Why vote? That's what an impressive group of Vancouver youth are asking themselves, and they've come up with an answer in the form of a mission statement, and direct action to court their peers into going to the polls.
The Y Vote Petition was the brainchild of Gautham Krishnaraj, a Toronto-area resident. He began a national campaign which has been taken up locally here in Vancouver.
I found out about the petition after speaking to the YouthPolitik group a few weeks ago at Vancouver City Hall. It was in my capacity as a political writer at 24 Hours that I was invited to answer some basic questions about how to interview politicians. It was a non-partisan affair and I left my opinions at home that day, and brought along my knowledge of the symbiotic relationship between our media and our political leaders.
YouthPolitik – managed by the City of Vancouver's Social Policy department – is a legacy of the previous city council. In fact, it was the brainchild of Daniel Fontaine in his capacity as Mayor Sullivan's chief of staff, and the Mayor himself. Fontaine was touched by his own experience of participating in a staged "youth parliament" – it attracted him to politics from that day onward. Sam Sullivan described the new initiative in his inaugural speech.
YouthPolitik continues today at Vancouver City Hall as an important tool to build an informed citizenry. The three dozen or so youth in attendance were all, with the exception of two young women, under eighteen years old and not yet qualified to vote. But I could tell that they were all eager to be able to cast their first vote, certainly as eager as I was at eighteen when I voted for the first time.
Talking politics for me is like throwing Brer Rabbit into the briar patch – I'm right at home. Explaining to young people as to why politics matters to them is a whole other challenge. I was on the spot for about 30 minutes, and as I cast my eyes around the room (I sat on a chair circled by the group) I can say thankfully that few times were the audience staring at the floor or reaching for their smart phones.
These were young people who were truly engaged on the subject of our political system.
The greatest pleasure for me came at the end when I was able to respond to questions from the room. I had told them all the power of social media when it came to advocating for their views, and for becoming a part of a community. Use Twitter to follow writers like Gary Mason, Frances Bula, Jeff Lee and Mike Howell, I told them, if you want to stay plugged in.
At the end of my talk some people came up to ask me some questions one on one, and one young woman in particular wanted me to learn about an initiative she and friends supported to get young people to vote.
Leah Bae pulled out some photocopied petition forms filled with signatures. At the top of the page it said "Y Vote" and below that was a passionate preamble describing why her peers have to get out to vote. It starts:
Every single day new headlines sweep across the world, telling tales of rebellion and youth uprising in countries like Libya, Egypt, Yemen and Syria. These people are fighting and dying for the right to vote, a right that Canadians have. Yet in recent years there has been an unsettling trend, with youth voters dropping to historic lows at the booths on vote night.
I am supremely impressed by the spirit of the Y Vote Petition group, and wish them great success. If you or someone you know is between 16-24 years old, and looking for a truly grassroots non-partisan youth vote initiative to participate in, contact the Y Vote Petition organizers via email at email@example.com or follow the Twitter hashtag #YVotePetition.
I wish Gautham, Leah and all those involved in the petition great success, and urge both young and not so young to be sure to get out and vote in Monday's federal election.
Here now is the rest of the Y Vote Petition preamble.
In the general federal election of 2008, 18 – 24 year olds had an expected voter turnout of just over one third at 37.4 percent. Although many politicians may claim that the youth do not care about politics; that we are ignorant, impossible or unimportant, it is time for them to face the facts.
There are approximately 4 million youth between the ages of 16 – 24, 4 million people who can, or soon will be able to vote. In ridings where the difference between two candidates was less than 100 votes, could the youth not be a deciding factor? For proof we need not look any further than our neighbours to the south. Not only did Barack Obama empower the youth of his country, but all around the world.
Becoming a household name before he was even elected, it is time for Canadian politicians to do the same. Politics should ignite the passions of Canadians young and old; starting with simply acknowledging the power of the youth. Entire platforms need not be built around us, but rather connect the issues of Canada to the youth.
Thousands of dollars are spent targeting seniors and every demographic that could be imagined... except the youth.
Here is our plea to the politicians of Canada; we want to be involved in the decisions made for our country. We have a voice, and an opinion. Instead of asking, “Why don’t they vote?” it’s time to harness the Y Vote, the youth vote.
We need not raise a pistol, but rather a pen. We need not spend hours rioting, but rather 20 minutes registering.
Everywhere in the world, youth are standing up loud and proud for their rights, power and freedom. It’s time for young Canadians to do the same.
- Post by Mike Klassen. Mike is a candidate seeking the council nomination for the Vancouver Non-Partisan Association (NPA). If you're an elected official or candidate seeking a nomination and want to write about urban issues, please send your 450-500 word submission to CityCaucus@gmail.com.