"Don't vote. It won't make a difference." That's what anti-politics naysayers are proclaiming from the rooftops. But that sentiment, although political in itself, threatens the future of our exemplary democracy and kills the belief that our generation can create change through politics.
Today is Britain's first National Voter Registration Day and 250,000 young people are taking the first step against this anti-politics sentiment by registering to vote. Teachers, students, voluntary organisations, and even a supermarket have organised to register 16 to 24 year olds across the country. They are tackling head on the idea that voting doesn't matter.
Getting all these young people registered to vote is truly worth celebrating, a cause that the Suffragettes and the civil rights movements would be proud of. However, although registering to vote is an important step on anyone's political journey, young people need to go further to really engage in the political process. If that happens, we could look back at today as a day that marked a revitalisation of politics and a renewal of political activity.
But this revitalisation of politics won't happen automatically or easily. To use a tech analogy, politics is like our iPhones - it needs constant charging to stay alive! What does this mean? It means voting at elections. It means campaigning on issues that matter to you and your community locally. Look at the impact of young community organisers and campaigners at Citizens UK who have played their part in winning living wages for thousands of families and lifted them out of poverty. Another example of this is the UpRising Leadership Programme which recently celebrated five years of training young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in leadership skills to open up pathways to power, challenging young people to make politics their business.
But it's not only young people who need to play their part in revitalising politics. Political leaders need to step up their game and live up to their word. The expenses scandal and broken election promises will forever remain in the memories of young people who voted (or not) and it will take years for young people to regain their trust in politics. What do we want from our politicians? They have to ensure that our generation have fair job opportunities and are prepared for the labour market, that young people are not made poor by ever-increasing rents, and that the most vulnerable have access to benefits when they need them. A vote for the people who will do this will make a tangible difference. The vote is powerful, but politicians also need to remain accountable.
But looking forward, what can young people do after National Voter Registration Day to revitalise politics long-term? Here are some things young people might consider: First, go out and vote! Registering to vote is one thing but voting is another. Second, if you want to take the next step, join a political party. Before you choose, think hard about what you believe in, which political party fits your values, and whose policies you broadly support. Once you've joined, enjoy the ride. Third, become anti-anti-politics. There's a lot of anti-politics sentiment right now so we need anti-anti-politics champions espousing the importance of politics. Fourth, keep on learning: read, learn, write, and debate the issues that matter to you. Keeping informed and educating yourself is one staple part of evidence-based political action. Fifth, engage, organise, and lead community campaigns. Politics is not only about party politics and there are a lot of different types of community campaigns such as schools working together to make streets safer, to charities campaigning to help young people realise their ambitions. Find an issue you care about and get involved!
We have two sets of two options: vote or don't vote; get involved in politics or not. Let's work to make sure that the anti-politics so popular today is a passing fad. We can either listen to the likes of Russell Brand or we can create our own brand of political engagement which declares that voting matters and is part of our rich political life.
Don't let politics die. Let this be the generation that recognises the value of politics as a change maker. Today marks one spark in what must be the revitalisation of politics. The health of our democracy depends on it.