Monday, 28 November 2011

Guest Week Day 1: Isa Ritchie on Voting

From the Innovation Diaries (404'd) via Social Media Today (see end of post)
Isa Ritchie is the executive producer of the popular and influential TV series "The Key To Youth" and "Food on a Budget with John Key," where the beloved Prime Minister explores what it is like to be young and poor in New Zealand/Aotearoa. On her personal blog, she often talks about what she sees as the big picture here in New Zealand. Below, she discusses her passion for voting and what the low voter turnout in the 2011 General Election in New Zealand means to her.

I come from a family that votes, that watches the election with more fervor and anticipation than the rugby.  I have memories of champagne being popped when results became clear at one particular election during my childhood. Perhaps that is why I've always voted, given the opportunity, but if family socialisation is the whole explanation, why would we have such a low voter turn out?

     I am a big-picture person. I like to think about things outside of my own micro-reality and reflect, because it gets boring just having one lens on everything. Perhaps the large number of non-voters could be explained by people being more isolated in their own little worlds - cut off from wider communities, affiliations and concerns by an overwhelmingly capitalist society where we are bombarded by advertisements for make-up and new cars, where we are taught to want things for ourselves and to feel unworthy because of what we don't have.

     It is a world that none of us really understand.  It's scary and complicated and the bigger your perspective, the bigger the mess.  I have always struggled to understand the human tendency to construct the safest possible version of reality - and then exclude or dismiss everything that doesn't fit - whether it is constructed around a religion or a scientific fundamentalism.  Perhaps, for the 1/4 of New Zealanders who didn't vote, the world is safer if you don't think too much about it.

     For the last three years the media has been telling us that there is no way National could be defeated in the 2011 election - so why bother voting?  This is perhaps the most disturbing reason not to vote.  I would feel a huge burden of guilt if I were one of those people who could have, in their masses, so easily swayed the election, but out of dull disillusionment, did not.  This social depression is not something that we can medicate through drug companies.  In the world we live in, it is easy to feel a sense of powerlessness, so why bother?  Let's watch some more rugby, drink till we forget ourselves, facebook our lives away, watch movies that all have the same plots and think about buying fast food so that we can get back to our escapism even sooner.

     We live in a world infested with inequalities and suffering that we find too hard to think about - so we try not to think - we trust that an investment banker, whether we think he's a nice guy or not, must surely know what to do about the economy (that we don't understand), or we figure he will probably get in anyway so why bother making a stand?

      I have occasionally met people, probably only constituting a small percentage of the population, who are politically opposed to the system - radical anarchists who can't bring themselves to vote because it would demean them or undermine their own political integrity. While I empathise with the sentiment, it seems counter-productive to let one's high-minded principles or radical ego trip stand in the way of attempting to guide the country in the directions one is more supportive of.

     A large proportion of people in our country who are so overburdened with survival, with working more than one job to feed their families or barely scraping by on a benefit, who don't really understand how politics effect them because having enough to eat is a much more pressing concern, who don't have identification, or a fixed address.

From lunchbreath, see bottom of page for link. Not pictured: Tony Hawk.

     The disenfranchised in our society need to be represented because they often can't represent themselves.  Every election beneficiaries are usually brought up by right-wing parties like something from Senator McCarthy's paranoid fantasies of Goddamn Commies Under Your Bed. People tend to go along with this because it's an easy, appealing thought - I work hard, why don't you? - it's also an incredibly short-sighted perspective.  Being on a benefit isn't all rainbows and lollypops - I find it hard to believe that most people would rather sit at home with no food than contribute to society in a meaningful way.

    This isn't an issue of laziness, it's an issue of disenfranchisement and social exclusion.  If everyone has the means to participate in society the social problems related to health and crime decrease, the society becomes healthier.  But everyone needs somebody to look down on so we will keep beneficiary bashing till the cows come home.  Perhaps our election marketing is only targeted at the educated middle class and not at those who are in most need of representation.

     Perhaps voting should be an obligation as it is in Australia - perhaps it ought to be organised akin to the census.  Some people argue that it should be a choice - why not include a no-confidence option to placate those people?  Some argue that the people who don't know and don't care shouldn't vote - perhaps more people would take an interest if they knew they had to tick the boxes.  There exist a plethora of questions to be asked around voting, I'm just hoping that the low voter turn out this election will spark some serious change in the way we run elections in Aotearoa.

-Isa Ritchie

(Editor's Note)
For further information on Maslow's Hierachy of Human Needs, please see the following links:

Diary of a Wimpy Music Therapy Student
Social Media Today