Those darn kids and their democratic rights

My lovely "votingent" on the first day of advanced polling

“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.

In the meantime, all we young people are asking for is …

To view all the vote mob videos click here!

Here are some of my favourite videos:

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15 thoughts on “Those darn kids and their democratic rights

    • Thanks James. It is getting results. Heard a report on the CBC yesterday about advanced polling booths getting swamped by youth. 🙂

    • She said something about the fact that we’d normally have to vote on campus. I’m pretty sure she knows Elections Canada scrapped special ballots after the incident at U of G. I really don’t see why she was so surprised.

      Also, we were grad students – visibly young but a good portion of us didn’t even fit into Rick Mercer’s age bracket. It was so strange to be treated like overgrown toddlers.

      Anyway, we’d love the convenience of voting on campus, but (on the bright side) this way we got to speak with non-students and feel like a part of a larger collective.

      I’m honestly worried about young people showing up to the Student Union Building (at UBC) where the special ballot was supposed to be held and getting discouraged if they didn’t hear that it’s no longer running.

      They should be making it easier for students to participate. It’s silly and sad that people fear an engaged electorate.

  1. I am so excited to see the interest and intelligent conversations started by these young people. As my 4 year old grandchild says when trying new things,” Never give up” . I hope once experienced they will continue to be fully engaged. We need everyone to participate in the decisions that will shape our country and indeed the shape of the World for all it’s peoples. Never Give Up!

  2. I am so proud of all the youth who are getting involved in this election. We will be leaving this country to them and they need to get involved now to keep it a place they can be proud to call home.

  3. Well, I’m far from being in the ‘youth demographic’ to be sure. In fact, I’m as old & bitter as yesterday’s coffee.

    Having said that, I’m thrilled to see the Vote Mobs spreading across the country! Despite (read – to spite) the unfortunate positions of Mr. Bairde & Mr. Taub, I say, darn right! think about what’s important to you, look which party feels about the same, talk with your friends – And there’s NO HARM in having fun doing it!

    VOTE! It’s a good habit to get into ….

    • Important point. Informed voting is the order of the day.

      I know older folk who are voting for a party because “they always have” or a certain politician “looks like a nice man” or “she’s got the same ancestry as me.”
      Everyone, not just youth, need to do better than that.

  4. Go youth! many of my concerns about Harper are because of the bad [in my mind] changes he wants to make to Canada which would make your debt bigger, your environment more damaged, your democratic rights reduced, etc.

    I am 63, and I am thrilled with vote mobs and the prospect of more young voters. I hope you are talking to your parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents, too…

    I support you 200%

  5. FABI you are amazing and a great voice for our generation! wow your words are inspiring you actually had me crying at one point I was so moved ! keep up the great work!

    love and miss ya!

  6. I’ve worked at elections in the past and I would have been thrilled to see a mob of kids come in to vote. I love it. Go kids… and I can call you that because I’m well past middle age.

  7. I am so glad you are not an anomaly!

    I scrutineered at a polling station on a campus last time, and I saw first-year students missing dinner because they were afraid the long line would get cut off before they got back. Now that’s dedication!

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