Trading in dynamite for ‘Dynamite’: the power of the youth vote

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“If you don’t know about politics, then don’t talk about it.” How many of you have been on the receiving end of words like these? I know I have. And chances are that many of my fellow millennials and Gen Zers have too. It’s a common enough practice, isn’t it? Being admonished by older generations for being ignorant, self-indulgent and wide-eyed. I’m sure you can find a whole set of other words to tack on to that list. 

But is it time we discard these labels and have faith in our own ideas however ignorant or self-indulgent they may be? We’ve already seen the results of the youth vote in Singapore. The post-General Election polls showed how the youth vote may have been crucial in awarding the opposition a record 10 seats in Parliament as MP Inderjit Singh estimated that more than half the youth vote had been cast in favour of the opposition. Now, the American general elections are coming up, and I think it is time we re-examine the power of the youth vote. It could very well be the deciding factor between another term with Trump at the helm or a change to Biden (and who would you prefer meet Kim Jong-un on our home turf?). 

The power of the youth vote is youth representation. CREDIT: Photo by Parker Johnson on Unsplash

For years, we’ve heard the cry of the older generations asking the youth to become more politically active and to cultivate an interest in politics.  Politicians across the world have been rallying for the youth vote, but when they finally get it, rallying cries quickly turn into dismissals and harsh rebukes. This begs me to ask the question, “why punish the behaviour you desire to see?”

But, for better or for worse, the youth have been speaking out. Maybe not in the traditional way by going to the polling stations and voting (the youth polling turnout has historically been very low—only 47% of American youths had the intention to vote ahead of the 2016 general elections), but in other, more direct ways. Is this really a surprise given the current political climate—characterised as it is by distrust in the government? To illustrate my point, let me give you a brief run-down on the sort of political machinations that have been going on in the past years that feed into this distrust: 

  • American President Donald Trump’s promotion of misinformation 
  • Ex-South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s numerous instances of abuse of power 
  • Malaysian Ex-Prime Minister Najib Razak being found guilty for criminal breach of trust, money laundering and abuse of power amid a series corruption trials
  • Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s undermining of, and attempts to, influence the judgement of his justice minister and Attorney General in a criminal corruption case  
  • Saudi Arabian government’s assasination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi

And these are only the ones I can recall from memory! I’m sure there are tons more out there that I could find if I did a little digging. 

With most world leaders revealing themselves to be corrupt, the youth are having to figure out new ways to bring about change that don’t involve waiting for their governments to take notice and act. And this is where our flashy gadgets and technology come in. 

In contrast to the popular notion that youths use technology to escape reality and ‘disconnect’ from the world, many of us have actually been using technology to better understand the world and achieve a modicum of effect—be it through Instagram posts in support of the #BlackLivesMatter movement to showcase our solidarity from across the globe, or by educating people through Tik Tok on the systematic ethnic cleansing of Uighur Muslims in China.   

But youths have also been using technology to organise themselves in, admittedly, ingenious ways to spark political conversations and voice their views. A recent major success of this strategy can be seen through the mobilisation of the youth in the lead up to Trump’s now-infamous Tulsa Rally. Trump boasted that 1 million people had requested tickets for his much-anticipated 2020 campaign reboot, but in reality only 6,200 attended. And who was to blame for this dismal turnout? Well, Tik-Tokers and K-pop stans of course! Mobilising through Tik Tok, these youths reserved tickets to a rally they had no intention of ever attending, and in the process made a resounding political statement regarding their views on Trump’s America.  

There was a large outpouring of public support for these youth’s actions

And this wasn’t an isolated incident either. Teens also mobilised themselves through social media to support the Black Lives Matter movement by crashing an app created by the Dallas Police Department to send in “illegal activities” undertaken during the protests. And how exactly did they achieve this? By flooding the app with videos of K-pop idols. Whoever said you can’t have your cake and eat it too clearly didn’t live in these times—nowadays we dismantle injustice and rock out to Dynamite at the same time!  

But of course, these advancements don’t mean that the fight is over. Not by a long shot. Having inherited a world so riddled with flaws, we know that resolving all of these is likely not possible within our lifetimes. Chances are that we’ll also create a few problems of our own along the way. But our duty is to strive towards perfection, not to attain it. And this fight would be a lot easier if we had the ears and the acknowledgement of the older generations. And in the immortal words of the then 13-year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki, a Canadian environmental activist, at the 1992 Rio Summit, “if you don’t know how to fix it, please…stop breaking it!”