Russell Brand is wrong – if you don’t vote, you just won’t matter

Should the government ignore your job? Your education? Your family? If you don’t vote, that’s exactly what they will do.

Today is National Voter Registration Day. It’s made me think of Russell Brand. I’m not going to apply condescension to his prose – I think he’s articulate and eloquent actually. I’m not going to dismiss him off hand as somebody who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, he does. I might have something to say about his attitude to women, but that’s for another article.

You don’t need to have a politics degree to capture the mood of the nation, echoed in Russell’s sentiments – voting is pointless and even dangerous: it only encourages them.

I actually agree with his overarching point - he wants to create a genuinely fair system. “To really make a difference, we must become different,” he says, and that’s exactly what I want to see. I do have one slight rebuke though – Russell, you’ve never voted, it’s careless to denounce something that you’ve never experienced.

However, that aside, Russell and I have some things in common. I too have moments of weariness and exhaustion with the process, but never let myself be indifferent. I do “give a fuck about politics”. That means I value my vote.

If you don’t vote, you won’t have your voice heard. The simple fact is the electoral roll underpins our democracy and our lives. If you don’t vote – will you resign? Will you quit your job? Will you just withdraw from society? Because you won’t have a say over employment, the economy, or any of the smaller or bigger polices that impact our lives on a daily basis – whether we like that they do  or not.

Should the government ignore your job? Your education? Your family? If you don’t vote, that’s exactly what they will do. If you examine voter turnout, what you see is white, older males dominating the process and government polices reflect this. Or take the power of the ‘grey vote’ – it’s rare, if ever, you’ll see this demographic protesting. They often don’t need to.

An Ipsos Mori poll showed that at the last election 76 per cent of over-65s were still voting. Their power at the ballot box is respected – because they use it. Voting means power and when you don’t vote, you give up this up.

But it’s not just about challenging voter apathy. Let’s take a moment to empathise on the origin of this apathy. Let’s reflect on the leadership of this country. So uninspiring are they that less than half of 18 – 24 year olds in this country voted in 2010. How redundant is the political process that the next generation are not even bothering with it?

People don’t vote because they think the system is broken. People don’t vote because they feel no affiliation with candidates. People don’t vote because they actually believe that no matter who sits in government, a mess is inevitable. But, if you don’t vote, you definitely won’t matter, and you’ll suffer the consequences of any mess regardless.

Russell Brand proposed a revolution of the mind. I’m going to propose something even more radical – an actual revolution in how we engage with the political process. I want to ensure young adults are a force to be reckoned with; too powerful to ignore. 

There’s no question that we can find fault with all of the political parties, but we are the ones who are ultimately responsible. The best way to counter this detachment is by getting involved. If you want to see yourself reflected in parliament elect people who can achieve this. Seriously look at the candidates in your constituency and work out who is most closely affiliated to your values.

Don’t expect that every policy put forward will be palatable. That’s not realistic. You don’t enjoy every single aspect of your work or studies, but you persevere because overall it’s aligned with who you are, or what you intend to do. If it’s not, you change it.

Russell spoke about wanting to effect “power change”. We already have the tools to do this; we’re just not using them. Voting polices have in the past been made off the backs of groups that don’t vote: the young, the poor, the minorities. It’s not fair, but if you don’t vote, the government doesn’t care - you just won’t matter.

In 2010 students turned out to vote in record numbers. The sense that despite engaging enthusiastically with the process, clear commitments were so blatantly broken - tuition fees raised dramatically - undermined the faith of many in voting.

Young citizens aren’t bored of democracy, they’re angry with its process. And I understand that: I’m angry too. But don’t allow a grudge to disempower you from playing a part in huge decisions that will affect you. Or feed that grudge and exercise your revenge at the ballot box. Register now and give yourself the choice.

It’s true that I’m young, perhaps more idealistic than Russell Brand. I’ve not had the life experiences – Hollywood hasn’t called - yet. But I believe in the power of change. If I didn’t I wouldn’t have run for election to lead seven million students as president of NUS.

For me, the hope and the absolute belief that each of us can affect our own realities, that we can thrive, and that we can change motivates me to engage with a government that let down the millions of students that I represent. It inspires me to work with Bite the Ballot to ensure students can register and be heard ahead of the 2015 general election .

We do have the power to change things - through voting. We all matter, but if you don’t vote none of us will. And if that happens, we’ll all lose.

Voting is the only way to make a difference. Photo: Getty
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
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Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism