Voter apathy and disengagement are significant threats to democracy, writes Jake Elson, 21, a Commonwealth Correspondent from Bunbury in Australia, as he urges youth to take an active role in politics.
The free and democratic world is facing what has to be its greatest danger in recent years. It isn’t Communism, nor is it fascism. Rather, it is youth disinterest in politics.
We could discuss for hours on end how this has arisen, or how this has happened. Yet, it is a confronting reality; one that needs to be reversed.
It is sad to see the next generation, the first in human history to be born with the world at their fingers, to be so apathetic. Such a disinterest is potentially a threat to the safety and well-being of society as a whole. As many political scholars past and present have discovered, voter apathy is the quickest way to tyranny and dictatorship. For the political system, the seats left vacant are filled by extremists and zealots, many of whom have an inflexible ideology targeting the very lives of their opponents. For the apathetic, apathy can lead to ignorance; ignorance to blind obedience.
To make matters worse, many prominent social and political figures encourage this downward spiral. Billy Connolly, a personal favourite of mine, once said “Don’t vote, it only encourages them!”. Mark Latham, leader of Her Majesty’s Australian Opposition from 2003 to 2005, has encouraged voters to hand in a blank ballot, or use the infamous Australian practice of Donkey Voting. The worst shouts in support for voter apathy, however, come from the comedian/actor Russell Brand. A self-professed non-voter, Brand has championed the idea that the best way to achieve a utopian-socialist revolution is to disengage with politics. This is without a doubt one of the most foolish theories to emerge. The only revolution such an action would cause is a tyrannical dictatorship.
It is therefore important for the youth of today to get out, march in numbers, and make their voices heard.
It is true that the current political establishments are themselves apathetic to youth issues. As the Canadian comedian Rick Mercer pointed out in his 2011 pre-election rant regarding the youth vote, “As far as any of the political parties are concerned, you might as all well be dead! In fact, in some elections, for Quebec for example, the dead have a higher turnout!”
Although this was a tongue-in-cheek joke, it raises the inconvenient reality that besets politics – politicians themselves simply don’t care about youth issues. (That and alleged corruption in Quebecois politics, but that’s a story for another day!)
One answer to why this is so is the attitude of apathy. As Mercer himself added, “it’s why your tuition keeps going up”. In other words, if the youth keep to the mantra ‘seen and not heard’, they will be ignored. Therefore, it is important for today’s youth to involve themselves in politics. In the western world, youth representation in politics has dropped substantially. If youth issues are to be taken seriously, this trend needs to reverse. Simply complaining about marginalisation will not achieve anything. Youth must go into politics, and rage against the dying of the light.
It isn’t just for the benefit of youth issues. Although a large group of persons would squabble over minor issues, on major issues and the status quo they speak as one in support of a solution that is not only to everyone’s welfare and benefit, but also drowns out the extremists and zealots. However, if disinterest and apathy result in unfilled places as the the retiring generations leave, those same zealots will simply take up the vacancies and make life a living hell for everyone else. Therefore, in order to preserve liberal democracy and the way of life enjoyed by many across the world, youth involvement in politics is essential.
The dangers of inaction are real. Not only will the youth continue to be marginalised by their own apathy, theywill also bring about the destruction of the very liberties and freedoms they enjoy if they are not careful. As a group, we must not allow either to happen. Not just for ourselves, but for the next generations. We have seen the erosion of rights and liberties at an extraordinary pace, even in some of the most liberal nations on the planet. Sitting around in disinterest will not change anything. It would be wrong of us to give our descendants a world ruled with an iron fist when we enjoyed one of freedom. Therefore, we must engage in politics. The other option is simply not acceptable.
I am a history buff, but also am into soccer. I referee soccer, and would like to go FIFA one day. I’m currently studying politics and international relations at Edith Cowan University. My aim is to become a police officer in Western Australia, and I would like to be Prime Minister one day.
I am a Conservative and a Monarchist, and believe in the role of the Commonwealth as a tool for good.
Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?
To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/
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