Looking back, you tend to ask yourself if it was all worth it. Are the bridges burned worth the lessons learned?
For the entirety of my time at Sydney University I was heavily involved in the student political scene that has flourished on that campus especially for decades. I ran as a candidate, held numerous positions in student unions, managed election campaigns and organised activist campaigns. I’m proud of some things I achieved and ashamed and of others. From my initial recruitment as a fresh-faced first year at arts camp to a grizzled head-kicker orchestrating a student union in my fifth, I undoubtedly saw and did some shit.
Even tangential involvement in the bizarre sunken place that is ‘stupol’ will impart many invaluable lessons. To spare you some of the damage I accrued learning them, here’s what I learnt during my time as a student politician.
Trust Your Gut
This is something that will serve you well throughout life. Often, I would know instinctually when something didn’t feel right. I would have pulled back from so many deals and been more honest had I listened to that niggling internal monologue. Luckily, negotiating an electoral block or conflict in a campaign taught me how to drown out the noise and start listening to myself. For the most part, my naturally TBD tendencies were a large part of my political persona after all.
Real Eyes Recognise Real Lies
You make a lot of alliances in student politics but not a lot of true friends. When I was starting out I trusted freely and boy did I get burnt. The pursuit of power makes people do terrible things, willing to discard even the most supposedly beloved comrade for a title. Whilst stupol really darked me out regarding some elements of the human condition, mainly the bone-chilling depths some individuals sunk to, it also provided me with connections I still cherish today. A shared political perspective is the cherry on top of a wonderful friendship after all. I’m just not sure if it completely neutralises the dread I feel when contemplating the fact that many of the psychos I went toe to toe with will be helping run the country in a decade or two. I can speak on this with authority – I was the architect of three notorious #repselects.
Never Give Up
My personal hack theme song was Won’t Back Down for a reason haters! If I’d thrown in the towel I wouldn’t have helped run the campaign to save Sydney College of the Arts, the SRC would have been run by the Liberals as early as 2015 and Honi Soit would have had a lot more trouble filling column inches. Life isn’t easy and politics is even more dastardly. Oddly enough, the crucial lesson was that sometimes you’re gonna lose. Some elections go the other way, struggles are lost and the bad guys succeed (soon enough you’ll see them in parliament.) It’s how you deal with it that counts because as Fantasia once crooned, sometimes you gotta lose to win again.
United We Stand, Divided We Fall
Yes student politics is messy, craven and essentially tragicomedy. Student activism, on the other hand, is inspiring, relevant and necessary. During my time in the game, I saw students defeat fee deregulation, combat sexual assault on campus and stand in solidarity with Indigenous Australians. We contributed to a proud and inspiring history of student activism With the existential threat of climate change, it’s never been more important to be politically active and flex our collective strength. There is a reason we used to chant ”students united, will never be defeated!”
Youth is Wasted on the Young
Whilst my time in student politics was difficult, it’s something I don’t regret. If anything, now I’ve graduated the main emotion I feel reminiscing on those halcyon days is bittersweet nostalgia. Knowing what I know now I’d do so much differently. But without those stumbles, the victories wouldn’t have been as sweet. Stupol gets a bad rap for being a lions den of disordered personalities, unnecessary excess and broken promises. I’d rather see it as a fleeting moment of youthful passion, collective struggle and particularly colourful memories.