The date was March 26th, 2011. I was on the 3rd floor of the University Center of the University of Guelph gazing down at students moving about buzzed with stress from the pending exam season. I was stressed with exams as well but something more pressing had just occurred - the writ for the 2011 federal election was just dropped. Filled with both nervousness and excitement, I called fellow UofG student and my partner in crime, Gracen Johnson. I don’t remember saying much to Gracen besides “We have to do something”. The next day I moved into her room and 4 days later we had mobilized over 100 students together to run the world’s first Vote Mob.
Dressed enthusiastically in red and white, students followed our lead as we ran through our choreographed dance routine to Florence and the Machine. We had megaphones, videographers on long boards and a waving Canadian flag on a hockey stick. It was one of the happiest and most ridiculously awesome days of my university life, little did I know that this was just the beginning of something much bigger, not just for myself but for youth all across Canada.
Just as the first Vote Mob wrapped up we got more exciting news, PM Stephan Harper was going to be in Guelph for a Conservative Convention in 4 days and once again we mobilized. With the video of the 1st Vote Mob making it’s rounds on Guelph’s social media, the 2nd Vote Mob was drawing a lot of traction. While our jaws dropped when 100 people showed up at the first Vote Mob, our jaw hit the floor as we saw the number of people confirming hiking up pass 700. This time, instead of a music video we would throw a surprise party for Prime Minister Harper, to welcome him to Guelph and send the message “Surprise! We are voting!”
When we all gathered, I wouldn’t help but feel overwhelmed with emotion. Over 700 students had taken the time during exams to come to express their commitment to voting and advocate for the issues they cared about. People came with home made Canadian hats, and torches. Others brought along their bagpipes, trumpets and juggling balls. It was an inclusive party for all. The Vote Mob exuded the energy we wanted to see in politics - positivity, collaboration and a love for our country. I think everyone walked away feeling just a bit more Canadian.
After our vote mob, other schools took on our call to action. University of Victoria was the first to pick up the torch calling for some Respect from politicians. Then McMaster University hosted a vote mob and attended both the Conservative as well as the Liberal rallies that night.
Then the emails, phones calls and Facebook event invites came pouring in from across Canada. Even though it was the middle of exam period, students wanted to stage vote mobs and they wanted to vote. In total over 45 vote mobs took place across Canada in that month from Whitehorse to St. John's.
What these vote mobs had in common was much more than just excited youth and signs. They all had young people who wanted to be heard, who wanted to be made to feel that they too are part of Canada. The issues that they paint on their signed are not stereotypical concerns about marijuana but issues that all Canadians are concerned about – health care, economy, climate change and aboriginal rights.
The vote mobs were not just a declaration that some young people will be voting, but a plea for our issues and more importantly our lives to matter to politics.
My 21-year-old cousin told me recently that the first time she voted was significant to her because she felt that she mattered. When she got her voter card for the first time with her name on it, she felt that the government had finally recognized her. This feeling of empowerment is what young people across Canada should be feeling this election season.
As this election continues, we hope that politicians will hear our plea, address our issues and if they dare, vote mob with us.
Blog post by Yvonne Su, co-founder of vote mobs @suyvonne