“Are you all students?” said the blond woman with the clipboard, gawking at us as we waited in line.
On April 22nd, my peers and I were among the first citizens to show up outside St. Anselm’s Anglican Church, the advanced polling site for Vancouver Quadra.
“Well,” said the organizer in a huff, “this may take a while. You’re an anomaly.”
We furrowed our brows but nodded politely. The wait, the registration, the whole – uh, you know – democratic process was perfectly fine by us. We didn’t just take a wrong turn on our way to the campus pub.
The woman walked in and out of the church, reminding us a few more times that this voting thing can take a while. She shooed us away from the door so that “the voters” would be able to get in and out. (Don’t mind us obstacles!) She walked alongside us and checked our identification, making small comments that implied there might be a problem with this document or that oath.
I looked around for the hidden camera. Surely, this was some sort of joke. We were a group of young voters, not mutant octopi wearing top hats.
Although the woman eventually settled down and even smiled at us, I couldn’t help but think of Rick Mercer’s now-infamous rant.
“If you’re between the ages of 18 and 25, and you want to scare the hell out of the people who run the country, do the unexpected, take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people all over the world are dying to do — Vote!”
Inside the church, another woman looked at me as if I was speaking in tongues when I mentioned the concept of a vote mob – a contingent of young people who get together for a non-partisan celebration of our right and intention to vote. (She pulled a bit of a John Baird on that one.)
Vote mobs have been sprouting up on campuses across Canada. Young people have unfurled banners with messages like: “surprise! we’re voting” or “apathy is too mainstream for me” or “impress us.”
Many of the vote mob videos feature students running through campus with signs that showcase their issues, which include everything from climate change and queer rights to pension plans and arts & culture funding. Oh, yeah, affordable tuition is in there too — but we’re not one trick ponies.
Other voices are joining the conversation, creating videos for just about every disposition. Raffi, a Canadian singer-songwriter many of us grew up listening to, tells us that we are “grown up Belugas” now, and we should vote for the Canada we want to see. Mr. Lahey from the Trailer Park Boys mocks us, saying us “shit weasels” and “dick weeds” will probably stay home (just a bit of reverse psychology, followed by alcoholic bribes). Leadnow.ca has an excellent website dedicated to engaging an informed and respectful electorate. In their declaration for change, they state:
It’s time to move beyond today’s political division and short-term thinking, and get to work on the shared challenges of our time.
But alongside the playful and positive encouragement, there’s also resistance and condescension.
Michael Taube, columnist and former speech writer for Harper, seems to think it’s appropriate to call us circus clowns and holy terrors. In his article “Vote Mob Mentality” he states:
Voting participation is way down in this country; in 2008, it hit a record low of 58.8 per cent. If more people, and especially more young people, were willing to vote on a more regular basis, the numbers would surely go up. But if vote mobs are ever considered to be a viable method of increasing political participation, I would much rather keep the numbers as low as they are.
Uh – what? What does Mr. Taube have against the joys of collective citizenship?
Forgive me for pointing out the obvious, but: not all older folk favour the incumbent, and they’re not all well-informed and mature. There are many extremely articulate and thoughtful youth — including the diplomatic Awish Aslam who was booted out of a partisan rally for no good reason — and not all the young voters* go for “fringe parties.”
(*A note on that last link: its conclusion is based on a larger poll of 1000 Canadians, but does not indicate how many of them were young. Seems far too small a sample-within-a-sample to warrant such a bold headline.)
Anyway, despite the condescension at the polls today I had a great time with my peers.
We had respectful discussions about the kind of country we want to live in, and pass on to the “darn kids” of tomorrow.
Personally, I think everyone needs to remember that all Canadians — regardless of age, gender, income, political stripe, etc — are worth more than the sum of their votes. Our destiny as a nation is a shared one. It’s time we started acting like it.