It is now a week since I succeeded in my campaign to become the next Policy Coordinator of my union. Last Saturday I received the votes of the student body to take on the role, commencing in two weeks' time and lasting for a year.
I had thought that I would use my blog as a medium for independent writing and honest thoughts about the election process and the events as they unfolded. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to blog (no change there, then). In fact, with campaigning and covering the events on my agenda, I struggled to get the time to commit to my studies that week as well.
The election process took up more of my time than I had thought. I had planned to keep campaigning to the online world, establishing a Facebook page and scheduling posts to come out at busy times. This scheme changed when I walked onto campus on the first day of campaigning to discover my opponent unravelling two shiny, expensive banners, which they would drape around the most popular areas of campus.
For a little while I was panicking. I had no campaigning team and no resources for campaigning besides access to the Internet. Other candidates had assembled a team of helpers and acquired cardboard, string and tape in good time.
On the first day I went to see students dining at three colleges' cafeteria, finding groups at tables and taking a minute or so of their time to justify a vote for me. After that came a visit to the campus Labour Party and then to another college's Monday biscuit and cake night. The following day saw me visit three colleges' Junior Common Room Committees (JCRCs). The rest of the week has become a bit of a blur now...
Halfway through the campaigning, I messaged one of the other candidates. Quite unexpectedly, I was sitting in my room unable to think of a reason to dislike YUSU. The cynicism, the negativity and the frustration that had motivated me to stand in the election had somehow withered away and died. Everyone was trying as hard as possible to make the election process fun, kind and easy. The union provided us with a week's access to its community space, dishing out fruit, biscuits and cups of tea. Whether it was for journalistic inquiries or campaign advice, the Democracy Officer was always willing to offer assistance. Without that cynicism, we were able to laugh when a union officer Tweeted the wrong dates for the voting period. Campaigning may be exhausting, but it's thrilling.
Campaigning alongside potential representatives for other areas of the union also taught me a lot about problems and concerns that other students face, most notably disabled students. Many candidates drew attention to how strenuous and difficult the election process is. Some elements of the process are even harder for disabled candidates. How are students on crutches or in wheelchairs meant to make it into nightclubs where other able-bodied candidates go campaigning, or to the multiple hustings across campus? Participating in the process, even for one of the smallest roles in the union, taught me a lot about concerns that other students have.
Last Saturday was the results night. The Policy Coordinator position was the first to be declared. Sitting with The Yorker's News Editor, I could not make out the results diagram, but I heard the host call my name as the victor. "What's your role?" he asked me later, on stage. "Policy Coordinator," I responded. "Are you looking forward to coordinating policy?" he asked back. Make the role sound exciting, why don't you?
If anything I'm looking forward to making sense of the policy process. When campaigning, the top question to me was, "What actually is the Policy & Review Group?" Most students don't know that the PRG exists. They have no idea what it's for, how policies are suggested and reviewed or what responsibilities the Coordinator has. I pledged to ensure that the PRG does what it's supposed to be doing, but if there's an opportunity to make the policy process clearer without drastically changing it, I'd be interested to look into it.
That cynicism I mentioned hasn't really gone away - in the throng of campaigning and writing for The Yorker, it must have just been put on hold. With the job approaching, I have my objectives in mind: following the constitution and putting an end to an interpret-how-you-want-when-you-want approach to important documents, exhibited time and time again by staff.
I was elected on promises to get the PRG back in form, following the rules that are laid out. But a good Policy Coordinator isn't necessarily one who is very good at adhering to protocol (or, being a good bureaucrat, as you might put it). The Policy Coordinator must ensure that the policy process is carried out fairly, honestly and without biases. The Coordinator should also be looking to get more students involved in the policy process: it's one of the most effective ways of changing the way the union runs itself.
"You've joined the establishment now," one student commented. I suppose I have; the union cynic, the anti-establishment candidate, will be in a union position in a few weeks' time. But that doesn't mean that I have to behave like the establishment that I have criticised; if all goes well, I'll tidy a few things up!