I don’t know about you, but when I think about ending poverty, inequality and climate change – the biggest issues facing our generation and the future of people and planet – I feel more than a little overwhelmed. But when I look at the scope of the Sustainable Development Goals, I gain hope from their sheer thoroughness. The 17 drafted goals are interconnected, with an understanding of structural problems across the globe and they ambitiously aim to prompt action on issues which cannot be treated in isolation.
And then, when that sinks in, I feel completely overwhelmed again. Because when it comes to these Big Issues, it’s hard to shake that ‘oh-my-god-it’s-much-too-big-where-do-we-start-I’m-just-one-person-what-can-I-change?’ feeling. Where can one person even start – when it’s all so much bigger than us? It’s exhausting.
There’s a creeping sense of hopelessness in this reaction, and I’m not proud of it, though I do understand it. A similar feeling seems characteristic of current attitudes towards mainstream politics and our political system. Russell Brand famously abstains from voting and has spoken fervently on the matter – and much of the twitter sphere has been convinced. Crucially, his message wasn’t borne of ‘apathy’, but of ‘indifference and weariness and exhaustion’. The message was clear: why partake in a system when you feel that it won’t change anything?
In the run up to the General Election on May 7, it’s important that we don’t give in to this exhaustion, this hopelessness. Whatever Brand says, voting – participating – can change things. In 2010, only 51.8% of 18-24 year olds and 57.3% of 25-34 year olds turned out to vote. The figures have improved from 2001 and 2005, but they are still lower than a few decades ago, when the turn-out of 18-35 year olds was over 70%.
We need to actually try out our democratic right to vote: see what we can do when we use it properly. One of the most obvious ways to mold a political system so that it represents you is by engaging. It’s not just that people have died and fought and continue to die and fight for the right to a fair election – it’s also that it can make a difference: in 2010, over 46million people were in the electorate – 15.9 million didn’t vote. Who knows what we’ll change? Indeed, even if you feel ‘my party won’t win’, the critical mass of votes influences politicians, and shapes the landscape of political priorities. Make sure you’re pushing the system in the direction you want it to go.
So, if you’re over 18, go on – register to vote by April 20. ‘Vote for Policies’ is a tool that allows you to see which political parties suit your principles – on the basis of policies, not personalities, grouped around 11 sections including ‘Environment’. And please, turn out to vote on May 7.
If you’re under 18 – read, get informed, ask those around you if they’re going to vote, how, why, what matters to them. If they say they won’t vote, talk about it. Look up who your local MP candidates are, and work out how to get in touch with them on their websites – you can contact them when they’re MPs, no matter your age, to tell them what they should be doing to represent your views and your priorities.
For people of all ages, there are other forms of politics and democracy – people can march, protest, we can network, we can use social media. We can and should take any platform we can to make our voices heard on matters we care about.
When I think about poverty, inequality and climate change – I feel overwhelmed. And then I look at the work of organisations, officials, NGOs, campaign groups, 20,000+ people on the Time to Act Climate Change March in London on 7 March, the global Action2015 coalition – I see the efforts of those who work tirelessly to construct hope and work towards a better world. Fatima Ibrahim of the UK Youth Climate Coalition spoke at the Time To Act march in London on 7 March 2015. Her words rang true:
‘Hope is a choice. Hope isn’t a feeling that you just feel: it’s a decision that we have to make and it’s a decision that we have to keep on making.’
Some people look at the political system and feel overwhelmed, underrepresented, detached. But here, too, we can take action into our own hands: we can seek and use alternative methods of politics, but we should also use the platform of voting and engaging with MPs, since it’s easy and ready-made. Abstaining is giving into hopelessness, instead of the constructiveness of hope. We have to engage, not turn away.
By Alex – action/2015 Youth Panelist.
For more information on the action/2015 campaign and youth click here. The action/2015 Youth Panel is co-facilitated by British Youth Council, BOND, Islamic Relief, Progressio and Restless Development and Y Care International.