Words to a non-voter

I swear this is a music page. I'll write more about music soon. But I have an important message...

Your passion

Dear reader, have a think about something in your life which gives you great pleasure. Something that you love. Music? John Fruscanti, Pink Floyd, Justin Bieber, Mozart, PJ Harvey or The Wiggles? Film? Scorcese, Lynch, Gilliam, Coppola or Kevin Smith? Literature? Austen, Wilde, Koontz, Tolkien or Dan fricken Brown? Sport? All Blacks, All Blacks, All Blacks (I presume you’re a New Zealander).

The point is, you probably have at least something in your life which can delight, motivate and enrapture you. Maybe it’s something you can share with your friends; maybe they’re frightened of you bringing it up AGAIN because oh boy, you’re obsessed with that thing.

That’s okay: we need nerds! We need people who are passionate about things, even if they don’t really matter because aside from acquiring food and shelter, all human effort is subjective and relative. I may not share your enthusiasm for My Bloody Valentine, but as long as that makes you happy to be alive, go forth my friend. We’re all too often encouraged to hide our childlike wonder about the things which give us joy.

Now:  think about That Important Thing. How empty your life would be without it.

THAT’S WHAT POLITICS SHOULD BE TO YOU.

If you’re uncertain about the upcoming election, or disinclined to participate because ‘politicians are all the same’, give me a few minutes of your time.

Politics isn’t the same as politicians. Politicians are the people we elect to make politics happen. For the purposes of this essay I’m going to say politics is the process whereby we reach consensus agreement on how to run a society in which humans interact. If you don’t like the system, or think it’s corrupt, I can’t entirely disagree with you. But this is the way succeeding generations have defined the method by which we have laws, exchange goods and services, and take care of the poorest in society. And if you reject that system and demand another, I have some bad news.

There. Isn’t. One. And your disdain for what we have now doesn’t make it go away.

Furthermore, the only ‘alternative’ to what we have now is revolution. And that’s simply not going to happen, no matter what you graffiti on a wall. For a start, we’re too prosperous, complacent and polite a country to rise up in revolt. Secondly, revolutions kill people – ordinary people who happened to be in the way. Somewhere down the road from the Storming of the Bastille, Robespierre introduced what we now call the Reign of Terror. Is that really a compassionate alternative to organised government?

Finally, after the dust has settled, the heads of the bourgeoisie are all in the gutter, and The People are in charge...who’s going to ensure structural integrity in new houses? Who inspects food to make sure it’s not contaminated with industrial chemicals? Who turns up to put out a fire when you leave your contaminated dinner cooking for too long?

I’ve worked in government departments, and I can tell you that a lot of the mundane, tedious work which goes into a civil servant desk job contributes, in innumerable tiny ways, to making sure society runs.

A real problem of our modern society is our love of superhero movies. We follow the exploits of Wonder Woman or Batman, who single-handedly saves the day when ordinary people fail...and yet, in real life the heroes aren’t the ones with superpowers. The unsung hero is the woman who works through her Sunday to make sure a briefing note is written which ensures safety regulations for freezing works staff are enforced by stiff penalties, so that a bill can be approved by Parliament, which eventually leads to a new standard of workplace safety, which in turn prevents a freezing worker from having their arm cut off.

Your vote is approval for a policy platform, not the politicians who put that platform forth. Stop looking at the face on the billboard as a superhero poster. That politician is merely human, and every bit as fallible as any other person. But in their policy platform they’re outlining what they think is important, and your vote allows you to agree or disagree with them.

When you vote ‘red’ or ‘blue’, you’re not voting for the face. You’re voting for clean water, response to climate change, rights for immigrants, income inequality and mental health, and a hundred other things.

You have a responsibility to find at least one of those things to be as passionate about as Your Favourite Thing.

“But why should I care? Politics doesn’t affect me.” Oh really? You don’t care about whether New Zealanders have clean water to swim in? Do you know anyone who’s ever had a mental illness who needed care that wasn’t there?

Here’s the other thing about politics: the fewer disaffected people that vote, the less likely it is that government policy will change to reflect those things which would benefit the disaffected people. Case in point: have a look at how many shiny new things our current government have been able to offer/bribe the voter with since Labour started rising in the polls.

Can you imagine what might happen if enough people voted that the government changed every three years? It would certainly make the political parties work harder to make sure they retained your vote.

Each party has a ‘base’ whose support they can mostly rely on. There are also ‘undecided’ voters who can be swayed. The enormous group, the non-voters, can (and have) been safely ignored by the major parties for decades now. Why should they offer YOU anything, if you’re not going to reward them with your vote?

Well, in theory we should all want the same thing: a safe, supportive and prosperous country. We don’t need a left-wing government to have that – a right-wing government could do as good a job. My concern is that our present government has NOT done a good job. Commenters will say they’ve been good business managers, but when international organisations like Unicef and the OECD publishes reports about the rise of income inequality, and Al Jazeera can broadcast a damning report about the state of our water...you have to understand that a government that fails to keep us prosperous and clean needs to do better. You can’t make them do better by letting them continue what they’re doing, and only promising to do better in election year when they might be voted out.

If the left-wing alternative doesn’t do any better, we should vote them out too. Keep doing that, and eventually the message will sink in: you don’t succeed in government by just doing enough to keep your base happy. You need to act for ALL New Zealanders, including the ones who don’t usually vote.

Well, vote now. If not for yourself, for someone you know who’s negatively affected by the state of politics in this country. All the problems won’t go away under the next government...but they might start to change for the better.

You don’t have to treat the leader of the political party who gets your vote as an All Black or rock star. They’re a servant, nothing more: they serve the needs of the society we all live in. And like a servant, if they do a poor job we should not reward them for that by letting them continue to do the bare minimum.

But in order for them to get that message, there is one very easy way to deliver it. It costs you nothing, it takes a matter of minutes, and it could make all the difference.

Sure, you can protest the injustice of the system by not participating. And in 30 years’ time, you’ll be living in a poorer, unhappier and more desperate society, still not able to revolt, still not able to convince yourself it’s worth participating.

And by then, you may well be right.