‘Youth voters' want what every voter wants
"For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong," said American journalist and scholar H. L. Mencken.
It's that time of year again. Polling results are rolling in, pundits are waxing lyrical about voter turnout and the inevitable questions about missing 'youth voters' are being thrown around left, right and centre.
As if young people are a homogenous group of identical thinkers who want the same things.
As if young people are the only missing group in our democracy (pro tip: we're not).
* Youth voter apathy needs to end
* Lowering the voting age would be a disaster
* Youth: I will not be voting in this election
Here's the much more nuanced (and often overlooked) thing about most 'youth vote' commentary: of the young people who don't turn out to vote, it is those who come from Māori, Pasifika, migrant, low income or low education backgrounds who are the least likely to vote. In other words, the young people who are most likely to already be marginalised in our Pākehā-dominant society and capitalist economy are (*shock*) marginalised in our democracy too.
Each group (or individual) requires their own set of solutions to ignite participation, and each have their own interests, ideas and concerns about the future of this country.
What a city-living 25-year-old middle-class Pākehā university graduate looking to buy their first home might want is likely to be entirely different to what an 18-year-old Māori who lives on a farm in Northland wants. This will be different again for a 22-year-old New Zealander of Korean descent, or a 24-old-young person who uses a wheelchair.
Sure, what they probably all want is what every human wants – a warm home, a full belly, a safe community and meaningful secure mahi (work). But beyond that their needs are different, and our commentary and policies need to go deeper than the 'youth vote' label in order to recognise that.
My generation and younger are the most diverse yet, but that doesn't seem to show, with article after article about the fabled 'youth vote'.
As for me, I am a 28-year-old queer Māori woman with Irish heritage. What I dream of is more collaboration and less adversarialism in our politics. I want to live in a society where people will not be judged by the colour of their skin or their preference of lover, but by the content of their character. I wish for political parties of all colours and stripes to come together and work on cross-party solutions to the huge challenges of our time – climate change, intergenerational trauma and social inequities.
I dream of living in a country where we value our artists, musicians, nurses and teachers as much as we value our All Blacks. I long for the day we recognise the inherent beauty and potential in every individual and work to unleash that in everyone – especially young people. I want politics that isn't about sound bites and point-scoring, but imaginative solutions and creative interventions.
I am a staunch advocate for young people exercising their political power and turning out to vote. With a crowdfunded budget, and a handful of amazing volunteers, I cofounded an organisation called RockEnrol in 2014. We exist to build and activate political power for young people. We combine popular culture with tested community organising tactics and digital technology to inspire young people to vote, and connect voting to the issues that young people care about.
We do not support or endorse specific politicians or political parties, nor do we participate in any activities that could benefit one party over another. We put young people and the issues that young people care about at the centre of political debate.
Most of all though, we recognise that all young people are different. I believe our politicians and media ought to do the same.
Laura O'Connell Rapira is the cofounder of RockEnrol and Director of Campaigns at ActionStation.
- Stuff Nation