Today is the last day that you can register to vote in the upcoming General Election.
I know that many people, particularly young people, feel desperately disenfranchised, forgotten and ignored. The system feels rigged so that any small act of rebellion, such as voting against the status quo, is snuffed out. Many people do not feel compelled to register to vote, as they do not feel their voice will be heard either way. No one cares. Nothing will change. Why put yourself through the agony of all that?
I’m not going to shout at you, chastise you, scream that people died for your right to vote and you should be exercising it to respect those who laid their lives on the line for your priviledge.
I’m not going to do that because I understand.
But I am going to urge you to take a deep breath and register anyway.
Let me tell you a little bit about my story.
I was eighteen when I voted in my first General Election – I was excited, belligerent, idealistic and determined that this was a chance for me to make a small change in the world. I was drawn to the Liberal Democrats, as they were the only party that seemed to offer an alternative to the status quo that I agreed with, and there had been surges in support for then leader Nick Clegg following some pretty good live television debates.
So, on the day, I held my head high, walked in with a mission and cast my vote – on leaving the building I felt renewed, refreshed with a sense of vigour and conviction that I had had a small role in making the country a better place.
Then everything went wrong.
The Conservatives came first, but not enough to have a majority. The Liberal Democrats came forward and formed a coalition. A package of austerity and the foreboding sense of rising inequality was on the horizon. University fees were tripled almost immediately – as a first year student, one of the main draws of the Liberal Democrats had been their pledge to end exorbitant university fees, and their capitulation on this massive issue was like a slap in the face with a wet fish.
My vote had achieved nothing. I lived in a Conservative safe-seat, and, much as predicted, my local Conservative MP got back in. My area was declared for the Conservatives. It felt as though my vote had simply been flushed down the toilet. The world was falling apart, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.
As the next five years dragged on, I found myself becoming more and more despondent. All around me, I saw people suffering in the wake of austerity policies. I saw my disabled stepmum going through hell as she fought a system that was determined to label her as ‘not disabled enough’ to be worthy of the financial support she deserved. I was furious. I was angry. I felt as though the only way to change anything was to burn the system to the ground or die trying. Who cared about voting? It didn’t mean anything.
As the 2015 election reared its ugly head, I couldn’t bear to be a part of it. Every bit of coverage felt like a drip-drip-drip of water torture on my forehead. I wanted it to be over. The Conservatives would retain the seats in my area or, if they did lose, it would be lost to the likes of a far-right party such as the UK Independence Party. My vote? My poor little angry left-wing progressive vote? It would be lost on a turbulent sea; barely even a pinprick on the awareness of the people who were smugly surveying their domain.
I voted Labour. They didn’t particularly inspire me. In my mind, their ideas were not nearly radical or progressive enough. Amd I knew it would do nothing. I knew that Labour were not going to get my local seat. I knew that the Conservatives were probably going to get an outright win.
But I couldn’t not vote.
If anything, it was only so I could stamp my feet and gnash my teeth whilst obstinately proclaiming well I didn’t vote for this!
But, whatever reason I did it, and however drab and awful I felt during and after it, I am absolutely glad that I voted.
I have a voice that deserves to be heard, and, even if the system we work in is determined to stifle that voice, to not vote would have been to stifle my own voice. And I was going to fight against the gag kicking and screaming and biting and gouging.
This year, it feels as though there is a real alternative. For the first time in a very long time, I feel emboldened by what I am seeing on the left of politics in this country – there is a manifesto that I support, with policies I vehemently agree with, and I am encouraged that this may be an opportunity to change things. Where previously I voted for Labour because my mantra was ‘please god anyone but the tories’, this time I want to vote for Labour because I believe in them. Where I work, I get calls every day from desperate people, who have been at the front and centre of cuts, oppression, and the cruelties inherent in the dogma of austerity. These are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and they are being failed. This feels like a chance to not fail them any more.
Voting won’t change things overnight. I am still a strong believe in angry, direct action. I believe in taking to the streets, in chaining yourself to railings, in screaming at the top of your lungs until someone listens to you. A friend of mine, and others, recently broke into an airport and chained themselves to a plane to stop a flight chartered to deport asylum seekers in the dead of night. They were arrested, but they shone light on an atrocity that very few people knew about, and, at last known, more than half of the people scheduled to be on that flight have not yet been deported. I have never been more proud, or had it made clearer to me that direct action works.
But voting is important too.
They exist symbiotically. And whilst the system may be skewed, there is always a chance that something good could happen. Trump’s win in the US was not expected. Brexit was not expected. A Labour win next month would not be expected – so maybe that’s why it could happen. But it won’t happen if the unheard voices don’t speak.
I know that not everybody can vote. I know that it may be too much. I know about social anxiety and energy and poverty and disability. I know that voting is a priviledge that many are still denied access to. Which is why it is even more important that those of us who can vote, do vote.
I know why people are not registering to vote. I know that hopelessness. I know that feeling of utter impotency in the face of forces you could never hope to stand against and survive. These feelings are real, and awful, and painful, and legitimate.
But I urge you, as someone who has been in that place – please register to vote. Please don’t let them silence you. Your voices are strong and beautiful and wonderful and deserve to be heard.
No matter how well they swaddle their ears and pretend not to hear, they cannot block out the vibrations of our screams forever. And no matter how awful and despondent you may feel if you vote and the outcome is not favourable, it is nothing compared to the trauma of thinking ‘but what if?’
So please, visit this website: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote .
Have your National Insurance number to hand, and register. You have until 23.59 this evening to demand that they listen to you. It will take a few minutes.
But the repurcussions could last a lifetime.