All Posts Tagged With: "student apathy"
In a democratic society, not voting is still an exercise in civic responsibility
My mother always told me the only person we can change is ourself. Robert Fowler’s mother must not have taught him the same lesson. The former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations told a group of young adults about to graduate on Sunday that they don’t deserve to be critical of established government because, as a rule, they don’t vote.
This is the essence of ignorance, and the venue he chose to deliver his “great assessment of civilization” makes it all the more infuriating.
Fowler was at the fall convocation ceremony at the University of Ottawa to accept an honorary degree. But rather than using his time at the podium to inspire the soon-to-be graduates, he chose to chastise them based on his own over-simplified view of society. He claimed young people are “intellectually dishonest” and that “they don’t deserve bitching rights” because they don’t turn out to vote.
Political engagement is a two-way street. And not only does Fowler refuse to admit any responsibility his generation may play in the so-called apathy of youth, he goes as far to suggest that young people are not allowed an opinion if they don’t vote, as if voting is the only way one can engage civically.
As citizens of a free and democratic society, we have the right to put our own stamp on this country’s history, and just because we don’t vote in droves it doesn’t give political leaders a reason to ignore us, or worse, try to silence us.
Fowler went on to say: “You seem to be enthusiastically disqualifying yourselves from any right to demand good government in your own country, and effective Canadian engagement abroad.”
Not voting is still an exercise in civic responsibility and people shouldn’t be criticized for deciding against putting an X on a piece of a paper. By the same token, voting is not the only avenue we measure civic engagement and a country’s reputation on the world stage is not the result of a single group’s actions in that society.
A 2005 Statistics Canada survey on youth-political engagement found that youth are just as engaged in non-voting political activity as 30- to 64-year-olds, and they’re more engaged in non-voting political activity than Canadians over 65, who are the most likely to vote.
The question of supposed youth apathy is multi-faceted, with many factors beyond simple laziness. Sure, some young adults are lazy — as are some old adults — but many more participate in their communities and greater Canadian society through a number of untraditional avenues. There is discourse and interest happening, but just because it’s unrecognizable or different to those who’ve come before us, it doesn’t make it any less of a valid contribution to society. Society changes as its youth grow up and influence it in their own unique ways. This is the mark of progress.
So, Robert Fowler, next time you want to bitch about young people and how lazy we allegedly are, how about you try to engage in a discussion with a generation you clearly know nothing about — especially when you have an opportunity to address young people directly. It might do you, and Canada, some good.
Until you’re willing to have that discussion, though, perhaps your mother taught you another lesson: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
Universities are ripe for mobilization because of how fast word can spread
Megan Leslie, member of Parliament for Halifax, claims that courting voters aged 18-30 is a waste of a politician’s time and that’s why most don’t engage the youth demographic. But those who do are seeing unprecedented success.
Lets take the recent win of Calgary mayor-elect Naheed Nenshi as an example. Nenshi went from polling at one per cent to winning the election with 40 per cent of the vote in two months. Mobilizing young voters is largely considered to be the catalyst for Nenshi’s triumph at the polls — not to mention the city’s dramatic spike in turnout.
While his stint as a professor at Calgary’s Mount Royal University certainly made him a household name in the post-secondary circle, Nenshi cultivated, rather than took advantage, of this connection, realizing that students were key to election gold. In fact, a week before the election, polls indicated that support for him in the 18- to 34-year-old bracket had jumped from nine to 43 per cent over the course of the campaign.
And Nenshi’s not the first successful politician to venture down this road less travelled. Just two years ago, Barack Obama was dubbed America’s first “social media” president.
“I saw a lot of parallels between his campaign and Obama’s campaign. He was mobilizing youth, which [Ric] McIver and [Barb] Higgins were not focusing on,” Ashif Murani, a Calgary lawyer, told the Globe and Mail on Oct. 19.
Rahaf Harfoush, a social media strategist who worked on Obama’s presidential campaign, summed up their success in a CBC interview on Dec. 5, 2008:
“It wasn’t about new media; it was about the fact that the campaign gave new media the opportunity to become an integrated part of the communications campaign of a political campaign.
“I think it helped us to access a lot of people by giving them to tools to organize, to create events, to connect with each others and giving them everything that they needed, so that when they went off-line they were fully equipped — be it canvassing to talk[ing] to their neighbours.
“[Through the site] they had talking points to pass onto their families, videos, events in their area that were happening, community outreach programs in their state. Everything that we did was to connect people, because it was a movement that was fundamentally about people.”
The Q&A portion of Leslie’s Oct. 19 presentation at Dalhousie University touched on some interesting realities of a political future without youth involvement.
“There should be some people in their 20s [in Parliament], because we pass bills on pension changes unanimously and we don’t talk about post-secondary education and unemployment. These issues are dead in the House of Commons,” Leslie said.
Following Leslie’s presentation, Emily Smith van Beek told the Dalhousie Gazette that political neglect of young people will eventually cause the system to crumble. She also added that universities are ripe for mobilization because of how fast word can spread.
While there’s still much to be said about promoting ideas students can get excited about it, it’s clear there is so much more politicians could be doing to engage young voters. And the ability to engage this Everest of demographics has valuable benefits for those who can successfully harness it.
It’s hard to jump into an electoral system where you feel worthless and ignored
Fellow blogger Jeff Rybak thinks young people are being labeled apathetic when it comes to politics and don’t deserve it. He suggests that these new forms of connecting and networking, which we value more than voting, are the start of something new and big.
I hope he’s right, because I’m a big pile of disenchanted with Canadian politics, and I’m only 18 years old. Here is something I wrote back in June, when Iggy was threatening to throw a hissy over employment insurance and send Canadians to the polls. I thought I’d share it in response to Jeff’s comments:
Last time there was an election, I missed voting in it by 33 days. As someone who was raised in a government town by parents who work in government and politics, I’ve been waiting for it to be my turn to vote for a long time. I was 10 when I started watching the West Wing and even younger when I sat at my dining room table during dinner parties, listening to my parents and their friends discuss politics. I willed my brain to absorb every mysterious, exciting word of it – and gradually, it started to work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t will my birthday a month earlier.
As the election approached, I realized that a lot of my friends were planning not to vote. Mostly they were lazy, or busy; the registration centre was outside our campus bubble. A lot of people had been so swept up in first year stuff that they had no time to keep track of real world stuff. They didn’t know the issues, they told me, so why vote?
I do see the issue with uninformed voters casting ballots to whichever candidate’s name sticks best in their mind. I didn’t argue with them. At least they’re informed enough to know they don’t know, right? But that idea still didn’t feel right. Didn’t that drive them crazy? Didn’t they want to know? No matter what, I just couldn’t find a way to support someone’s excuse not to vote. I WISH I could vote, I kept lamenting. I momentarily thought about vote swapping, like Donna did on the West Wing when she accidentally voted Republican, only, in this case, I’d get someone to vote the way I would have voted because they didn’t care
This week when the news started up about a possible summer election, I started to feel excited while everyone else groaned. Sure, no one really wants an election – but when is a good time of year, exactly? For me, summer is perfect – I have more free time to stay up-to-date, I’m in my home riding, it’ll be easier to register when I have someone to drive me there. I even know where the neighbourhood polling station is.
But… who would I vote for? The more I think about it, the more I feel just as disenchanted as my peers. Sure, there are ideas that I believe in and I want to elect a government who shares my values, but the issues that are most important to me aren’t on the map. Because I’m a student. Because no one cares that I’m paying way too much money, money I don’t currently have, for my education so I can support them later. Because students don’t vote. And suddenly, I see it. There it is. It’s a vicious circle.
The U.S. presidential election pulled it out last year with record numbers of students voting and participating in campaigning. One poll last October reported a ridiculous percentage of Canadians would give up their vote in the next Canadian election in order to vote in the American election. And here we are, standing in the shadow of the threat of a summer election with zero wind in our sails. You would think that the parties would have noticed by now how good it can get when you get students – or anyone – excited.
Maybe it’s a problem with our election system; because elections tend to be more reactionary, there’s less room for setting an agenda. Maybe we students need to get off our butts and be less apathetic and set the agenda. Maybe it’s impossible, at least for now. But I don’t want to lose interest, I want to have something to get excited about. I want someone to talk to me, not down to me. I want someone to fight for my vote. I want to feel like my vote is worth something to someone.
Who knows if there will be an election this summer – right now it seems like the Liberals are backing down. Who knows… and who cares.