difficult to ignore. While Grassroots consider themselves Left-leaning, Together has recently been linked to the Labor Right Facebook group Young Labor Action.

“We had some reservations, naturally, because they’re not an explicitly Left-wing ticket … but the main issue that we’ve come up against in making our union more responsive to students and more transparent and accountable, is the fact that Go! have controlled it with an iron fist for 12 years,” Mr Wyllie said.

“In our conversations with Together … we thought that their kind of ethos was similar to ours,” Mr Wyllie said.

Grassroots said Left Action had teamed up with Go! to thwart their campaign. “It’s going to be vicious this year,” Mr Wyllie agreed. 

Grassroots’ plans for better student engagement and representation with the MSA centre on using the clubs and societies at Monash, as well as using Lot’s Wife as a platform for institutional transparency.

“Even though we’re super political, we do understand that means running services, running parties and things like that,” Mr Wyllie said.

“[And we want to] make sure that people actually know about Lot’s Wife … you’ll have more of a shot at actually engaging students in their student union, because they’ll actually know more about it.”

They want to see a stronger activism culture on campus.

“We’ll support students if they want to do [activism campaigns] – things like maybe running lifestyle or environmental stuff,” Mr Wyllie said.

Outgoing MSA president and Go! member Matilda Grey said Go! was only elected unopposed in 2016 “due to Grassroots’ inability to mobilise a ticket against us”.

“They are disorganised and divided, and their paralysis has made their outfit politically ineffective. What environmental change have they achieved? In the end, it was Go! who made the MSA’s investments fossil-free, not Grassroots.”

Left Action spokeswoman Jasmine Duff said Grassroots “aren’t a focus for us”.

“They’re a small part of the conservative Together ticket, who they chose to work with rather than the broader activist left.”

Voting in the 2017 elections starts tomorrow.