Young Kiwis can influence change
The earlier someone starts voting, the more likely they’ll continue to do so, writes Nick Leggett, Mayor of Porirua City.
The right to have an opinion is a gift that New Zealanders shouldn’t take for granted. When you think about the millions of people all over the world who can’t vote because they live in communist states or because they’re female, you start to realise how blessed we are that we live in a free, democratic and civil society.
I love my community. I care about my neighbours. And that’s why I got involved in local politics when I was just 15.
I admit that politics isn’t the typical career path of the average teenager. But I was proud of my community and I felt like there were people on our local council who were trying to talk it down. Even though 75 per cent of my community’s residents were under the age of 45, most of our council was in their 50s. When I was 18 I stood for council because I wanted to deliver a younger voice. I was fortunate enough to get elected, and in my first three years we pushed through a youth council and a skateboard park.
Kiwis are allowed to vote when they turn 18. Our parents’ and grandparents’ generations had the importance of voting drilled into them, which is why we see such a high turnout with middleaged and older people. While some people might think 18 is too young to make an educated decision, there’s a lot of research out there that shows that the earlier someone starts voting, the more likely they’ll continue to do so. It’s important, then, that parents talk to their kids about what’s going on in their community and their country, how decisions are made, and how they can influence change.
Voting shows an interest in and commitment to your community. Local government influences our lives in ways we probably don’t realise. Water, public transport, roading, parks, libraries, swimming pools, events … If you value those things, then it’s vital you vote for them.
The idea that ‘‘my vote won’t change anything’’ isn’t valid. There’s a saying that says, ‘‘Cities define countries.’’ I’d go one step further and say, ‘‘Suburbs define cities.’’ If we can be effective in positively influencing our neighbourhoods, we can shape broader policy and lifestyle. It doesn’t take much to influence change; just one person can get the ball rolling.
I know one young mum who saw a need for lunches at her local school, so she just started making them. Now she makes 1200 lunches every day and now her community has swung in behind her daily efforts. That kind of initiative puts pressure on Government, who isn’t providing that support to feed kids, but probably should be. Communities can make a difference.
If your kids haven’t voted before or are almost 18, start telling them that their voice counts just as much as anyone else’s. Discuss the issues your community faces, and what would be a good solution. The younger our kids start to care about what happens to them and their communities, the more connected our communities will become.
Kiwis are allowed to vote when they turn 18, and as this young woman demonstrates voting is not hard.