Picture this. A sea of happy bodies outside Dublin Castle. Breathless poll recounts. Voters festooned in colourful badges, smiles on their faces. Hashtags bringing the young back home. All to participate in democracy, to participate in making a difference.
Now skip a year later. Is it still the same picture? Are we seeing the youth enthused by the possibility of making change through the power of the ballot box? Are they enthusing about the general election? Are they urging people to register, posting guidelines on how to not spoil your vote, making sure that everyone uses their right to vote?
Already, even before the dust and confetti had settled last year, there was talk of harnessing the youth vote. Making sure that the hundreds of thousands that registered to vote for marriage equality continue to be engaged. But if the government parties were honest about keeping the youth vote, they sure have gone about in an odd way of doing so.
After all, what better way to engage with the youth than with tax figures, repetitive slogans and a good ole dose of fearmongering? Apparently, the way to reasonably debate and engage with the opposition’s points is to refuse to answer questions and point out how it’s the other person’s fault they’re in this mess.
Now to be fair, a general election is a different kettle of fish to a constitutional referendum. The latter was, to massively simplify the complex feelings and aspects of social change involved, in the end a binary choice between “Yes” and “No”. The former is a series of choices to decide who will steer this country into the unknowable future. To try and summarize, package and present the scads of information needed to make an informed choice, it’s no small feat.
But surely that didn’t mean an election campaign of regurgitation, sniping and general childishness? There’s a ridiculous malaise hanging over the main parties, which surely comes from Fine Gael and Labour doggedly ignoring that voters aren’t idiots and that they’re being picked apart by opposition slowly but surely. Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein come with baggage neither has successfully jettisoned, baggage they’re content to ignore as well, as if economic malfeasance and a bloody paramilitary past will be that easy to scrub out.
There’s a reason that smaller parties shone in the seven person debate. There’s a reason the Greens where the fourth most talked about party during the debate despite not being represented, a reason the alternative left is on such a rise. They were alternatives. They were a change.
The fact is, that we, the young voters, want to feel that our vote can truly change the world. We’re young, of course we think we can change the world. The marriage equality referendum was that perfect storm. It felt like we truly changed Ireland for the better.
Come Friday the 26th, there’ll be none of that feeling. Just the same old faces, bickering as always.
Image Credit: Conor McInerney