Several weeks ago, I wrote a blog – Occupy the Ballot Box – that was very critical of the Occupy Movement. On the heels of an Ontario election where only 49% of eligible voters cast ballots, I suggested that their efforts would be better spent voting, rather than protesting for change that may never occur. Voting, I suggested, at least has visible results.
Our blog received a lot of attention in the form of tweets and comments, and most of it was negative. One comment in particular, posted online, has resonated with me: “Why is this [a]… discussion [of] vote or protest – … we’re capable of doing both… Let’s have a dialogue that values all forms of civic engagement.” I agree, this should be a discussion where both sides get equal play.
This morning, I visited my local Occupy movement. In Toronto’s St. James Park, the Occupy Toronto movement has been in progress for almost a month now. It was a cold morning, so there was little activity in the camp, but I was able to read many of the demands and proposals written throughout. One list I discovered is relevant to Student Vote:
Proposals one, seven and eight on this placard – which argue for student assistance, a lower voting age and online referendums, respectively – relate directly to issues we are passionate about. We are an organization aimed at students, so we naturally believe that youth issues are worth discussing in a wider forum. In discussions related to the provincial elections this fall, issues of student debt and education affordability were central.
The proposals of electoral reform, a lower voting age and online referendums are issues that frequently arise after elections with low voter turnouts and high levels of voter apathy. I found it interesting that a group that seems resistant to traditional democracy still wants to reform it through their suggested changes. My initial assumption was that they were only interested in tearing the system apart, not rebuilding it.
I did speak to several people at the Occupy Toronto camp, and they were clearly engaged in democratic thought. There are political signs and messages everywhere, and there is even a library containing political reading material. I asked one man if he had voted in the most recent election; he made it clear that although he had voted in the past, he had not done so recently. He said “there are no real offers of substance right now that appeal to our needs – the needs of the poor,” and, as such, he did not feel the urge to vote.
Proposal number three suggests that a “none of the above” option be placed on ballots. In Ontario, there are already several options if you dislike your options, but still wish to vote. You can spoil your ballot so it is rejected by elections officials, or you can decline your ballot and implicitly suggest that you do not approve of any of the options. If this came to pass and more people voted for no-one than any other candidate, maybe that candidate did not deserve to enter office after all. It would also give an “official” designation to their discontent.
Perhaps this proposal is suggests that just because several candidates are running in an election, they are not always best suited for the job. Shouldn’t then someone who feels they are suited, like a member of the Occupy movement, take the initiative to run for office?
Maybe our electoral system is not the problem; perhaps we simply need a combination of traditional democracy and protest, when required. The fact we can incorporate protestors into our society proves that we do, in fact, have a healthy democracy.
A protestor does not universally equate to a non-voter, and being a voter does not make you a good citizen. Every argument has two sides, and it’s important that we explore them both. Whether you’re a voter, a protestor (or both), what’s important is that you are actively engaged in the world around you.
About Student Vote
Non-partisan organization engaging young Canadians in the democratic process.
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