Democracy Week

Our young voices are ready to be heard

Five out of 10 Kiwis between 18 and 24 years old didn’t vote in the last election. But I’m sick of seeing this statistic so easily manipulated to be part of the intergenerational blame culture.

Every day young people engage in politics. Whether it be on internet forums or through art and music, university debates or conversations in a dingy Wellington flat about a system that could work better—young people are political, and the prevailing suggestion that they are not is pure myth.

However, their way of doing politics is often dismissed—so it’s no wonder young people often dismiss the more conventional way of engaging in politics: voting.

Democracy Week has been the perfect demonstration of the level of interest young people have in the issues affecting our world. Day after day, Victoria University’s central Hub has been packed with students wanting to hear what politicians and commentators have to say, and more importantly wanting to join the conversation.

But I can hear the response already: “Of course political science nerds in Wellington are interested, but what about the rest of the country?”

Well, this year for the first time in a while students’ associations, clubs and various groups have come together from places all over the country with the collective goal of debunking the myth of youth apathy by aiming for 100 percent student turnout in the election.

If youth turnout goes up, the impact it will have on politics will go well beyond this election.

These groups are not just university based. They include polytechnics such as Hawke’s Bay’s Eastern Institute of Technology and Rotorua/Tauranga-based Toi Ohomai Institute of Technology in the North Island, and Ara Institute of Canterbury and the Otago Polytechnic in the South.

In the face of a broken system that fails to make voting meaningful to many young people, the We Have Power campaign, which launches next week, is built on the premise that the only way to change the system is to demonstrate the power of the youth voting bloc and put some new issues at the front and centre of New Zealand’s political agenda.

It focuses not on telling people who to vote for, but asking them what they want to see changed and inviting them to be part of the process.

We need to focus our energy not on what we can’t do, but on what we can.

If youth turnout goes up, the impact it will have on politics will go well beyond this election. We will break the cycle of mutual neglect and politicians will be forced to focus on the issues that are important to young people and offer real, aspirational and tangible solutions.

Regardless of the result on 23 September, whether it is Bill English, Jacinda Ardern, Winston Peters or even Gareth Morgan in the hot seat to be PM, young people will be a force in politics once again.

With less than two months until the election, we need to focus our energy not on what we can’t do, but on what we can.

The voices of the underrepresented—young Māori, Pasifika, women and gender minorities—are ready to be heard. And in order to combat the big challenges we face, our country desperately needs to hear them.

To all young people reading this—the challenge is there, the opportunity is there. Let’s see 100 percent youth turnout in this election and get our democracy working like it should.

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