And sometimes, we feel downright hopeless about improving our political institutions. I’m hopeful that by now, we can all agree that ‘apathy’ isn’t the right word to describe reasons behind declining voter turnout and civic participation among young people or the general population.
When navigating a political system that noticeably favours the voice of some over others, too often allows for democratic misrepresentation, and (un)intentionally makes it difficult – if not impossible – to get involved in a meaningful way, it’s no wonder we’re turned off by our political institutions.
In fact, 60% of Ottawans didn’t vote in our last elections. To me, this means that we’re so turned off that the mandate to reject political representation altogether was actually stronger than the mandate to have our mayor run the city.
So here’s what’s neat about what the young’uns are doing: despite this sad portrait of a broken democracy that seems too futile to fix, we care. We actually care.
Young people are optimistic, passionate, and driven towards improving their social, environmental, and political conditions. In Canada, we’ve seen this reflected in movements like Occupy, Idle No More, Drop Fees, climate change, fair-trade, and the list goes on.
Likewise, young people have been instrumental to and at the forefront of political reform advocacy. We know something’s broken, and we are compelled to fix it. Ottawa123 is just one of many groups driven towards improving our electoral system to make it more fair and friendly for our generation and the next. What’s unique about this campaign is that most of us are in our 20s and 30s, diverse in our backgrounds and political leanings, and engage citizens in innovative ways to make the issue interesting, and heard.
Despite our passion, a convincing argument about why RCV works, and our youthful good looks, we’re still faced with having to overcome the naysayers: those who believe that our electoral system is just fine and should stay the same, or those who believe that our electoral system deserves a more complicated and daunting overhaul. What’s ironically worse, is that we’ve even been faced with general apathy on the voting reform issue from a few politicians. But don’t worry, we’ve been changing people’s opinions simply by informing and educating people on why our system is broken, and how it can be fixed.
So, I’ll leave you with the scenario we don’t want:
Young people – disenfranchised from our local political institutions and accused of being apathetic and noncontributory to the civic culture – willingly identified the faults of our broken political system, actively offered practical solutions to the problem, and tirelessly worked their civic butts off to improve our democracy … only to be swatted by old-school thinking and indifference from our political leaders, and left with the same archaic system that will continue to turn us off from political participation.
I know the story won’t end like this, and not because I’m an optimist. I know it’s possible to reform our democratic institutions because it’s happened many times before, and on a much larger scale. And, it will happen many times again. If the possibility of reform ceased to exist, I — as a woman, an immigrant, and a non-property owner — would never have had the right to vote.
Democracy isn’t something that’s stagnant; it lives and breathes as we do. When it threatens to become stagnant, we have every reason to be dissatisfied and disengaged, and even more reason to do something about it.
… so we’re doing something about it.
1Do I sound frustrated by our political system? Because I am.
2Yet, we’re proud to say that our campaign is also run and supported by those beyond this age range.
3Really??? A councillor won with less than 20% of the vote in the last election! How?!? How is this fine?!?!
4Believe me, if I could wish for the sun and stars, I would too. But it’s hard enough to make any change to our political system. RCV is a small change with big outcomes. It could even lead to bigger changes to improve our political system in the future.