It was almost the end of my junior year in high school. We were running for offices in the high school Student Organization, S.O. for short, for what would be my senior year. A group of friends convinced me to run for the position of secretary and to my delight it didn’t take long for enough students to sign the petition to get my name on the ballot. Each of the candidates had their own troop of campaign workers and it seemed that all of the candidates were friendly and considerate of each other.
Home-made posters were hung on all of the walls and just like all of the other candidates for the S.O. I spoke to my fellow students in the classrooms and lunch room to learn what their concerns were and what I could address. I believed in keeping my campaign promises real. Fortunately our campaigns were “clean” and no one resorted to dirty politics or back stabbing. The school paper interviewed each of us and devoted more or less equal and non-biased coverage. In the long run we all got a very pleasant introduction to “politics”.
The school arranged a special assembly the morning that ballots were to be cast. We were each allowed three minutes to present our platforms and address the issues we would be fighting for. Speeches were prepared to keep us organized and the friendly competition felt very, very real. We were called to the lectern in turns; all of the candidates were grouped together.
There were two of us running for secretary and I was the first of our level. I promised to speak to the administration about things like the open hours of the school’s student store, access to our third-floor rooftop “courtyard” (the school was in the heart of NYC and sat in the middle of tall business-buildings), school dances, and other things students told me were important to them. I was so pleased to get a sizeable round of applause and I felt good. Yes, a little bit of me was beginning to want the win, but in reality whether I won or lost I was enjoying the experience.
When I sat the other student running for secretary, Fran, was called up. I remember how she didn’t even pull out any index cards for her speech. She addressed the full auditorium, repeated her name and the position she was running for and then made one campaign promise.
I can still hear her words, “I PROMISE YOU SOFTER TOILET PAPER IN ALL OF THE BATHROOMS!”
There was a standing ovation and loud whistles and cheers that finally had to be shushed by the teachers. When the ballots were cast that afternoon Fran won in a landslide. It was no wonder, she was brilliant — she told the voters exactly what they wanted to hear.
When she assumed her responsibilities at the beginning of the new school year, she did a nice job… BUT the one promise she had made was something she never had control of (the NYC Board of Education bought the paper in bulk and doled it out to each building). The toilet paper in the bathrooms remained one-ply and scratchy for my entire senior year.
She told the voters what they wanted to hear and they voted for her based on that. In the end the students never got what they were promised. Candidates in our “adult” real-world elections always make promises and so often, after their election, we simply don’t see those promises coming to fruition. Prospective voters are swept up by promises of what they want to hear and continually disappointed once their chosen candidate takes office.
While Fran and I remained friends with no hard feelings, I did learn a very important lesson that year. Research for yourself and check out the candidate’s political history before casting a vote. Be informed when you walk into the voting booth.