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
Picture: British Museum
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Hokusai beneath the wave: meet the real artist behind the world's most plagiarised image

An exhibition at the British Museum takes us beyond the Japanese artist's iconic, and excessively reproduced, artwork.

The British Museum exhibition of the work of the Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai shows the playfulness and energy of his twilight years in the first half of the nineteenth century. It mainly covers the period after his “rebirth” at the age of 61, but in reality, he was reinventing himself throughout his life, changing his name as often as his style.

The museum's odd curation recognises the significance of Hokusai's late work, but not enough to grant each piece the space it deserves. The impressively large collection is packed into a small area, partitioned by angled walls, with viewers snaking round in an orderly queue.

Much like the Tate Modern's deployment of Alberto Giacometti's stick figures, this exhibition saves the work for which the artist has made a name for midway through the exhibition. In Hokusai's case, the degree to which the artist has come to be defined by a single part of a single work is astonishing.

“It's the most reproduced image in the world now, it's the most plagiarised image in the world, you'll see it on the cover of The Economist twice a year,” says Angus Lockyer, a lecturer at Soas who is currently working on the research project “Late Hokusai: Thought, Technique, Society”.

The Great Wave off Kanagawa doesn't disappoint. Wooden fishing boats navigate a storm, their gradual, elongated curves sit vulnerably beneath the sharp curves of the waves. It's immensely powerful – Van Gogh was moved to say “these waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it”. Through the hollow of the wave sits mount Fuji, eternal and immutable. It's a recurring theme – the “great wave” comes at the end of a series of woodblock printed “views of Mount Fuji”, where people's lives and violent weather run their course beneath the volcano's immortal shadow.

Lockyer says that the exhibition was called Beyond the Great Wave to highlight not only his other works, but also previously hidden elements in this most famous print. “There are three things going on in the picture. There's the wave, there's Fuji, and there's the people. And often when it's plagiarised they leave it out. You eradicate Fuji and you get rid of the boats... So for us, it's simply the wave,” he says. “And what we're saying is, look at the whole thing, and think about what he's trying to say here.

“There's this incredibly powerful, dynamic, threatening world – he likens the water to muscle sinews – and there's Fuji, the unchanging, eternal thing,” he adds. “And what it means to be human is to be between these two things... you fix your gaze on an unmoving thing, you anchor yourself. So there's a philosophical proposition here.”

But the most striking thing is how little it stands out among Hokusai's other works. He produced two huge wave paintings much later which really stun the viewer. Their giant, whirling, coral-like strokes, in deep blues and faded greens, produce a violence and magnitude unparallelled in previous waves. The exhibition guide suggests it is a representation of the Daoist notion of the “supreme ultimate” – from which everything originates – and you can see why.

Image: British Museum

Other landscapes give minute detail in the foreground which drifts imperceptibly into vague horizontal lines in the distance, where mountains arise out of a void, or soft pink clouds. His series of “ghost stories” is a hypnotising precursor of surrealism – yellow figures with melting faces, a bejewelled skeleton half shrouded by mosquito nets.

In Tiger in the Snow, produced in the year of his death, Hokusai joins Henri Rousseau and William Blake in capturing the simultaneous power and innocence of this beast. Its joyous grin belies an exaggerated muscular build and lethal claws.

The exhibition fulfils its promise in taking us beyond the great wave, and reveals an artist who grew ever more inspired and obsessive in his old age. Famously, he said:

“Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice… Thus when I reach 80 years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at 90 to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at 100 years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

He sought immortality, and on his deathbed, he begged: “If heaven could give me just five more years, then I could become a real painter.”

Hokusai's influence on the European art world was unfortunately outside the scope of this exhibition. After Japan opened up its markets in 1857-58, much of Hokusai's work ended up in Paris. “Van Gogh acknowledges it and basically says the whole of modern art comes from Japanese art,” says Lockyer. “The reason is that what happens when European artists see this is, they realise that you can break with representations. That you don't actually need to spend all this time depicting the world accurately, then you can actually abstract, to heightened effect... Hokusai is the linchpin of the whole story, and we need to rewrite the history of art.”

Rudy Schulkind is a Danson scholar who recently graduated in philosophy and politics from St Anne's College Oxford.

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