The staunch Athenian proponent of democracy, Pericles, once said, “We do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics is a man who minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all.” It’s a pretty blunt statement, the Ancient Greek equivalent of P. Diddy’s “Vote or Die!” The essence of both quotes is a sense of urgency, compelling people to be involved in the decisions that will effect them, their families and their neighbours. I should disclose, I am an active member of the New Democratic Party but, just like Pericles and Diddy. I’m a democrat first and foremost and I’d rather people be engaged and vote for a candidate I disagree with rather than not vote at all. For Pericles and other Athenians, democracy was incredibly precious.
Athens was the first and only democratic state, so democracy wasn’t just a form of government but an integral part of what made Athens unique among nations, It was part of what made Athenians who they are in the same way leftover Timbits and disowning Justin Beiber makes us Canadian. Of course, Athenian democracy wasn’t exactly perfect, slavery was commonplace, women barely had any rights let alone the right to vote or hold office and just ask Socrates what they thought of “freedom of speech.” For male Athenians over twenty, participating in the democratic process wasn’t merely a right, it was a solemn duty. If you were Athenian and shirked your duty you were shamed by the state, your family and your friends. When I say “shamed” I’m talking about a good old-fashioned social shunning, the kind reserved for Minnesota dentists and guys who grow neckbeards. So why were the Athenians so anal about the whole thing, after all isn’t democracy just a choice between a giant douche and a turd sandwich? Democracy literally means “rule of the people,” choosing to abstain from politics in a democracy is choosing not to rule but to be ruled.
In the 2011 federal election, 39% of Canadians chose to be ruled rather than rule. They chose to allow others to decide whether they could afford healthcare and an education, they chose to allow others to decide if they were going to get a tax hike, they chose to not care whether their friends and family were sent to war. That’s not an exaggeration, that’s exactly what they did. Now, 39% may seem like a fairly low number to some but those numbers get a lot more depressing when we examine who makes up that 39%. According to Stats Canada, that 39% reads like a “who’s who” of marginalized groups including the youth, those without a degree, those born outside Canada and those who are poor or working class.
The correlation between lack of votes coming from these group and their marginalization in politics and society is not a coincidence.
Modern political campaigns put more emphasis on identifying people who may already support them and are likely to vote, this is one of the reasons why issues such as poverty, education and immigrant issues are not addressed or barely addressed by major political parties during elections. Even the polling you see in newspapers and on TV adjust for people’s likelihood to vote meaning a party or candidate that has bigger support among the aforementioned unlikely to vote groups will look weaker in the polls. In a sense this practice is smart political science, we don’t want to see a “Snakes on a Plane” scenario. For those too young to remember or too cultured to know what that is, Snakes on a Plane was a ridiculous 2006 B-Movie in the same vein as Sharknado. Leading up to it’s release, the Internet was rife with memes and positivity about the movie and the studio thought it had a huge hit on it’s hand. That feverish passion didn’t translate to ticket sales and the movie was a box office disappointment. In the world of politics, however, polls aren’t just a measuring tool for who people are intending to vote for, they are also an influencer.
Stats Canada reports that the second most reason people give for not voting is that their vote is “meaningless.” When your candidate is behind in the polls, why bother, they’re going to lose anyway, right? The reality is, they may be behind in the polls because those who are likely their supporters aren’t likely to vote. Of course, their are other reasons why people think their vote is meaningless. Some believe, for example, that all political parties and politicians are the same. This, perhaps, is the most ridiculous reason to not vote. I can tell you from experience that politicians and parties differ in opinion and ideology greatly. Even within a single party you can have serious disagreement on key issues. Their is a world of difference between the leaders of Canada’s major political parties and that’s why it’s so important to add your voice to the discussion on how to move the country into the future. I’m sure you’ve also heard people say, “but I’m just one person, it’s not going to make a difference whether I vote or not.” Again, this mentality makes no sense, if your vote was worthless politicians wouldn’t be tripping over themselves to get it. Political campaigns raise and spend millions of dollars to use on ads, signs and operatives in order to convince supporters to get out and vote. As someone who has led get-out-the-vote canvasses I can tell you that every single vote is a coveted prize and a victory worth celebrating. When the polls close each vote is a show of support for a shared idea and vision that adds up to be incredibly important. Votes are like lives, they carry the hopes, dreams and ideals of the people that cast them and no number diminishes the worth of an individual ballot.
Now, I know what you’re saying, “Fine, the candidates are different and my vote means something but I’m not well informed, who am I to vote?” Who you are is a person living in the year 2015. Being uninformed about politics during the “age of information” is not an excuse. We use Yelp to find the best restaurant near us, spend hours stalking high school acquaintances on Facebook and have endless Twitter battles over what colour a dress is and you’re telling me that doing the bare minimum of finding out who’s running is too difficult? If that’s the case, let me help you out. Elections Canada offers all the tools you need to find out who your local candidates are and what you need to go vote on election day. If you feel like you don’t know who you stand with on the issues and you love taking Buzzfeed inspired personality tests that tell you which Disney princess you are, then I suggest visiting “I Side With” and taking a simple quiz that will tell you which party you most align with. They’ve even included smaller parties the mainstream media often ignores like the Communist Party of Canada and the Christian Heritage Party. Also, make sure to pay a visit to the web pages of all the major political parties to hear it from the horse’s mouth: The New Democratic Party, the Liberal Party, the Conservative Party, the Green Party of Canada and, if you live in Quebec, the Bloc Quebecois. Who knows, maybe you’ll be so inspired you may join one of these parties yourself or volunteer for a local candidate. By the way, I’m totally Belle because she’s the best Disney princess and that makes me a great person with a completely justified sense of superiority.
Vote Compass is a insightful tool people can use to see which party they align with for this election.
If you want to keep yourself up to date on the issues and the conversation, the CBC website has a great politics section that’s updated regularly with stories from the campaign trail, maps tracking where the party leaders have been and will be, the latest polling data and videos detailing the party positions on issues like childcare. Of course voting isn’t the only duty you have as a citizen, there’s more you can and should do. After the Canadian Federal Election on October 19, you still have a responsibility to keep your elected officials accountable whether you voted for them or not. That could involve writing your MP letters, signing petitions or even going to a protest or rally. Democracy doesn’t end after election day, it’s a daily process that requires attention but the more people that are informed and engaged in the process the more we have to gain and the better the system works. Discussing the issues with friends and neighbours helps us understand each other better and enables us to compromise and make progress, being informed about our governance makes us more powerful advocates for the issues we care about, and voting on who you think will best champion our ideals empowers you to shape your neighbourhood, your country and, in turn, the world.