Politics may be a dirty game, but that doesn’t mean Generation Y shouldn’t play.
“Just because someone doesn’t vote, prefers blogs to The Globe, or doesn’t find Ottawa engaging doesn’t mean they are either inactive or a bad citizen,” writes David Eaves on behalf of Generation Y activists. His cohort is simply more pragmatic, Eaves maintains. In assessing where they can make their biggest difference, the new public policy enthusiasts have chosen to work outside of the traditional political realm.
I understand this thinking, but I am deeply troubled by any argument that legitimizes the decision of Canadians not to engage in the stagnant, archaic process of marking a ballot with a lead-based pencil in an inaccessible polling booth.
Too many Generation Y activists seem to have forgotten that strategic change is still best effected from within.
Sure, they can boast of magnificent successes. They have created and engaged in projects that have made an impact – at the local, national, and international levels – and they have often been able to produce immediate results. They are ahead of governments in predicting and responding to global trends, and they harness new technologies in ways that old thinkers have yet to even contemplate.
Nonetheless, the basic structures of state power have proven remarkably resilient. In spite of globalization, the internet, and an increasingly educated populace, it is still the state to whom the majority of Canadians turn in times of crisis: we still call 9-1-1 if there is an emergency in our homes; we still collect employment insurance if we lose our jobs; we still rely on governments and bureaucracies to set the curriculum in our children’s schools.
Moreover, the influence of Generation Y is rarely felt on macro-level state policies that will nonetheless shape their, and their families’ futures.
The place of health care in national discussions of our future is an ideal example. Public discourse in Canada has emphasized the need to decrease wait times for procedures like hip and knee replacements, operations geared largely to baby boomers whose ability to contribute to long-term national prosperity necessarily decreases as they near or reach retirement. Greater strategic investment in early childhood development, or in accessibility to higher education, would provide greater value over time. But those who need hip replacements vote, and as such their concerns dominate the national agenda.
I understand why many members of Generation Y eschew politics. The hyper-partisanship, the compromises, and the lack of effective leadership at the national and provincial levels dishearten me as well. But for a cohort that is so committed to effecting change, not voting – failing to find the hour or two that it might take to appear at a polling station – is inexcusable.
There is no better way to shape the macro-level policy agenda than by forcing the traditional elite to listen. And in spite of the incredible transformations brought about by globalization, the currency of democratic politics remains the results at the ballot box.
Some might counter that few candidates are worthy of their support. But such reasoning hardly justifies not voting. Rather, it calls for a spoiled ballot.
Spoiling your ballot reveals to the elite that your vote exists, and might be courted. It provides incentive for the elite to consider your concerns seriously and adjust policies to acquire your support the next time.
I congratulate my colleagues in Generation Y who have already made, and will continue to make, a difference in the world. Their work ethic and enthusiasm are admirable, and their passion makes Canada a better place.
But I also implore them to take the time to reaffirm their existence – and their potential clout as the sons and daughters of the largest generation of our lifetime – to the guardians of the traditional power structures. Progressives who continue to underestimate the resilience of the state (and the flexibility of the democratic system) can only further entrench the approach to national and world affairs that they so deplore.