Gear Co-op Leadership Resembles Totalitarian Regime

Nate Sher, Contributing Writer

If you haven’t already heard the noise, the Gear Co-op — a student organization committed to providing non-Conservatory musicians with access to rehearsal space and musical equipment — has hatched. After months of labor, the group has finally requisitioned its fruit, the Wilder 404 practice room, and throngs of musically minded students are flocking to get a slice. As the group grows and its resources get more widely distributed, more and more labor must be expended to secure its survival, protect its quality and serve its members.

To those ends, the group has put in place a powerful bureaucracy. Out of the group’s total membership of 70 and counting, nearly 20 of them hold elected office. While on the surface, this ratio may seem to just represent an OSCA truism — power ought to be distributed horizontally among members — when put in the context of the Gear Co-op’s meetings, to which only officials usually go, this ratio becomes an unprecedented consolidation of power.

To the bureaucrats’ credit, meetings are in theory open to all members. Nevertheless, in practice, many members are simply too uninterested in the group’s administrative processes, or otherwise too intimidated by its officials’ seeming social insularity, to attend meetings. Thus, whether intentional or not, the Gear Co-op has become a defacto totalitarian organization.

If the ratio of officials to members isn’t bad enough, the ratio of police officers to members is even worse: one to two. This high number is a result of the Co-op’s policy that requires every member to serve as a monitor (i.e. security guard) for room 404 within their first two semesters of membership. Again, whether intentional or not, this aptly named monitor position immediately calls to mind the monitorial system of the 19th-century British Lancaster School, infamous for its panoptic self-policing.

Such heavy-handed policing can only be explained in terms of the strong private interests of Co-op officials. Because the group lacked funding and therefore equipment until recently, some administrators have lent their personal gear for communal use. Without a monitorial system of surveillance, the officials reason that room 404 users, their friends and fellow students, would be left to their inherently malevolent devices to destroy and/or steal the former’s private property. To say nothing of the state and federal laws as well as Oberlin’s rules, which all undergird the Co-op with theft-deterrent discipline, Wilder 404 has grown into a Foucauldian dystopia. Most disturbingly, it’s been constructed for the members (those who own equipment), by the members (those who attend meetings) and against the members (those who use 404).

As the Co-op continues to grow in membership, it plans, out of need for more space, to nestle everywhere, settle everywhere and establish connections everywhere on campus. To that end, the leviathanic order plans to spread its tentacles throughout the fourth floor of Wilder and beyond, potentially all the way from the College-run practice rooms in South to a house off campus. Such growth will inevitably necessitate further bureaucratization and surveillance.

Just as many eminent historians have explained the oppressive postwar expansionism of the Soviet Union in terms of the Kremlin’s domestic consolidation of power, it is possible to see the Gear Co-op’s territorial aspirations in terms of its officials’ intragroup authoritarianism. Unlike past totalitarian regimes, though, the Gear Co-op does not intend to establish a racist world order or introduce oppressive governments and poverty-inducing economic policies. Moreover, it is not pursuing such abhorrent goals by way of propaganda or journalistic and artistic censorship.

On the contrary, despite its dubious means, the Gear Co-op is, in the end, working to encourage artistic expression. So, even if the group’s officials do not have faith in the good nature of their friends and fellow students, we — the members of the Gear Co-op who elected them — trust that they have a benevolent vision of a world in which College students will have liberal access to musical resources. And, in that way, this criticism of the musical organization ends on a good note.