Don't Worry, Youth Will Vote -- But Only When It Starts To Count

Originally Published in the Guelph Mercury - January 12, 2008
Looking back at this column and its predictions... 
There is much talk and concern about the alleged apathy of our young people when it comes to the political process and exercising their civic duty.

Media campaigns and slogans are used to persuade young people to do something they haven't done in great numbers in the past --vote. But we need not worry.

The youth of today do care and will vote. And perhaps in even greater numbers than previous generations, once they feel they are part of the process and truly believe that politicians are actually listening to what they have to say.

We may be seeing this start to occur south of the border as young people are being turned on by the charismatic Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries. His ability to get out the youth vote could break the current practice of politicians catering mainly to baby boomers who have the numbers and who turn out to vote. The boomers' electoral power has allowed them to have their way in choosing leaders and their platforms.

When they were young, boomers idolized dynamic leaders like Pierre Trudeau and John F. Kennedy who challenged the status quo. Now, we get boring, stay-the-course leadership that offers little inspiration. As for the issues, our national focus has been on the baby boomer's two main interests -- health care and the economy.

Health care remains a top issue for boomers because they are about to use it more often as they age. And economic stability is paramount because their retirement savings are tied up in the stock market. Generally, these are not yet issues of concern for youth, but then, it appears nobody cares what they think.

Sure, political leaders will appear on MuchMusic to make it look like they care, but their party platforms do not speak to this age group. So apathy sets in, and that's understandable.

Imagine sitting in a classroom with your hand up continually wanting to participate, but the teacher constantly ignores you. Even the keenest soon don't bother to take part in this pointless exercise.

Youth will engage themselves and will become active citizens when we let them drive the bus once in awhile. There are big issues on the horizon, some that have been put off but that have to be addressed. The youth of today will be part of shaping public policy as we move forward.

Can we sustain public health? Will we replace the border and set up a North American perimeter? Heck, maybe our youth will finally put the spotlight on our country's dirty little secret -- our treatment of our aboriginals. Unfortunately, while we wait for today's youth to gain influence on public policy, our country's competitiveness is suffering. Science and technology are creating new issues every day that boomers and those older just don't fully comprehend because the complexity of the technology goes beyond their daily scope.

The most recent throne speech from Stephen Harper's Conservative government reflects this problem. References to improving the country's infrastructure relate to roads and bridges, not the infrastructure needed in today's competitive marketplace, such as access to high-speed broadband.

To be fair, I know there are seniors who keep up to date with technology, I just don't happen to see many of them while I do my banking at the automated teller machine. They can be found waiting in line inside the bank to deal with that one available bank teller.

I look to the current U.S. election process as hope that maybe the winds of change are coming, but I must admit I have my doubts. The presidential primaries have teased me before, but ultimately left me disappointed once the eventual nominees made it to the finish line. But even if the boomers get their way again, needed change is on the way.

Our young people will become active citizens to help us address all of society's challenges and come up with new solutions.

Fixing youth apathy isn't that difficult a problem. However, it will take time, and the solution is something baby boomers probably don't want to hear. They will have to shuffle aside before young people are able to move from the back seat and get behind the wheel to steer society in the direction of their choice.

Gregory Cawsey, who lives and works in Guelph, is a member of the Mercury's Community Editorial Board.