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Youth Voting & Checking Out Of Politics

Posted on 21 April 2011

Last week, I wrote this on Facebook:

“On the radio they’re talking to young people who aren’t planning on voting. They’re blaming the political system, parties, etc for not engaging them. Know who else wasn’t courted by the political system throughout history? Poor people, women, Chinese-Canadians, Indo-Canadian, Japanese-Canadians, First Nations, African-Americans. More recent examples? Egyptians. Syrians.

Stop blaming other people for your apathy.”

Putting aside the poor writing (I jump from historic worldwide examples to Canadian to American to contemporary international ones), it generated debate. And having had some time to think about, I’d like to suss out my thoughts on it some more.

It’s important to understand what it is that prompted me to write this. I don’t have the exact quote, but it was essentially a young person saying that they probably wouldn’t vote until politicians started working harder to cater to her interests.

This is a sentiment I’ve heard more than once, and it is, at best, naive. Politicians, particularly the ones with the most power, are doing just fine without catering to you, thank you very much. Rick Mercer said it best:

“It is the conventional wisdom of all political parties that young people will not vote. And the parties? They like it that way. It’s why your tuition keeps going up.”

Exactly. Feeling like you’re not being catered to is no excuse for not trying to make your voice be heard. In fact, not being catered to is the dominant theme of democratic movements around the world. The fact that politicians are paying little more than lip service to issues that matter to youth pales in comparison to historical and international disenfranchisement. In the 1800s, women in Canada were campaigning for the right to vote despite political and social rules against it. Chinese, Indian and Japanese Canadians couldn’t vote until the late 1940s.

Meanwhile, we’re seeing straight-up violence happening around the world as people take on political and miliary powers that would, in part, deny them their right to vote. What young people in Canada (a demographic I still belong to, by some measures) are up against is miniscule compared to the massive challenges that have been and are being overcome by many others. I’d like to hear someone make the argument that youth in Canada don’t vote because they don’t feel like politicians listen to them enough put to one of the people who risked their lives to take part in the (yes, faulty, I know) Afghan elections or Egpytian Tahrir Square movement.

I’m not arguing that people should stop pointing out flaws with the system we have. Things like the student flash mobs or this Facebook promotion are young people taking an active approach to making their voice heard. But the key is they are MAKING their voice heard– not waiting for someone else to come around and ask what they can do to make it better. That’s not how it works.


While I’m on this rant, I’d also like people (young and old alike) who continue to check out of politics to stop using the excuse that everyone and everything in politics is so bad it doesn’t make a difference who wins. Bull. You want to check out? Fine. But don’t pretend it’s because you know better than everyone else.

People do not check out when things get too bad. They check out when things get good. When things get bad enough, people notice and they start loooking for ways to fix it. You might ignore a small crack in your foundation, but once the basement starts flooding, I guarantee you’re going to do something about it. It’s the same in politics. You ignore the problems because things are stable enough. You willingly and knowingly checking out is you saying things aren’t SO BAD you’re willing to do anything to change it. If things were genuinely bad, you would be looking for some way to make it better. Maybe voting, maybe running for office, maybe rallying for electoral reform. It is easier than pretty much anywhere else in the world at any other point in history to make your voice heard. Check out, fine, but don’t blame someone else if you do. It belittles the work of so many other people.

Filed under: Canada, politics

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