Being a fan, I was immediately interested when U.K. comedian and actor Russell Brand got into a tussle with BBC reporter Jeremy Paxman a few weeks ago. The back and forth resulted in Brand justifying why he doesn’t vote and recommending the public do the same if they want political change and social justice. Paxman called Brand out for wanting revolution. Brand replied that the revolution is coming.
Brand may not have realized that we have heard his “let there be justice, don’t vote, just listen to me” commentary before, courtesy of Lenin, Hitler, Amin, Pol Pot, etc. Controversial stuff, but that’s how Brand makes his living; he has become rich and famous for saying and doing outrageous things, sparking debate and thought on a variety of topics. Brand exercises freedom of speech very well just as the other mentioned political figures did.
Thankfully, the rest of us still have freedom of speech, too, and so freedom of speech brought many into debating the current political system. On Facebook and blogs you’d see young people having conversations about the value of voting in today’s society. Because people under 40 have the lowest voter turnout, it was interesting to see this issue just being discussed. Many spoke to the importance of democracy and how the right to vote has changed the world. Others said that their vote doesn’t matter, poverty still exists and Brand had a good point with which they agreed.
As one of those elected people that Brand and others disparage, I’m going to weigh in on the debate about voting.
First and foremost in a democracy, elected people listen to those who vote. That’s how it works. Those who took the five to 20 minutes, showed up and made a choice are the ones who gave us direction; we are accountable to them. If you don’t want to be among those people, that is your choice, but don’t expect politicians to then do as you wish because you posted on Facebook. Follow up that Facebook post by showing up to the polls, and you amplify your voice. Better yet, get involved and volunteer for a candidate who has similar priorities as you. Don’t like anyone? You can run yourself. The point is that democracy isn’t a spectator sport. You want it to work for you and the things you care about, you have to at least vote.
The good news is that many people do vote and participate. But not enough. In Nelson-Creston, we saw 58 per cent of registered voters cast their ballot in the last provincial election, while the B.C. average was 52 per cent. For young people, they don’t vote as much as their older counterparts. An Elections BC report on the 2009 election revealed that 74 per cent of those aged 70-74 voted, while only 34 per cent of those 24 and under did the same. Although the final analysis isn’t out, this last election likely had similar results.
And why is that? Some say it’s the electoral system, but there is no evidence to support that since young voter turnout is low in all electoral systems. Rather, studies show that limited registration and education opportunities are major contributors. Other factors also include real tactics right wing parties have used to suppress voter turnout among those demographics most likely to vote for progressive parties: women, low-income households and youth.
So think about that. Brand is mad that the rich keep getting richer, and he’s not going to vote? Sounds like he’s played right into their hands. Oh yeah, and they vote.
Instead, imagine if young people thanked Brand for his controversial moneymaking quips and refused to take his advice on voting. Imagine if young people doubled their voter turnout to match their grandparents’. Now that’d be a revolution.
Michelle Mungall is the member of the legislative assembly for the Nelson-Creston provincial riding, and is the Opposition critic for social development.