Vote mob held in KW

On Apr. 20, the University of Waterloo (UW) joined a list of Canadian universities that have been mobilizing student election participation through “vote mobs.” The mass demonstrations were inspired by a call to action from Canadian celebrity and political commentator Rick Mercer. The first vote mob was seen on Apr. 4 at the University of Guelph campus and has since spread as far as British Columbia.

“It shows that youth are actually interested in voting and taking part in our government,” said Elysha Schuhvauer, a student who has recently completed her first year at UW. Voter apathy, particularly among young voters, is a troubling, though often oversimplified issue in Canadian politics. Although only 44.2 per cent of the age 18-24 population voted in the previous federal election, according to Statistics Canada, the highly energetic rallies aim to inspire.

However, according to Chelsea Friesen, a third-year Digital Arts Communication major, the movement is more than about motivating youth. “It’s especially important not even just for getting students to know that other students are voting,” she acknowledged, “but for other candidates to know that students are voting and that we are a part of … whether they get elected or not.” The Kitchener-Waterloo riding is an area in which student mobilization could be key factor, due to the high university and college population.

Even involved Canadian youth are sometimes typecast as only interested in student-centered issues. While education is a central concern, Sarah McComb, a third-year psychology major, claims she would like to see human rights addressed more prominently, as well as “more respect for the democratic process.” Politicians, she believes, should be “treating them [youth voters] with respect, and recognizing that we can understand complex political issues, we do have opinions that maybe extend beyond tuition costs.”

Recent UW graduate Andrew Moull was in concurrence with this, noting the lack of engagement between most politicians and young people as the main reason for apparent apathy.

Moull claimed that “social media was the key component” in gathering support for the event. Most participants were invited through a group on Facebook. Despite the chilly weather, an estimation of about 100 students gathered in the Student Life Center courtyard.

Students began by placing sticky notes over their mouths documenting their reasons for voting. Incentives ranged from “Because I can” to “Rent costs are too damn high.” The “mob” then enthusiastically ran through a portion of the campus, and gathered in one of the main fields, concluding with a loud chant of “vote.”

Students are being encouraged to utilize both special ballot and advance polling options in the event that they are unavailable to vote on the May 2 election date. Vote mobs and other student-led initiative are aimed at changing perceptions of youth and raising awareness, while potentially changing the nature of this election. Voters are hopeful that this marks a positive turn in Canadian politics.

Friesen noted the success of the event, optimistically concluding, “It’s good to see that through thick and thin these students will come out and have a say, and show their voice, and be a part of something big.”