OPINION: Young voters mired in political catch-22

Screen Shot 2015-07-26 at 12.11.34 AMWe’ve heard the observations about today’s youth over and over: they’re less politically active than their predecessors and their voting rates are at historic lows.

Many consider young people’s political disaffection to be simply a reflection of their apathy. Others think it has more to do with their pampered lifestyle.

Personally, I think the younger generation is being treated unfairly. Given the challenges they currently face such as disappearing jobs and increasing student debt loads, they have more to get worked up about than previous generations.

Why, then, don’t we see their concerns reflected in direct political activism? Why aren’t today’s young people hitting the streets and demonstrating in big numbers about the issues that affect them?

When people talk about young people and democracy, it is almost inevitable that the word apathy will be used. We talk about young people not caring, being entitled and generally ignorant to the world around them.

I want to inform you this is not true, that young people are in fact not apathetic. They care about the world and our community as much, if not more than any other generation. And they will tell you this, if you just take a minute to ask them.

Our generation is burning for change. They want to engage, but often times, they’re disempowered. The current political system is alienating them in large numbers. For example, adults are entitled to three hours off work to go and vote, while students are not. There are disproportionately more polling stations in seniors’ residences than in areas with higher concentration of students. During last year’s municipal elections, candidates complained about 300 renters not being on the voters list, while there were 10,000 students not on the voters list.

We criticize youth for not voting; we say that no vote means no voice, and expect that doing this will increase turnout. This makes no sense. Unless someone engages with young people, youth voter turnout will only get worse.

While many youth may engage in politics at a young age, most political campaigns are directed at adults and therefore build their platform around things that matter to them, such as the universal child care benefit.

Youth are therefore stuck in a bit of a catch-22. They don’t feel like engaging in politics because the system does not accurately reflect their needs — but if they want to engage appropriately in the current political system, they need to become more like “traditional adults.”

Many agree the strength of a democracy can, at least in part, be measured by the number of opportunities for citizens to participate in the work of government.

When we have a government that is distant from its people, the people become ignorant about issues, unpredictable, and mistrustful of politicians.

No one wants a government like that, but let’s pause and think about it for a minute; uninformed, ignorant, unpredictable, and mistrustful of government. That sounds a lot like what we say when we complain about why people don’t vote. And it sounds a lot like how we describe young people.

As a young person, I want my age to matter because I believe that we need to create space in our political system for people like myself.

Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi
Amir Farahi is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of the London Institute. He is an entrepreneur, columnist, public speaker, and is currently specializing in Economics and Political Science at Western University.
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