Voter turnout around 20% equals apathy. It means that approximately 1 out of 5 cares about electing leaders for the organization that advocates and makes important decisions about their community. Yes, it’s a common trend everywhere and the University of Alberta is a commuter campus, blah blah. I understand this apathy. I mean, we’ve got it pretty good here at the U of A. Of course, if you care A LOT about student issues, there are so many things to change. But from an average student’s perspective, U of A is a pretty good place and there aren’t a lot of issues that you want to organize and protest about, or play the lobbying game with the government.
I’m not a so-called “SU hack.” Yes, I have friends serving as councillors and I myself was one until December of last year, when I resigned, but I don’t follow it as if it were my raison d’etre. But I think I have a realistic perspective in regards to the student politics here at the U of A–not comparable to some others, but a bit more than an average Joe. I’m not going to give a grand, yet clichéd talk about why a university student should be more engaged socially and politically, et cetera. I’m just going to tell you that the SU elections is a fantastic opportunity for you to actually get things that you want – with a story that I have already shared here on The Wanderer Online a few months ago.
See, people who run for SU executive positions are generally great people who care a lot about his (sadly, I can’t say “her” this year) community. It takes guts and effort to put up your faces up everywhere on campus (and to inevitably be mocked at least once), take a hit on your GPA, talk to randoms in HUB, be on a video interview, and do public speaking. Sure, you may think these candidates are incompetent, disagree with their politics or just hate their colonizing personalities. When you see these people putting in so much time and effort into campaigning, and working after their elections, you can’t help but to think, “woah, these guys really care about stuff.”
If you cared about certain things on campus–if you wanted to change something, and wanted to talk about it with an SU executive, they will find a time to sit down and talk with you. They want to hear opinions from students that they represent and proposals for changes, because they need these to do their work as SUB 2-900, the executive office, tends to isolate them from other students.
But campaign period is really an opportunity to turn something out of your ideas. The candidates are hungry for public interaction and want to hear feedback in regards to their platform. Their platforms continuously evolve throughout the campaign. They will be on social media 24/7 and quickly respond to comments/tweets from students. For me, campaign period is when university comes to life, as there are constant conversations, exchanges of ideas about our community. But can a student actually do this? I’d say yes.
In last year’s campaign, three candidates ran against the incumbent, Andy Cheema, for the position of VP Operations and Finance. If you didn’t know, VPOF manages the SU’s $10 million dollar budget and oversees operation of SU businesses. It was an interesting race, and I was following it closely as I was volunteering for my friend Mike McGinn, who was one of the three other candidates.
On one of these hectic campaign days, I was invited to a group called “Lobby to Have Dewey’s Breakfast Hours Extended” by my friend, Patrick. Pat was not involved in the SU politics. He was just unhappy about the fact that Dewey’s stopped serving breakfast after 11:00 am and wanted to see the breakfast hour extended. So he just created a group and invited his friends attending the university.
Andy noticed this group page and commented on a post, “I’ll look into it when I’m back in the office in a week and a half. Shouldn’t be a hard change to make. This cause is legit.”
Andy won the election. And summer came, which obliterated everything about the university, including Dewey’s. Everyone forgot about breakfasts. But in September, we were back to the campus with Dewey’s that served All Day Breakfast (try beer and breakfast. It’s a dream coming true). Democracy worked.
See, extending breakfast hours wasn’t Andy’s main campaign promise. No other candidates talked about it during the election. All it took was Pat making a group (which takes like 5 minutes!) and getting the candidate’s attention, which is a piece of cake during the campaign period. For me, this really illustrates the fact that SU executives/candidates are hungry for public opinions and that anyone can demand the changes they want to see with low input.
Do you want to see better service from RATT? Do you think that the library fines are too hefty? Do you think we need gender-neutral washrooms? This is an opportunity for your idea to become part of the platform. Campaigning starts next week and you can find information about the candidates here. It’s your chance to go and get what you want.
Dongwoo Kim (@dongwookim_) is a fourth year political science and history major at the University of Alberta. A breakfast/sushi enthusiast, an avid movie-goer, and a caffeine addict, Dongwoo likes to chat with people about stuff over eats and drinks. Cucumber is his Achilles’ heel.