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Good news - not voting isn’t against any rules in this country so you are free to browse Youtube, binge Netflix and stalk celebrities on Instagram instead of voting on election day if that’s what you really want to do. In fact, some people who feel dissatisfied with the whole system choose to send this message by doing things like spoiling their ballots.
However, I’m not here to tell you not to vote, because I feel very passionately about young people voting for their future. If you choose not to vote, the more likely you are to avoid conversations about issues that you care about. You get used to smiling nervously and saying “BRB” whenever the conversation about elections comes up.
But let’s ask ourselves some important questions and answer them as honestly as we can:
How does not voting tell politicians about what you do care about?
How does not voting tell politicians what solutions you have to address key issues?
How does not voting give you influence over politicians and political discussions?
You see, there’s a difference between protesting against something and standing for something. This is where voting becomes interesting…
When you remove your vote, you remove your importance to politicians. The reality of life is that politicians only have to acknowledge demands made by people who have influence and vote. They should care about everyone, but politics isn’t always about what’s fair, but about who turns up, speaks up and votes. Politicians have views on how they think society should be run and the opportunities you are entitled to. When you don’t vote, other people do and so you give others the power to decide the kind of life you will live.
Because young people consistently don’t vote as much as older people, politicians don’t feel the need to impress us. However, if more young people voted and voiced their demands in the ballot box (not just over Twitter), politicians would have to take notice. In fact, all parties would have to adopt policies demanded by young people because it would mean they wouldn’t be voted into parliament.
Always remember, people don’t just hand over power. You have to be proactive by doing things like voting in order for your voice to be heard. So do something constructive: vote and keep politicians on their toes. They’ve gotten too comfortable.
Sometimes not voting isn’t even a rebellious act, it’s just that real life gets in the way of your ability to get political. I’m just here to say that your real life is politics. Don’t think that just because you’re not standing in parliament with a university degree it means you aren’t political and shouldn’t vote. In fact, it’s probably because you aren’t all those things mentioned that your voice is important, because you better understand the experiences of communities that they don’t understand. In fact, if you care about education, environment, equality, jobs, crime, Brexit or pretty much anything else, then I am sorry to say browsing social media instead of voting on election day may no longer be the best use of your time:
Now imagine leaving these topics in the hands of someone else. This is not me saying that voting is the be all and end all. In fact, some parties probably don’t include your issues or solutions in their manifestos which makes choosing who to vote for a challenge. However this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t vote at all, just that you should vote for the party who aligns closest with your perspective. If you want to make something a priority then spread the message, so you can raise awareness for the issues you care about. .
Don’t get me wrong, I’d be the first person to tell you that the system feels rigged against the same people feel who feel ignored by politicians. We know all too well about the empty promises of politicians past and the harsh realities in which we live.
If you feel underrepresented or marginalised by politicians you may also feel like the system favours privileged people. It does. However, the secret is to educate them along the way. They might not know anything about your experience or only develop an opinion of specific communities based on what they’ve seen on TV, music videos or stories from their parents. I’m not saying they aren’t silly for believing everything they hear and read, but that there is a way to get them to think differently, and it requires having more conversations outside your social group. People can unlearn and form new opinions - we just need people committed to educating the world and turning up to vote.
As mentioned earlier, if you don’t vote, it's not a crime, but you run the risk of being ignored by politicians. You signal to society that no matter the outcome you can afford to live with the consequences of someone else's vote. If the older generation see things differently and won’t live to see the impact of their votes, why should young people be OK with living in a world shaped by someone else? But should none of what I’ve written convince you to register and vote if you meet the age requirement, then consider this - one day you will no longer be a young person or may have children yourself. What kind of world do you want to leave for the next generation? What part do you want to play in saving the economy, saving the planet and promoting peace on earth? If you can’t do it for you, do it for them.
Busayo Twins is an Education Policy Advisor and was a panelist at the 'Why voting is the most important thing you'll do event'.