opinion

Brexit made me want to vote for the first time. I'm 25.

I have a confession. I’m 25 and Saturday is the first time I will vote in a government election. Ever.

I have never registered… And, before you start, don’t bother.

I’ve heard all the arguments. That democracy is a privilege. That women suffragettes fought for me, Caitlin Bishop, personally, to have the right to vote. That I should care more. That I should stop being such a “millennial”… yes, yes and yes.

I know all this, it didn’t make a difference then. I don’t feel guilty now. Let’s move on.

To be completely honest with you, I did not change my mind. I didn’t have an epiphany, or a rush of blood to get to the polling booths.

No, I renewed my license and the NSW government caught up with me. They registered me automatically.

This was, initially, to my annoyance. (I was enjoying being under the radar). Now, however, I’m grateful. Because I am also terrified.

Why? The world, if you haven’t noticed, is slowly fucking itself up.

I didn’t vote when I turned 18 because politics in Australia were more like my primary school playground. All about the personality, hairstyles and onion-eating skills of the people at the helm… Sorry… Did someone say ‘policy’?

Rudd – Gillard – Rudd – Abbot… Like playing pass-the-parcel with bullies and hypocrites, without even a prize at the end.

It felt as though my vote didn’t really count, because the elected PM didn’t stick around for very long – it was more like they were completing a two-year TAFE course in pretending to be PM, before graduating and moving on.

And it’s not much better today. But Brexit scared me. Really scared me.

I feel like it’s a precursor to a bigger problem. That it’s a huge, flashing warning sign, saying “Donald Trump ahead”.

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I feel like if something similar to Brexit (or Donald Trump for Prime Minister, for that matter) was proposed here in Australia, the same thing would happen. (Pauline Hanson: case. in. point.).

Because we are desperate for cut-through. We are tired of the political-correctness of party lines. The way politicians open their mouths and say nothing. The lack of leadership. The answers to questions that aren’t really answers to anything (Scott Morrison vs Leigh Sales on Tuesday’s 7:30, anyone?).

Then there are the campaigns that prey on fear. Appealing to division, rather than unity. Separating humanity with scare tactics. At it’s worst, it’s simply horrible to watch (racism, homophobia, classism). At it’s best, it’s like cotton wool. And we’re craving for something to cut through the fuzz. To connect. (Yes, despite our bad rap, millennials still want to connect).

The problem is, the only messages that are ‘cutting through the fuzz’ are those that are the most dangerous, and most ‘unbelievable’.

So ‘unbelievable’ that they’ve lulled non-voters like me (UNTIL NOW – STOP HATING ME) into a false sense of security.

No one thought Brexit would happen. Until it did.

No one thought Donald Trump would win the Republican nomination. Until he did.

This happened because the people who did vote are more scared than I am.

Their fear is more direct, more real, than my intangible fear for the ‘world’s future’. Their problems are more immediate – they are worried about their jobs, their families, the food on the table, the future of their children.

These people are middle-aged Brits from West Midlands and the Northeast of England, who have lost their jobs in de-industrialisation, or to immigrants from Russia, Poland, Turkey. They’re not worried about the economic and security implications of Britain leaving the EU; they’re worried about having enough money to feed their children week to week.

These people are working-class Americans, who’ve been made redundant in the offshoring of production and manufacturing work. They’re not worried about the logic (or lack thereof) behind Trump’s U.S.-China Trade Reform. They’re concerned about how they will live in retirement, and how their children will find work in the future.

They are under-educated and anti-establishment. The system has let them down. And they want someone to listen, for once.

Reclaim power. Strengthen borders. Build a wall. Attack ISIS. Stop Muslim immigration… Can you picture the dinner-table conversations of thousands of working-class people who are worried, stressed, and unheard?

But issues of immigration, border security, overpopulation, job creation need more than a knee-jerk, short term approach. The problem is, ‘walls’ and ‘exits’ sound very attractive to the disillusioned and uninformed public that’s choosing to vote.

I understand the younger people, the university graduates, who neglected to vote in the Brexit referendum.

Like me, they were tired and disillusioned. They also thought the ‘unbelievable-ness’ of Brexit would prevail.

But they did not understand the very real  fear and anger of the rest of society.

That’s why I will vote on Saturday. Because I, too, am worried.

I’ll be damned if Australia is led into a decision because the people who are idealistic – and who do care about the wider implications, and who do want solutions that are sustainable, backed by reasoning, logic and policy – fail to show up to vote.

How my tune has changed… (did someone say hypocritical?).

(I’ve also heard they serve a sausage sizzle at polling booths…. It’s making me wonder why I never voted before.)

Watch next: The conversation every 18-year-old (25-year-old?) is avoiding.

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