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Student Council Elections in the Age of Now

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Alina and her daughter work on campaign posters.

One of the most exciting things for my 10-year-old daughter upon starting 5th grade was that she would finally have the chance to run for Class Representative.

Class Representative — the job itself and campaigning for it — combined all of her favorite things: Making posters, baking cupcakes, compiling lists, planning parties, hanging out and telling others what to do and how to do it. (She’s become passionate about staging plays and making her own movies.)

But running for Student Council in 2017 isn’t like running for Student Council in any other year. The kids had heard so much about politics and campaigning during what was, basically, one-fifth of their lives, that questions came up that I don’t think would have if this school election were taking place a decade ago.

When we were brainstorming strategies — brainstorming is another of my daughter’s favorite things; she bought multi-colored Post-It notes for the occasion — the following came up, all issues that she’d heard about from real-life political campaigns and wondered if she should incorporate:

1. As my daughter was the only child of color running, should she insinuate that all those who didn’t vote for her were racist? (But then she realized: “No, Mommy, that’s stupid.”

2. Should she run on the “All Boys Are Icky” platform? Nope, she told me, because “all boys aren’t icky, Mommy.”

3. When an opponent posted Instagram photos of themselves visiting Niagara Falls, we joked that we should accuse them of being Canadian. (My 14-year-old ruined our fun when he pointed out the photo was clearly on the American side.)

4. We even got to talk about how John Kennedy was asked if, as a Catholic, he would be more loyal to the Constitution or the Pope, and how other candidates have been accused of similar dual loyalties. As this was a Jewish Day School, the question was moot, though, presumably, she could have maliciously targeted those who were half-Jewish, or Jewish on the “wrong” side.

I happened to agree with my daughter’s “go high” approach. In rejecting divisiveness and negativity, she was parroting the inclusive approach she’d heard around our dinner table. But even if I hadn’t liked the tack she ultimately chose to take, I promised myself this would be a hands-off project. I wanted her to see that her actions (good or bad) had consequences (good or bad, too).  But what was really adorable about this election is how the kids decided among themselves — with no adult prodding — only to campaign positively. They agreed they wouldn’t point out bad things about their opponents, they’d only focus on good things about themselves. And, of course, the issues. What’s an election without key issues?

My daughter wanted to run on a goose poop platform. Or, rather, a platform that promised that were she elected 5th-grade representative, she would move their PE class from a field she says is always covered in goose poop to one … less goose poopy.The faculty adviser told her she couldn’t run on that. We’re still not sure exactly why. (Perhaps for fear of offending Big Poop?)

So, instead, my daughter ran on a platform of more variety of snacks, and more vegetarian lunch options. (She’s not a vegetarian, but if I am only for myself….)

She made posters. She hand-wrote literally 1000 Post-Its to adhere in surprising places, like on toilet stall doors, drinking fountains, and people’s binders. She formed coalitions, asking friends to urge their friends to vote for her.

She wrote a speech. She practiced her speech. She practiced it in her room. She practiced it in front of me. She practiced it in front of her brother (who said, “I don’t like it.” I told her to ignore him). She practiced it in front of her dad (who made a few notes to play up the positivity). I even heard her practicing in the shower!

The morning of the election, she told me she was freaking out. Yet, afterward, she told me that, before everyone made their speeches at Assembly, she took time to calm down a friend who was also running and freaking out even more than she was.

Once all of the speeches were given, and all the votes were counted … my daughter won!

She is now one of two 5th grade representatives.

She’s learned that with great (middle school) power comes great responsibility. Now that the campaign is over, she actually has to do things, like wake up early for meetings. And make speeches in front of bigger groups about topics she actually has to research. And organize events, and be the point person for her constituents’ complains that she then is obliged to resolve.

But I think the most important thing she learned was that positivity works. As we were leaving school the day of the election, so many kids and parents congratulated her, and told her how funny they found her speech (that’s what the 14-year-old objected to, he thought she was running too much on personality and not enough on serious issues). They gushed how happy they were about her winning. (A few of the parents may have also mentioned something about needing her to run for President — and ASAP.)

There was, as far as I could tell, no negativity, even from the kids who lost. Everyone was being an adult about it. Which is more than can be said about real adults these days.

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