We're not lazy: Why Gen Y has tuned out of the election

Many young adults will likely ignore the Sept. 24 election, if only because they feel no reason to get involved, argues freelance writer Candice Walsh.
Election signs are easy to see around St. John's this month; are younger voters paying attention? (CBC)

If it weren't for the colourful election signs dotting the roadside around St. John's, those of us in the 20-something to mid-30s age bracket might never even know a municipal election is occurring.

Most of us live online. Nearly all my friends neither listen to the radio nor watch the news. My household doesn't even have cable TV.

We are passionate about St. John's, and we care deeply about its future. We just want a future that includes us.

We're plugged in, however. We're on social networks, and we're drawn to big headlines.

In other words, we get bored easily. That's why politicians like Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi and U.S. President Barack Obama garnered such huge support from Generation Y: they had big, busy personalities that snagged our attention.

The municipal election might not be comparable, but it's a good look at how we respond to media.

This apathy is easy to brush off as laziness on behalf of my generation, but that's not true. We do things differently, and it's the responsibility of the candidates to acknowledge this shift.

St. John's has a growing youth population, and many of us are settling here for the long run. We're not dumb. We're filling big career roles and spending years getting a post-secondary education.

What we are, however, is discouraged. We keep putting our trust in people, and then being let down.

A good example comes from the student protests that occurred in Quebec last year. When Quebec students marched against rising tuition fees, Deputy Premier Michelle Courchesne and Premier Jean Charest introduced Bill 78 to shut it down.

These students were actively fighting for their future, and then were sneered at for their "spoiled" behaviour and determination to win back what was rightfully theirs.  I lived in Montreal at the time, where the energy was palpable and inspiring. But no one was really listening.

What being discouraged means

As long as we remain discouraged, you'll find little support from our age group. If candidates aren't interacting with my generation, how are we supposed to get excited about voting? It's their responsibility, too. Candidates should be reaching us based on issues that are most important to us. Affordable housing and the rising crime rate are at the forefront.

The answer may be in the medium. As an avid Twitter user who relies on social media as my news source, there has been very little conversation occurring online among the candidates. In fact, Shelagh O'Leary is the only mayoral candidate in St. John's who currently owns a Twitter account. The activity on Facebook is only slightly better.

We're an engaged, social group. Candidates, it's time to start talking to us, if you haven't already.

It's also about making the availability of information more available. Many of us know little about how the voters' list is composed, or how the vote-by-mail system works. Many of us don't even have permanent addresses, being students and/or tenants, and so once again our options are limited.

Online voting would be a positive step in engaging younger voters.

Sherwin Flight, 29, was aware of this issue, and created the website to put all the information in one place. If you're new to the voting scene, this is an incredibly valuable resource.

Of course, a large number of my generation simply doesn't care about the election, or politics in general.

But those of us who do are doing some great things. We're advocates for social change, and we're optimistic.

Locally, those of us who do care are passionate about St. John's, and we care deeply about its future.

We just want a future that includes us.