On April 20 (4/20), 2006, Bex Allen ’08 walked around the pre-frosh-covered Foss Hill dressed up as a giant joint. The first year that Allen ran for the Wesleyan Student Assembly (WSA) under the guise of Giant Joint, she won 50 votes. What began as a protest of a Student Health Advisory marijuana safety campaign resulted in a new Wesleyan write-in tradition.
“I am proud and excited,” Allen said in an e-mail to The Argus. “I definitely wanted Mr. Joint to live on after my graduation.”
Allen originally ran for a write-in campaign after students on the Wesleyan LiveJournal (precursor to the ACB) started a discussion about ridiculous write-in candidates. Allen revived her Giant Joint costume and decided to run her own write-in campaign.
“It seemed to me that a lot of people didn’t care,” Allen said in a WesCeleb article in May 2006. “I just decided to give Wesleyan students a chance to revel in their apathy and vote for a totally ridiculous candidate. People asked me, ‘If you win, will you promise to go to every single board meeting in that costume?’ I was like ‘Yes, of course.’”
Since 2006, Giant Joint has been a consistent vote-getter in both representative-at-large and class representative elections. In the most recent WSA election of December 2009, Giant Joint won 416 votes, securing a spot on the WSA and beating two other candidates for the seat.
“What’s funny to me is that it seems a lot of people still don’t care about the WSA,” Allen said. “After all, it’s Wes, you definitely don’t need the student government to help you make a point.”
Giant Joint’s recent success can be partly attributed to an increase in campaigning on both Wesleying and Aural Wes—two student-run blogs—during finals week last semester.
“We cannot just keep Wesleyan weird, we must make it weird,” read one AuralWes campaign poster. “Choose adventure over boredom. We don’t want a change in bosses, we want a change in life.”
A candidate like Giant Joint can encompass a lot of different ideas. Some people may have voted for Giant Joint because they had an extra vote and thought it was funny, while others may have voted for Giant Joint as a political statement against the WSA.
“I think the nice thing is that it can be all of those things,” said Max Lavine ’10, caretaker of Aural Wes. “People see it as a larger anarchist intervention and that’s cool. A lot of people may be like, ‘Oh, that’s funny. I like pot.’”
Others voted for Giant Joint because they thought it was a funny joke.
“I love it,” said Mike Pernick ’10, President of the WSA. “I think it’s hilarious. I like what Giant Joint stands for. It’s a lot more than just a drug reference. I voted for Giant Joint my sophomore year because I had an extra vote.”
The tradition behind Giant Joint’s write-in campaign was another motivating factor for some.
“Giant Joint is a big-tent politician,” said Ashik Siddique ’10, a Wesleying blogger. “I think most people think it’s funny as a silly Wesleyan tradition. It helps people feel like they are more connected to Wesleyan’s past and traditions. It feels like it’s been around forever.”
Last semester, several students who wish to remain anonymous decided to start an actual Giant Joint campaign, which included a mission statement posted on Aural Wes, fliers plastered around campus, a twitter page, and campaign posters on Wesleying.
Lavine, one of the people who revived the symbol of Giant Joint, said that while some thought it could be seen as a larger anarchist intervention, in many ways it was just a joke.
“The fact that it’s a joke doesn’t mean it’s excluded from making change,” Lavine said. “The main point is the sheer fact of the campaign itself. Take up things that aren’t that meaningful and use them to shake things up a bit. I see it as more opening up possibilities for people to do things as they see fit.”
Yet, the joke of Giant Joint’s election can be taken within a larger context, as well. Some people who voted for Giant Joint see it as a vote of no confidence for the WSA.
“I felt like if Giant Joint was actually elected it would highlight the absurdity of the disconnect between the students and the WSA,” said Rory Stamp ’12 who voted for Giant Joint, as well as several other candidates.
Lavine agreed that the election of Giant Joint could be taken as a statement for WSA members to try to connect with students more.
“It’s a vote of no confidence for the WSA when an imaginary thing wins an election,” Lavine said. “There is a big disconnect in what the WSA finds important and what people on campus think is important. You shouldn’t be surprised when that alienates a lot of people.”
Yet Giant Joint as a candidate ran on an empty agenda without making any claims for what the WSA could do better.
“There weren’t any issues brought up by the Giant Joint candidacy,” said Becky Weiss ’10, Vice-President of the WSA. “If it was a criticism I don’t think it was that strong.”
The average student voted for three candidates meaning that almost everyone who voted for Giant Joint also voted for real candidates, Weiss explained.
“If people were voting for Giant Joint to say the WSA did a bad job, it wasn’t clear,” Pernick said.
Although Giant Joint won a seat on the WSA, only students are allowed to serve on the assembly, so the spot is being given to the next-highest vote getter, Elita Irving ’13.
“It would be nice if someone changed their name to Giant Joint,” Siddique said. “But ultimately there is no physical avatar of Giant Joint to affect change.”
The anti-climactic finale of Giant Joint’s election can only be reversed when the write-in campaign is restarted in the upcoming election. Lavine hopes that this election will encourage other students to take up the reins around campus and start new campus traditions.
“It’s an alternative to apathy; you can do things that change the world around you,” Lavine said. “You have to be more creative about transformation. We’re not trying to overthrow anything, but people get used to habits and disrupting those can provoke people to question certain regularities.”