ASG passed Unshackle NU’s resolution with a 28-5 vote, 8 abstaining, in a secret vote Wednesday night to support divestment from private prisons.
The resolution was one goal of Unshackle NU’s month-long campaign about the prison industrial complex and mass incarceration’s disproportionate impact on communities of color, especially Black communities. It asks Northwestern to divest from companies such as the security firm G4S that profit from human rights violations across the U.S. and elsewhere.
Those two words turned what could have been a simple, short voting process into an almost two hour event.
After Unshackle’s representatives read through their proposal and passed an amendment acknowledging the impact of mass incarceration and Northwestern founder John Evan’s historical role in contributing to this ongoing oppression, another amendment was proposed by Weinberg senior Jonathan Kamel, an IFC senator.
The amendment provided the names of seven more countries “and elsewhere” where G4S had worked, and claimed that it made the argument for divestment stronger by calling upon more examples of places were the G4S had violated human rights.
However, Unshackle representatives were wary of adding an amendment that they argued:
- Selectively names and therefore hierarchized the countries G4S effects
- Required information on the experiences of marginalized groups in each of these countries in relation to G4S and the prison industrial complex and anti-Blackness
- Might divert attention away from the primary purpose of Unshackle NU, which is to address the crisis of mass incarceration within the U.S. and anti-Blackness’s role in it
“We don’t know if the G4S operation in these countries are part of the white supremacy of these countries,” said Marcel Hanna, a member of Unshackle. “We chose to specify our campaign for a reason.”
The “and elsewhere” amendment was, after a long debate, edited and rearranged. The clause now reads, “Whereas, outside of their enforcement of the systematic oppression of people of color in the US and Palestine, G4S is also involved in a number of human rights abuses based on their regular operations in other countries throughout the world.”
Even though the resolution eventually passed, some students felt that the proposal of the amendment and the following discussion about adding it against the wishes of Unshackle’s representatives stemmed from of a lack of respect for the work and opinions of the numerous students who ensured that the resolution conveyed the exact message they wanted. It also confirmed a general lack of marginalized students’ representation in positions of power within ASG.
“I just want to make it clear that what just happened in Senate is indicative of how hard it is for people of color to express their oppression to people,” said Sarayah Wright, a member of Unshackle NU.
Following the amendment’s adjustment and eventual passing, Senate moved on to voting for the resolution itself.
There was a call for a secret ballot, as opposed to the usual standing ballot, which makes one’s vote public to the entire room. With this anonymity also comes a lack of accountability for one’s vote. “Their silence is a luxury,” Wright said.
There appeared to be confusion regarding how many senators had to vote in approval of a secret ballot in order for the election style to be changed. Some stated it was one-fifth, others one-fourth. The secret vote proceeded regardless.
However, according to Robert's Rules of Order, the parliamentary code that the Senate follows as stipulated in its own code, calls for a secret ballot need a majority over half in order to be approved. NBN could not verify the existence of an amendment to the secret ballot process that would allow for either a 1/4 or 1/5 vote.
According to ASG Parliamentarian Scott Spicer, the Senate always defers to precedent established in previous votes of a similar nature. "[A precedent] was established last year at the meeting involving the Divestment resolution by [then ASG Speaker of the Senate Noah Star] himself that a 1/5th vote, not a majority, was necessary to hold a secret ballot," Spicer, a Weinberg senior, said in an email on Thursday morning.
"This principle of precedent superceding is also generally held about Robert's Rules, that the rules of the body, however defined, supercede it," he said.
Despite the uncertainty around ASG's secret ballot process during the vote, the resolution itself remains valid.
Editor's Note: This piece has been updated for clarity. A previous version stated that the Senate "may defer to precendent," but the Senate always follows precedent, as it is required to do so.