The End of Elections — Young Candidate Experiences

As the Victorian Local Government elections draw to a close and we await the results, we took the opportunity to reflect on the campaign Run For It has organised. We have supported 72 candidates and advocated for a fresh and progressive change to politics. Our candidates are young, progressive, diverse and actively engaged with their local communities. We are proud of the clean, positive and grassroots campaigns they have all run.

As part of this reflection on our campaign, we spoke to two of our candidates who are young women running to generate change; Mehak Sheik, 24, who is running for Wyndham Council, and Nakita Thompson, 24, who is running for Melbourne City Council. We asked them about why they are standing, what makes them different, how are they using social media to their advantage and how the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted on their campaigns.

Mehak is running “because it’s been way too long since there’s been a representation of youth voices in political systems”. She feels “that politics is very reactive, short term and about the immediate” rather than future focussed. Mehak described current politicians as “working on the symptoms of the issues we face”, which is important, however “if we all work on the symptoms, we’re going to be here in 20 years talking about the same issues”. As a young person who works in the youth sector, Mehak thinks that we’re all a little bit sick of “career politicians”, to which Nakita added; “most people in parliament are over 50 and it would be nice to see some young people in there.” These young women see the need for change, for policies that are youth led and focus on the future, not just on what will benefit some individuals right now.

Nakita agrees and says it’s important to “get people in parliament that actually look like our population; from a multicultural perspective, from a gendered perspective and from an age perspective.” When asked about what is stopping more young people from getting involved, Nakita said: “I think a lot of people doubt themselves and don’t think that they have the capability to run. It’s important to help people understand that yes you can do it, it’s just [about] putting your mind to it.” This is why Run For It has seen such great engagement over the election period; we’ve had candidates come forward to seek our support, we’ve had likes, comments and shares on our content through social media, and we’ve begun to build the groundwork for a strong movement created by and for young people.

Nakita shared with us her experiences which motivated her to feel as though she had no choice but to run; “living off youth allowance in university; spending most of my income on rent and barely having enough income to eat some weeks was an experience which made me pay attention to politics”. Nakita believes that “young people have been left behind economically and environmentally” and is sick of “seeing the major parties continue to sell out to corporate interests on almost every issue from climate change to the banking system to unions”.

Both Mehak and Nakita have been using Tik Tok during their campaigns to better engage with young people and to educate the broader community on the need for a change to the current state of politics. (You can read more about how they are using Tik Tok here). They have both been learning as they go and understanding what works and doesn’t work through trial and error. This shows the willingness that young people have to put themselves out there and to try something that they don’t necessarily fully understand, but to learn as they go. They’re prepared to look silly at first in order to learn because they see the importance and potential of a platform like Tik Tok. How many current politicians do you know that have this attitude?

Mehak likes using Tik Tok because she feels it shows who the person really is in an unpolished and more relaxed way and that makes it easier to engage with them and see that they are an ordinary person, not some perfect person to be idolised and feared. Nakita has found that young people have really jumped on board with Tik Tok and that it’s a great place to really mobilise young voters. Mehak also spoke about how social media and technology have made her campaign more accessible, she feels she has been able to speak to more people in less time because she doesn’t have to travel anywhere, she can use zoom and social media to engage with people and to share her campaign. Perhaps in this way, the Covid-19 pandemic has been better for young people during their campaigns?

In terms of the campaigns they are running and the platforms they are standing on they both have a similar feel with a focus on engaging with and supporting young people and building a future that works for everyone. Mehak asked, “how do we build a world where we consider what it’s going to look like for [future generations]?” She described how young people are often invited to be involved with politics and activism in a very tokenistic and advisory way that means we don’t actually have to be listened to or taken seriously. She says “it’s not a partnership approach, it’s a ‘saviour’ lense. We want to change this narrative of how we work with different communities — they should lead this work.”

This is similar to Nakita’s approach and she said that “one of the things we are pushing for this election is to increase rates on gambling premises and to halve the rates on hospitality venues which employ young people.” This is important because it’s “an unethical industry which is praying on people’s vulnerabilities and profiting off it” by ensuring the money this industry takes from the economy is “given back to local businesses to spend on young people’s wages, on working people, and to get the economy going back again” is incredibly important. Mehak says: “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a huge inspiration because she said ‘you can be a waitress and passionate about civic engagement’. We want real people, and we want to see behind the façade.”

Mehak continued by saying: “how do we make local politics accessible in its services, language, and approach? When it [becomes] accessible, it’s collaborative.” She “wants to create a pathway or channel where I’m not the only one that ends up where I am.” In saying this, Mehak highlights the importance of an organisation like Run For It, who engage with and support young people not only to be aware of politics but to change the face of politics and political engagement for future generations. Nakita feels that: “it’s really crazy, grassroots activism is awesome. All these things happen and somehow it all comes together and it works.” This is the kind of enthusiasm, passion and motivation Run For It have seen from our candidates and volunteers over this campaign. We know what we are capable of and we aren’t afraid to fight for change.

Nakita said when the campaign is over she hopes her “future self is sitting on a beach somewhere, having a wine, or a cocktail.” She added that “when you get really thrown into something like this, you get really passionate about the thing your fighting for but you have to make sure that you look after yourself, and take time out of your day to just water your garden, plant some plants, do some chill stuff that isn’t politics for at least an hour.” This is great advice for avoiding burn out, to step back, take a break and not get caught up in the minute details of the campaign, not only is it beneficial for your mental health but you can come back to your work with a fresh perspective.

Thinking about the end of the campaign and looking forwards, Mehak said: “to future me [looking] back, take this as a learning experience regardless of the outcome and stay true to who you are.” She continued, “I’ll still advocate for youth voices, women’s rights and empowerment, intercultural engagement and minorities coming together [regardless of the result].” Nakita added that “there’s more of a fight ahead.” Both of these points are important moving forwards. Run For It have seen the power and importance of what we have grown and achieved so far and the need for us to expand, grow and continue the work we’ve started.

We have big plans and we’re excited for you to come along for the ride with us.

Written by Brenna Dempsey

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