Is voting in SU elections important?
Laura Young, a former candidate in an SU election, reflects on her campaign and shares her opinions on why Christians should engage...
Whether it’s a general election (we’ve had enough of them), referendum, student representation election, or the final of the X factor…is voting important? And is it part of discipleship?
Discipleship is about living out Biblical truths, modelling and guiding ourselves, and those around us, towards living righteously as followers of Jesus Christ. Many times, when we think of discipleship, we centre our views around things written in the Bible in black and white and ignore having conversations about issues which aren’t spoken about in the way we experience them today. Politics, and voting, is one of these issues.
Voting is one of the most powerful tools we have as individuals, communities, cities, and countries. You only have to look at the change which has been made since 2014 in Britain, to illustrate the sheer power that elections, voting, and politics have on our lives. We voted to keep the UK together, leave the EU, keep the Conservatives in power, and alter our local council members multiple times, but who is to say this is what ‘you’ voted for?
Student Union elections have a massive impact on the life of a university. Students run with manifestos which can significantly alter the way in which a university runs, and the support it offers to students. By default, commonly the students who vote are the ones who know someone running, have an interest in student/governmental politics, or have a passion for an issue which a candidate is fighting for. As Christians, we should use our vote and our voice, stand up and be counted, and increase the diversity in the pool. We should not let important decisions be made on our behalf.
During my masters year, I ran for a position as a sabbatical officer within the student leadership elections. While many other sports clubs and societies were endorsing their favourite candidates, I struggled to engage with, or encourage the Christian community to get involved in these elections. I think that it would be wrong for someone to purely base a vote on the fact that they know the candidate, or that they have a similar interest through a society. However, it was clear to me that there was a resistance from many Christians to interact with these elections. I spent a lot of time trying to engage the Christian community in my campaign for it is important we do not withdraw but engage. Slowly, realisation that we, as Christians, should be taking responsibility for encouraging one another to take part was clear, and thankfully both offline, and online, encouragement for voting was evident.
My personal experience showed me that in many cases, it was the loudest, or most popular (be that person or idea) that won the election. In many of the individual roles, only a couple of hundred votes swung the result, and when you tally up the number of Christians in a university, you see the voting power they can have.
Standing in this election was tough, but also a lot of fun. I got to engage with hundreds of students, to ask what they wanted from the university, and what their passions, values, and visions were. Many students were unaware or uninterested in the elections, however after engaging with them, and explaining the impact these roles have, they usually felt encouraged to take a look at the candidates and take part in the voting.
Running in these elections gave a platform to advocate for the university I wanted to see and place my values on the role. God has shaped my life massively since being at university, and has called me to advocate for creation care, and environmental advocacy, caring for his creation and limiting our impact on the world. I ran my campaign completely zero waste, using no flyers, posters, wasteful giveaways or anything else. It was just me, speaking to other students, and reaching out into as many spaces as possible. In the end, I did not win my position by a narrow margin. However, my campaign was one of the most spoken about campaigns, with a lot of attention being drawn to the zero waste elements…
What this campaign did do was give me a lot of experience speaking to students and staff, and really being thrown into a world of student politics which I had not experienced before. God was clearly using this as an important experience for me and has since revealed more of his plan for me, which turns out wouldn’t have been possible if I had won that position. Running in that election was what opened up so many doors to me and got me into the role and place I am in today.
Nevertheless, losing that election was tough. The next day I was attending an event as a key-note speaker, talking about how the university could change for good in terms of sustainability and environmental issues, and the whole time I felt flat, and like God had let me down. I had worked so hard, and met with so many students, and felt completely deflated after this experience. However, God stayed with me through this, and has revealed to me that this experience was exactly that, a massive experience and learning curve, developing skills in campaigning, reaching out to the student body, and working with a large organisation on issues that matter most to me. God is in control of our lives, and he has a plan. Sometimes it takes the difficult, awkward, and definitely the ‘out of my comfort zone’ moments to develop us as individuals, and continue our discipleship walk with him. Remember to trust in him, and continually look back to see how God moulds us through every situation.
I believe that as Christians we should be engaged because of the influence these positions have. For example, previous student elected positions in many different universities have made change through implementing sustainable practices throughout their university, fighting the rising cost of accommodation in student cities, improving mental health services, instilling more of a community vibe throughout the student body, enhancing the educational experience, and so much more. These issues, I am sure, are of interest to all students within the university, however if we opt out of the decision-making process, we allow our voice to be underrepresented in the student body.
Commonly when discussing the Bible, Jesus, and voting as Christians, people focus on either the fact that Jesus was not political because his kingdom was not of this world, or they on the fact that he challenged the status quo, advocating for people in need with less power in society. Neither of these, I believe, is correct in their own right, as I believe it is important to look at both of these factors. We must engage with the people in power (or with those who are running to be that person/party) to help shape our world, while understanding that God places people in positions of power for reasons. God calls us into many different spaces, to be salt and light in our world today. Running in student union elections can be a gospel calling, which as Christians can be shaped by our faith.
Ultimately, I think the biggest thing Christians should do for these elections is pray for them. Pray that students learn, engage, and feel empowered to run and vote. Pray that the right representation is made. Pray that wise decisions would be made from the student representatives. Pray for Christians who are running and who witness in these spaces and pray for the students across the university who’s experience is being shaped by an elected body.