Monday, 5 June 2017

On the Importance of Voting



On this Thursday, 8th of June 2017, millions of people will be going to polling stations throughout the United Kingdom in order to cast their vote in the upcoming election. The British people will deciding who their next prime minister will be, choosing between Theresa May of the Conservative party or Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a decision that will have a drastic influence over the future of our country. It will affect all our lives, and in a post-Brexit world, will ultimately determine the United Kingdom's place in the world.

The opportunity we as citizens have to vote in this election should not be underestimated or dismissed as irrelevant, not only because of the power each of us holds -however small it actually is- in our own hands, but because the right to vote is a value that we should all hold dear. We should'nt forget that back in the 18th century, only a tiny minority of people were allowed to vote. That minority was, of course, made up of wealthy, propertied, white protestant males who thought that only they should have the right to decide the future of their country. A dictatorship of the rich and the privileged you might say.

We should also take a moment to remember that there are still many of our brothers and sisters all around the world who are denied the right to vote or whose votes are abused and degraded in rigged and fradulent elections. Even though universal suffrage is a key element of our democracy, we are still incredibly lucky to have it. In countries like Syria, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Eritrea and Zimbabwe, where human rights are absolutely negated, people do not have this right and virtually have no say, no control over how their own society is run.

For many people throughout the world, the idea that a genuinely free and fair election would take place, and the government would peacefully give up power to the opposition if they lost, seems like an idealistic dream. However, flawed our bourgeoise form of democracy is, however limited it is, however rusty its institutions are, however much we want to enhance it, improve it and deepen it -which we should continue to demand. We all have to admit that that we, in the UK, and in other free nations, are among the lucky few in this world that are living this dream of democracy.

But we shouldn’t just feel fortunate that we have this right to democratically choose our governments. We should also feel grateful. I’m not saying we should be thanking the establishment or worshipping  the monarchy for granting us this right to vote. After all, the right of universal suffrage was not given to the citizens of the UK out of good will or kindness from our benevolent and 'enlightened' masters. It was fought for and taken from them. As Fredrick Douglass once put it, "Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and it never will".
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/frederickd134371.html
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/frederickd134371.html
Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/f/frederickd134371.html

We should remember those who struggled so that we could go to the polling stations on Thursday. We should remember Thomas Paine, one of my heroes and one of the great revolutionaries in history, whose book The Rights of Man called for an expansion of suffrage beyond wealthy elites. We should feel grateful to the 11 martyrs killed at the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, amongst them the great radical speaker and champion of working class emancipation Henry Hunt, attacked by local yeomanry for campaigning for their right to vote.

Then there are the Chartists, the 19th Century radical working class campaigners for parliamentary reform. Their six-point programme included demands for universal suffrage and voting by secret ballot - both of which we really do take for granted. All of these revolutionaries struggled to give us what we have today, and we should commemorate their struggle by casting our votes on June 8th.

But these groups were only the beginning of this battle. When we vote, we must also feel indebted to the feminist movement and their legendary exemplars such as suffragettes like Emily Davison, Annie Kenney, Emmeline Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst, Sophia Duleep Singh and many others. They suffered persecution, imprisonment, defamation and abuse so that women could have equal voting rights to men.

It is thanks to the sacrifices of these radicals and revolutionaries that we have the right to vote and many other liberties that mak us a free people living in a free society.

I perfectly recognise that the bourgeoise, representative democracy we live under is limited and not as I would like it in an ideal world. It is basically, as Noam Chomsky would put it, a "ratification process", where both sides offer you, the voter, their positions -often with little difference between them- and you ratify them at the voting booth depending on which position you want. This is a limited form of democracy. Still a democracy nontheless. A more radical and meaningful form of democracy would be that I, and of course everyone else, would play some role in forming and creating these positions that affect our lives. And power isn't concerntrated in the hands of a distant and self-interested elite but is devolved amongst the people.

Anyways, that, I suppose, demonstrates the importance of voting. Not just because we are voting in an incredibly important election that will shape our futures, but because we are lucky that we can vote at all. It hasn’t always been this way. We haven’t always had this precious democratic right. So, when we put our slips in the ballot box on Thursday, whatever our gender, ethnicity, skin colour, religion, class, we should remember those who gave their lives so that every one of us could have this right.

When the election arrives, I urge you to go to the ballot box and vote. If you feel alienated and disenfranchised from politics, I don’t blame you, it often feels like you have a choice between tweedle dum and tweedle dumber. Alot of things are rotten in British politics and desperately need radical reform. But I would still advise you to vote in this election as it would be the start of your political engagement and you will find out that small differences within a power system can have relatively significant consequences and one cannot be completely neutral about this, even for those of us who ultimately seek to create a more radical alternative.

I would also advise you to try your best to become politically engaged, increase your democratic consciousness and become more actively engaged. It may seem pointless, but it ensures you won’t be dismissed as entirely apathetic.

Turning out to vote on Thursday is the least we can do for all those who struggled for the rights we enjoy today.

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