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“You’ve got to be part of it to change it”
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“You’ve got to be part of it to change it”

Disillusioned with the politics in their country , young people sometimes refuse to participate in the political process, but Maisy Bentley, 19 years old,a Correspondent from Wellington, New Zealand, writes that sitting on the sidelines won’t  help to change the system.

At 20 Chloe Swarbrick had decided to run for mayor of the largest city in New Zealand, she was going up against the likes of former leader of one of the major parties in government and others with a raft of connection, experience and money.

She said she felt disenfranchised, voiceless and like she wanted to create change. She watched and listened to so many of her young friends talk about not voting, about how broken the system was, about how all the candidates were bad. Their protest was to not vote, to not speak, to not engage. I could see the fire burning in her stomach, the passion hot on her words: “Not voting isn’t  a protest. You have to be a part of the system to change it.”Her words now burned into my brain.  A true protest would be to run for office, just as she did, whether its even just your local government or even national government. By being in the system you have a voice, and you are making it heard.

By not voting you are actively choosing to silence your own voice, it does nothing. If you don’t want to vote because you don’t like the system or can’t be bothered getting to know any of the candidates, or none of the candidates share your perspective,talk to them about your perspective, it is their job to represent their constituents. There are plenty of ways for you to do so, such as public meetings, phone calls or even through social media. Most Politicians now have Facebook. You may share a perspective they haven’t heard before, or you may demonstrate that your view is the perspective their voters hold so they may support it.

If you don’t like any of the candidates get to know their values and what they support in the house. Define your own values and find a party or politician that aligns with these. It’s not always about the person, their background or their age but about whether they represent your perspectives and interests in the house. Voting gives you the power to elect who you want into parliament. When you choose not to vote you silence this voice.

If you really can’t bring yourself to vote for any of the candidates, run yourself or encourage someone who would represent you well to run. Everyone can participate in our system of governance. Democracy is our underlying constitutional principle for a reason. Being part of the system gives you a chance to change it and have a direct and meaningful impact on people’s lives.

When you choose not to use that voice, and maximise  your opportunities to make that change, you don’t protest anything, the system goes on around you, but without your voice, your experience,  and your perspective in it.

Chloe wasn’t elected as mayor at 20 but she had a successful campaign and impressive amounts of votes, she was a voice for the voiceless and invigorated the disenfranchised, particularly the young people.

After the media attention following Chloe’s campaign she was invited to be a member of one of the national political parties featuring high on the list and being elected to parliament as the young MP in 30 years.

She has spoken about how the government was able to create policy change that meant every young mother on public welfare got an extra $20 a week, a direct and powerful change to so many lives.

She is the perfect example of acknowledging that the system may not be perfect, that the candidates don’t always align with your values or who you want to represent you. But she is also a perfect example that not voting is not a protest. Not voting won’t change anything. Using your voice, to vote, to engage, to run, to participate, that is what changes things.If you don’t use your voice, all you do is silence yourself.

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Photo: courtesy of https://www.facebook.com/chloeNZgreens/photos/

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About me: I’m studying towards a law degree and an arts degree. I also work in the not for profit sector, creating opportunities and advocating for young people, mental health, and women. I have significant accolades under my belt such as being named the most inspirational young person of the year and delivering a Ted Talk at 17. I believe that we can all be movers, shakers and doers when we don’t wait for permission to create the change we want to see in the world.

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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/

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