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Lessons From Brexit

On the morning of the 24th of June, I woke to find that the citizens of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was upsetting to realise this shocking result was motivated at least somewhat by a desire to make it more difficult for immigrants such as myself to work in this country, but not nearly as devastating as the knowledge that my friends from the EU now had their entire futures tossed into uncertainty. I cannot write with the passion of a European raised to believe it was their right to work and live in any of the countries involved in this historic project, but I can speak as a member of the first generation whose perspective of cultural differences has been forever skewed by the internet, who shares the resentment of the youth that feels the future it envisioned has been snatched by a generation who will not see the consequences of their decision.

Despite these shared sentiments, however, certain facets of British society continue to surprise me. A month after the vote, the British prime minister resigned, was quickly replaced by the second woman to hold the office, who has announced a new cabinet and already met with regional and international leaders. This degree of political efficiency was startling to me. Even the loudest voice of xenophobia had the grace to step away from politics after childish smugness in the face of the European Parliament instead of riding the ensuing tsunami of chaos in search of increasing power, unlike certain other businessmen-turned-politicians. To be clear, this is not admiration of the character of Nigel Farage, nor is it optimism for a PM who wanted to prevent overseas students from being able to apply for work from within the UK. Rather, I am grateful to be living in a society that both forced David Cameron to resign from a position of power as his ability to lead a nation that disagreed with him came into question, and allowed him to leave gracefully - though humming to himself in glee may have been a bit excessive.

The preservation of these cultural values in the face of crisis epitomises why Britain may be able to negotiate a deal that both respects the will of its people while maintaining its economic interests: instead of allowing the media to spin the nation into a frenzy of panic (though rest assured the American media is loud enough to be heard here), the leaders have recognised the bleeding wounds that need to be mended after the blow of the referendum, and have at least begun to address them. That said, the overhaul that the British government is required to make now cannot be an insulated one - an exit from the EU will be fruitless if this society cannot clearly demarcate the policies it wants in place, especially given how all those campaigning for this eventuality resigned as soon as it was realised.

However, policy in the public's favour will not come to pass if the same individuals who made the arguably saner decision to remain in the UK are the same ones with the smallest voter turnout. That apathy is fed by cynicism, but those with the most years left to experience should be the ones to take most of the responsibility for shaping it. On the morning of the 24th of June, a friend from the EU who was wrapping up her Master's at Cambridge and was offered a PhD from a UK university told me she had stayed up til 4am the previous night as her faith in democracy was steadily decimated. And though her bitterness is justifiable, the following weeks demonstrated something shocking (to me) about the democratic system: if people bother to speak up, they will be listened to.

It is clear that in our digital age generational demographics share more values than geographical ones - the European Students' Union is sympathetic to Britain's National Union of Students, and the American youth has loudly supported socialist policies. However, as the imminent future looks more and more unstable, it is the responsibility of those with the privilege to live in a democracy that has granted them an equal voice to use it in the coming months of uncertainty, or allow their interests to be forgotten. A majority silent on social media took Britain by surprise, and those who held faith with sanity were left shocked. As levels of hysteria climb ever higher across the globe, and corruption becomes increasingly evident in the face of online leaks that ultimately change nothing, it is tempting to withdraw entirely. That said, as the devastated British youth discovered, the political process with continue on, with or without them. We only hope our friends across the pond are watching.

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