Presidential Candidate Profile: Emma Dynes

29 August 2021

content warning: racism

Meet Emma Dynes (she/her), the UMSU presidential candidate for Left Action! Her main aim as president is to establish an activist presence within UMSU, and fight back against the Right, both off and on campus. Dynes is deeply involved in activism both on a national and international scale and believes that solidarity between students will foster a stronger UMSU.

Farrago sat down with Dynes to find out more about her presidential campaign in the upcoming UMSU Elections and her vision for the Union in 2022.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Farrago:

What is the first thing you intend to do if you get into office?

Dynes:

Well, I think you have to start, like looking at the broader kind of political situation that we’re in in Australia right now. We have seen, for the last almost a decade, have the Right be in government and just attack after attack on higher education, as well as every different issue you could think of. And I think especially right now, we’re at a real turning point, with the pandemic, the COVID crisis in New South Wales. And then you look at literally any other crisis that we’re facing. So you have education. And the liberals have successfully managed to implement attack after attack, turning the higher education system into a two tiered system where those with money can get to have the luxury of choosing what degree they want to study. Climate change is another one, I think as well, along with all these other things,  racism is still a big part, especially with the recent withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, we’re going to see another mass wave of refugees, potentially similar to Syria, six years ago. And the government in Australia, has a bipartisan policy of locking up and torturing refugees. And so I think, you have to look at this situation of relentless attacks coming from those in power in the government to see that things are pretty terrible, and they’re not getting any better. And I think what we need in response to that is actually a strong student movement. That takes up the questions of fighting for education, but also broader political questions around climate change, fighting for refugees, around the pandemic as well. And that’s the plan that Left Action will bring to the Student Union. We think that you need to organise students to fight back around all of these different questions, that student unions shouldn’t just be a political service provider, or a union that has millions of dollars shouldn’t just be about organising social events. And like, more or less irrelevant to most students on campus, they should be actively trying to campaign around all of these different questions. That is what we want to bring to UMSU.

Farrago:

You’ve spoken a lot about what Left Action’s goals are. But why do you think you are qualified to hold the position of president? What experiences do you have that will help you succeed in this role?

Dynes:

I’ve been a socialist activist on campus since I started at university. I’ve thrown myself into every single Left wing activist campaign that’s happened. In the whole time I’ve been a part of university life. In 2019 I was a part of organising all of the climate activism that really, really took off that year, not just at Melbourne University, just generally around the world led by Greta Thunberg, and in Australia. So, I participated in NUS (National Union of Students) demonstrations, trying to build them on campus, promote them to students. I’ve managed to get hundreds of people out to demand the university divest from fossil fuel corporations, as well as weapons manufacturing companies, to [other] totally disgraceful companies that the university invest in. As well as that, I was also involved in Extinction Rebellion, in setting up a campaign group on campus that had hundreds of different students involved in the various different organising that we did. We organised a week-long action, where every single day we protested in the city to stop business as usual and bring attention to the climate crisis.

Farrago:

This year we’ve seen lots of toxic factional conflict within the Union. How do you plan to unite the Union again and create a less hostile working environment?

Dynes:

I think the main thing is that we need to kick out the right, who are currently the main block inside the Union. So, Community, who dominate the union are, I think, Bureaucrats who want to make their resumes look nicer by holding a Student Union Position and getting paid for it as well. And they have, not even no commitment to activism, but an active hostility to the left and to any mention of protests. You look at any movement in the past the suffragettes like struggle to get the right to vote, the civil rights movement, even gay rights. All of these heroic and historic movements that have brought society forward have always been fought for with protest, but Community this year have shown themselves to be hostile to any mention of protests or activism… and have obstructed all of the main progressive campaigns on campus this year. But also, I think it is important to have our arguments within the Student Union. It’s always been an important part of student unions, that there are like different political groups that have different arguments to make about the way forward. And what the student union should be about what it should represent, how it should organise itself. This year we’ve seen Community have shut down activists time and time again in council meetings, refused to let them speak, refused to have out these arguments and have used all the bureaucratic measures of moving to block all the motions that have been passed by activists such as no cops on campus and no education cuts. Both of those were voted down by Community who currently claim to be left wing but have indicated time and time again, by their practice that they are definitely not. They represent nothing about the real traditions of student unionism, which is democratic debate and argument, but also, a commitment to activism. And they’ve turned all conduct in the Student Union into a total joke.

Farrago:

Currently, thousands  of international students both living abroad and in Australia, are feeling like they have absolutely no support from the university. What are your plans to support international students in 2022?

Dynes:

Yeah, I think it’s a total joke how international students have been treated. I think there are three main things to kind of campaign around; 

One is free education, [international students] should not have to pay at all, for their degrees, like education should be a right for everyone, regardless of if they’re a citizen or not. I think we should campaign for free housing for international students who live or like currently residing in Australia. It’s another part of the exploitation of international students that they get forced into these really, ridiculously expensive shit holes that are [sic] more and more being discovered to be terrible in terms of the pandemic and putting students at high risk. So we should have free and accessible housing for all students, including international students. And the other thing is definitely WAM amnesty. Proper funding for the welfare for international students, more services that are provided in other languages, all that sort of stuff. They’re all demands that you can raise of the entire student body. But I think the only way you can actually bring about all of these things, and win them for good is through activist campaigns. Through making a fuss, through constantly being around to create a political crisis on campus where Duncan Maskell and the other hacks in administration cannot get away scotch free without actually implementing things that properly improve the livelihoods of students.

Farrago:

Many students report feeling isolated and disconnected from campus life. How do you plan to foster a sense of student community again, particularly if students are unable to return to campus or Melbourne?

Dynes:

I don’t think student unions should be concerned with rebuilding student life per se. I think clubs and societies befall those sorts of elements. I think student unions should be primarily political and activist and oriented to organising students to fight for their rights, whether that’s around issues of education or broader left wing issues. I do think that part of that means bringing people together to be involved in a movement or campaign group, create a sense of solidarity among students and can really bring people together. Our future is COVID and climate change. I think it’s not very surprising that people can feel isolated and alienated. I think that political campaigns, bringing people together to fly around these things, to have our political arguments, that is actually what gives people a sense of solidarity, a sense of community and belonging. It was the same, I think in the 60s and 70s, where the kind of demands of that movement were “be realistic, demand the impossible” that sort of thing. And people’s horizons were so much higher than what we have now. Which is why I think it’s really, really important to rebuild a fighting student movement.

Farrago:

There will be students who will expect you to have some kind of plan for retaining student life, as it’s the precedent that’s been set by previous candidates. Regardless of whether you agree or not, is there anything you’re thinking of doing to engage students in that way? 

Dynes:

I’m not saying I would do away with it. I think that that’s the realm of the clubs and societies officers and that sort of thing. And I think there is a part to play but I don’t think it’s the focus. But yeah, I think the president position should be an activist position that’s about being a spokesperson for different campaigns that the student union is involved in and leading those.

Farrago:

SALT has been heavily involved in the campaign against the formation of the Robert Menzies Institute at UniMelb, which has been deemed a ‘right-wing think tank’. How do you plan to continue the campaign? 

Dynes:

We’ve gotten multiple different articles in the media. And then backlash, unsurprisingly, from Sky News, saying that the campus left is a cancer And that we hate free speech. We had a really successful online rally last week with over 90 people attending, which given the circumstances I think it’s quite impressive. I think going forward it’s going to be figuring out different ways to Zoom bomb the university administration, cause a bit of a fuss, call out Duncan Maskell for what he’s doing. [sic] And hopefully future in person rallies on campus. The more people involved, the better and more likely we can challenge and organise against it. 

Farrago:

Members of your ticket have been accused of many instances of sexism, racism and ableism in Students’ Council meetings this year. How do you plan on addressing these issues?

Dynes:

Yeah, I mean, I think the recent discovery of the people who are making these claims are running an ‘All Lives Matter’ candidate on that ticket kind of disproves a lot of the vacuous identity politics and talk of representation and diversity as being pretty shallow. These tickets do not have principled anti-racist, anti-sexist stances when you really get down to it. Left Action candidates have gone along to these council meetings to get the union to support campaigns against oppression. We’re involved in a group called campaign against racism and fascism that has actually pushed back the far right on the streets in the last few years in Melbourne, and it’ s been really successful in doing that, and have been calling weekly Friday night demonstrations to offer solidarity to the refugees inside the hotel and demand their freedom. None of that is racist. Like it’s absolutely, yeah, just a joke to say that protesting is racist. Protesting is like, actually the only tool that oppressed people have to fight back and fight for their rights.

Farrago:

Is there anything you would like to add before we end the interview today?

Dynes:

I just think in the context of all of the attacks and horrors of capitalism that can be seen around the world, what we need now more than ever is a radical student fight back. And that’s going to take on many different forms, many different kinds of campaigns from education to anti racism, to fight for climate action. But yeah, we can’t wait. We need to start right now. UMSU needs to be part of these struggles that are going to erupt in the years to come and needs to show solidarity to the struggles going on globally and lead the struggles going on on our own campus and in our own city. 

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If you want to know more about who is running for YOUR student union in 2022, Farrago is hosting a presidential candidate debate on Wednesday 1 September at 5:30pm AEST. More details here. All students welcome!


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