The General Assembly is a space for all GSA members to come together and make collective decisions about their association that are binding.
Wait, did I not elect somebody to represent my interests at the GSA? Yes, yes you did but democracy in practice is far more than casting a vote once a year (although you should still do that).
A General Assembly has several strengths that representative democracy does not:
- The General Assembly is a form of direct democracy – this means everyone can propose ideas, articulate their position and contribute to the crafting of stronger policies that reflect the broad range of interests within the membership.
- The General Assembly is a forum for informed discussion and debate – members are expected to come to the Assembly informed and ready to contribute, as everyone can propose and amend motions.
- The General Assembly diffuses power – this means that groups of people (executives or council members) don’t decide everything on behalf of others. In any representative system those elected are accountable to their members. The General Assembly is allows members to hold their representatives to account in a transparent manner.
- The General Assembly (GA) is accessible because it can be called at any time by GSA representatives, department or faculty level associations, or by any member who collects the minimum amount of signatures (5% of members or approximately 300) required by the GSA’s by-laws (regulations).
In short, a general assembly allows room for discussion and debate, for students to consider new opinions and solutions, and to decide together what can be done collectively.
Have we convinced you that General Assemblies are pretty great? Of course we have. How can you not love Direct Democracy?
But, how does this all happen smoothly? What rules govern a General Assembly at the GSA?
The General Assembly has several people working to make sure that the proceedings run smoothly and equitably. They are:
- The Chair – The chair facilitates the meeting, playing an important role in ensuring all members are treated with respect and dignity. The Chair also enforces procedural rules (we adhere to Robert’s Rules of Order) , and ensures members do not abuse privilege and that we get through the agenda.
- The Minute-taker – This person keeps a record of what decisions we took, formats this record (the minutes) in an easy to read format and makes sure it gets put on the website so all members can read them.
- The Mood-watcher – is responsible for communicating with the GA and the Chair about the ‘mood’ of participants, offering observations and suggestions in order to achieve the equitable participation of members. They play an important role in ensuring that all members have the opportunity to speak and to express different points of view so that one group does not dominate the discussion.,
- Noise-watchers – sometimes our Assemblies are so large that it is impossible for the Chair to see everybody. At these noise-watchers are positioned around the room to remind people to be respectful and to maintain a sense of decorum. We try to keep cheering to a minimum, as not everybody feels comfortable within a loud boisterous environment.
Note: When there are By-elections in the General Assembly additional staff are brought in – scrutineers and Chief Returning Officer – to ensure that elections unfold fairly and smoothly.
The GSA is mandated to hold four General Assemblies per academic year (2 in the Fall and 2 in the Winter).
If you are planning on attending some (all) of them, here is some other important information for you
How can I propose a “motion” (an action that you want people in the room to vote on)?
- Raise your hand and when the Chair recognizes you, say: “I want to propose a motion to [your idea here.]”
- The Chair then asks, “Does anyone second this motion?” Anyone can then raise their hand and say their name to “second the motion” (meaning they support the discussion of this motion, even if they may not agree with the idea of the motion).
- Then there is a discussion about this particular motion where anyone can voice their opinion.
- At any point, someone can stop the discussion by saying “I’d like to call the question” (which means they’d like to vote right away). A vote then happens to see if people are ready to vote. If 50% +1 vote that they are ready, the vote for the motion takes place next.
- The Chair will ask people if anyone opposes the motion: If no one raises their voting card, then it is assumed that the vote passes unanimously, since no one opposes it. If even one person raises their voting card, a vote will take place. The Chair will ask students to raise their voting cards to vote on whether or not they support the motion:
At this point, you can either vote for the motion, against the motion, or you can abstain (choose not to vote either way for or against the motion). If 50% + 1 vote yes, or 66% on occasion, the vote passes.
How can I “make an amendment” (change a motion that is being proposed/discussed)?
- During the discussion for any vote (before the vote happens, in point #3 above), anyone can propose to modify the motion by saying for example “I’d like to propose an amendment to change [your idea here] of the motion.” Keep in mind that amendments should not completely change the meaning or topic of a main motion. If this is the case, the amendment the Chair would instead recommend that you bring your idea up as a completely separate motion afterwards.
- The Chair then asks “does anyone second this amendment?” Someone must then raise their hand and give their name to “second the amendment” (meaning they support the discussion of this amendment, even if they don’t support the amendment itself)
- Then there is a discussion about this particular amendment where anyone can voice their opinion about it.
- At any point, someone can stop the discussion about the amendment by saying “I’d like to call the question” (which means they’d like to vote right away, on the amendment.) A vote is then taken to see if people are ready to vote on the amendment. If 50% +1 vote that they are ready, the vote for the amendment happens next.
- The voting process here will happen in the same way as the process in #5 above. If 50% + 1 vote yes, the amendment passes, which means that the motion is now amended (changed). If not, then the original motion stays as it was.
- The discussion would then continue about the original motion (which would be slightly modified if the amendment passed, or would remain the same if the amendment did not pass), and vote on it (and you would return to point #3 above).
How to ask for clarification: If you want clarification or more information on an issue being discussed by the person speaking, you can raise your hand at any point and say: “Point of information!”
How to address a point of physical or psychological comfort, safety, etc. that is preventing you from participating in the meeting: If the room is too cold or too noisy, or something is blocking your view of the projector, you can raise your hand at any point and say: “Point of privilege!” If it is absolutely necessary for you to do so, you can interrupt the meeting to bring up a point of privilege. It is then the Chair’s duty to ensure that this is addressed.
How to address a rule being broken: If you see someone do something that goes against the rules of procedure, such as voting twice, or proposing a new motion while another motion is being discussed, you can bring it to the Chair’s attention by saying: “Point of order!” However, you can only call a point of order immediately after the error is made.