July 20, 2017 by Cláudia
All around the world, everyone constantly vocalises discontent with their Government (and many times, rightfully!), however, the percentage of people who don’t vote is still massive. On the other hand, real interest in what is actually going on in the Government is often minimal. People complain but they don’t want to take the time to watch Parliamentary debates or read political commentary. People have fought for democracy in the past, for our right to participate in the political life and now seem to take it for granted and not care so much about political participation. If a decision is made and people are discontent, most people will complain privately but the great majority of people will not unite and try to change the situation. There is this ingrained attitude of disbelief that any action will have any positive impact and that attitude is what is fueling this apathy.
I believe every citizen should care about politics – it is a right that generations before us have fought for. I will never claim that democracy is at its best but we have the tools to continue the journey towards it. To disengage, on the contrary, is threatening to democracy because it is almost like a renounce. If the people are not interested in making decisions then it won’t be the Government that will try to make people care. Apathy enables Governmental action and pushes us away from decision making, which is why I am afraid that citizens will have less power and Governments will become more distant from the people.
1. One vote makes no difference so why should I vote?
Contrarily to common belief, one vote makes all the difference! Voting is our best opportunity to choose who will make the rules and decisions that will directly affect us. Not voting means that we’re not invested enough to care who is in power and making decisions for us. Democracy is supposed to be representative – the politicians are elected accordingly to the population’s concerns, values and priorities and their duty is to protect and carry out their interests. Not voting is basically to allow political power to do whatever they want. If no one votes, we’re back to a dictatorship, and we’re risking to no longer have any choice even if we want to. On the contrary, if people are informed and vote accordingly to their beliefs then we’ll have a lively, active Government that can actually draw nearer to be a reflection of its people and that is held accountable for their actions.
Maybe mathematically a vote by itself makes “no difference” but Governments are nevertheless elected by votes. If everyone stops thinking like that and will vote, the sum of all the “just one vote”s will make all the difference. Plus, even if you are sure the party you support has no chance of winning, voting can still show what you believe in, show how mentality may be shifting and present that party as a viable alternative for others.
2. It doesn’t matter who I vote for because all politicians are dishonest.
The biggest contradiction around this is that usually people who make this kind of statement don’t actually know who all the politicians are nor what exactly is happening inside the Government. It is a very mysterious way of interpreting the Government, as an inaccessible entity with a lot of secrets and unnamed people. This kind of ill-informed vague statement seems to me as more of a justification for not taking the time and energy to get informed about the political parties and their programmes than a genuine evaluation about how the Government is performing.
There is obviously a great amount of corruption inside the Government but this should not be an excuse to disengage, on the contrary. This only means that it is crucial that citizens are informed and vote, otherwise how can we expect to keep the Government accountable for their actions? If everyone complains that the Government is corrupt how come often it ends up being reelected? And isn’t this showing how little consequences will there be if the Government acts against its people? If people are as displeased with the Government as they seem, I think a greater effort should be made to prevent the situation from furthering and repeating itself.
It seems that the problem is that people got used to complaining unconditionally and that prevents real opinions and real criticism. One cannot possibly make such a general statement such as “they’re all terrible” without real knowledge and interest in every political option and even if they are all, in fact, terrible, it makes much more sense to take interest to better whatever they feel like is not acceptable.
3. I voted, so now there is nothing else I can do.
Voting is the basis of our political intervention but it doesn’t have to and it shouldn’t stop there. Once the Government is elected, the citizens need to make sure that it is keeping the promises that were made during the campaign, addressing the people’s concerns and taking care of the people’s needs in a responsible sustainable way. We can do this, firstly, through information (watching political debates, reading articles, keeping track of new laws, reading political commentary), and secondly through direct action (petitions, protests, joining a political party or volunteering).
Politics always has a very serious and unattainable connotation as if it was something both distant and out of the common people’s reach – politicians are doing mysterious things in an undefined place and all of this happens independently of what I do. But it shouldn’t be like this and the more we try to intervene the more we realize how strong our political power is. We should do everything that we can to make sure that we have a voice. In a true democracy, every single citizen is a political actor and the politicians are there to represent our interests. Their job is to give good quality of life to the people, to keep the country in peace and to better problems that may compromise those two. Don’t be afraid to demand anything that is relevant to you and protest if you feel like something is being done wrong – it’s their job! If you’re not doing your job correctly, you can expect people to demand change or replace you.
When I talk about politics, I don’t mean anything distant that we cannot control. I mean every interaction with society, every sharing of beliefs, every exchange of opinions, every time we look around and find something we like and want to support or something we think is wrong and want to change.
More on voting and political participation: