I’m the last person to discourage someone from voting and getting involved in the organized political process. I joined a political party at age 16, and I’ve voted in every election I’ve been able to since I turned 18. I want everyone to vote early, and vote often.
But I have to shake my head when I read pieces like “Want real change? Hit the ballot box instead of the streets” from Chantal Hebert and “How about occupying a voting booth?” from David Akin that say if these youngins want real change, they should just go and vote. That strikes me as a reflexive establishment reaction that misses the point, and what is driving and motivating these protesters.
To start, we’ll grant the premise that most of these protesters aren’t regular voters, although that’s by no means a given. Yes, young people vote in low numbers, but they also occupy things in low numbers. It’s not unreasonable to suggest those engaged enough to camp out in a protest tent village may be more likely to be among the percentage of youth that have marked a ballot.
But granting the premise, if these youth really want change, shouldn’t they just go and vote, as Chantal and David suggest? As I said, I’m a big fan of voting, and I absolutely want more Canadians of all ages to get involved in the political process, whether it’s voting, finding candidates they support and helping them or even running themselves.
At the same time though, I can understand why they’d be turned off by the political process, and may see voting as a waste of time choosing between lesser evils that will not lead to any kind of real change, and therefore a waste of time. Many young people, whether they’re occupying something or not, are very concerned about the state of the world and want to make it a better place. Their "give a damn" level is probably higher than the average. But they see organized politics as irrelevant to creating the change they want to see, and so they channel their energy into other forms of activism and advocacy.
Now, there is lots of responsibility to go around here. Part of it does indeed lay with these youngins. If they don’t like the choices on offer, they should go out and find someone they do like or even run themselves. Don’t feel at home in any of the political parties? Pick the one that’s the best fit and work to change it from within, or organize your own group and build a movement with like-minded fellow travelers.
At the same time though, just telling them to go vote is a cop-out. Yes, they should get involved, but we should also reform our political system because, the fact is, it is viewed as irrelevant and ineffective by many Canadians, and not just the young folk. If we want greater engagement by citizens of all ages, we need to start doing something differently.
Off the top of my head, I’d suggest loosening the oppressive yoke of party discipline, empowering individual MPs to have personalities and agendas and represent their constituents and causes, and making the policy development process in political parties actually connected to their election platform instead of an exercise in pointless tedium. For starters.
One suggestion that I know will be made though is online voting, and I have to say it’s not the answer for youth engagement. Young people aren’t voting not because it’s not easy enough, but because it’s not relevant. Online voting may well have merit (I have serious security concerns I’d want addressed first) but just because the kids like smartphones doesn’t make online voting the answer to low youth engagement.
Yes, youth need to vote. But we all need to make it count.Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers