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Election turnout of 18-24 year olds as been steadily rising over the last two decades, but disenfranchisement and lack of voter turnout amongst young people still remains a huge problem. In many ways, it’s easy to see why, our generation has inherited a host of problems we often feel powerless to stop, but I’d argue that democratic and political engagement amongst young people is more important than ever.
With brexit currently dominating the news, an issue which most young people voted against, many students are growing frustrated with politics. Significant numbers of current students were not old enough to vote when the referendum took place, leaving many with a sense of powerlessness to control their own future. Understandably it can be difficult to try and keep up with the constant flurry of news, making some students not want to engage with politics at all.
One explanation as to why young people are less engaged politically is that most policies are not targeted towards the wants and needs of our demographic, leading major parties to target their policies towards older members of society who are statistically more likely to vote. This vicious, self perpetuating cycle excludes the voices of young people from our democracy, but I believe young people can, and should, do something about it.
I often hear young people complain that a single vote will never affect anything, or that all politicians are as bad as each other, but surely the higher the proportion of youth who vote, the more seriously our voices will be taken by politicians, and the more positive influence we can gain. One somewhat controversial option is to opt to spoil your ballot, the act of deliberately filling in your ballot incorrectly as a form of political protest. Your vote will still be counted but will also convey the message you are unhappy with the current political system.
However, I feel our generation is increasingly making a difference politically through activism, often using social media to discuss important issues and to take direct action. ‘Clicktivism’ is sometimes looked down upon as a waste of time, especially by older activists and while I do agree physical protesting and direct action can be vitally important, social media is an amazing resource we should use to the best of our abilities. Notably, the #FreePeriods campaign lead by 18 year old Amika George started as a social media campaign, but this lead to a huge protest outside downing street. Subsequently, the government gave £1.5 million in funds to adress period poverty. Activism really works.
Our generation faces a difficult political landscape, filled with problems we did not choose, but it is our duty to do the right thing anyway. Voting is a vital part of engaging with your democracy, so no matter who you support, please vote whenever you get the opportunity, especially as less than 100 years ago many of us didn’t have this right. In-between elections, contact your MP, sign petitions, go on marches, make your voice heard, and amplify the voices of those around you. Sometimes, the best way to rebel against the system and push for change is simply to vote.