“Many young black men have told me they’re going to register to vote simply because they want to sit on a jury and become part of the justice system, where racial profiling and stereotypes are an enormous problem.”
As a platform dedicated to providing a voice to young people, the IPF is a gateway to creating more educated youth and getting young adults more involved in politics. One of the biggest problems that faces established democracies in today’s world is voter apathy. Despite politics being more impactful than ever before, young people are not turning out in big enough numbers to have their voices heard.
But why is this?
To understand more about the youth’s voting habits, we spoke to Bite the Ballot. Based in the United Kingdom, Bite the Ballot had just completed their events for National Voter Registration Day (NVRD) and we wanted to find out more about what they’re doing to get youth more involved in politics, and why they think young people should care at all.
Here, Sawsan Bastawy, Grassroots Coordinator for Bite the Ballot, answers our impatient questions.
What was the general sentiment during NRVD among younger voters towards the political atmosphere in the UK?
During NVRD 2016 we registered 134,600 new voters online and offline in a week of coordinated national action that involved workshops, registration drives, canvassing and online engagement.
What we kept hearing from the people we engaged was, “Why didn’t I know this before? Why wasn’t I taught this in school?”
This confirms for us why our work is so vital, and why we need to empower this generation of citizens to participate in democracy, starting with education.
What does Bite the Ballot suggest young voters do to get involved in the political process?
There are all sorts of ways we can participate in democracy, from registering and voting, to petitioning, protesting, communicating with decision makers, being active on issues we care about, empowering our friends, family and community to reclaim political power and express themselves, staying informed, contributing to dialogue on issues, and expressing our opinions for or against decisions that affect us and our communities.
Politicians in the UK are far older than the average age of the population. What do you think will incentivise younger citizens to get involved?
The average age of a politician in the UK is 50, while the national average age is 40, so there is some difference. But the difference between decision-makers and the general public in terms of representation of, for example, women, is more striking than the difference in age. This alone is a great reason to get involved.
No participation means no representation. We only need to look at the lack of diversity in terms of age, race, sexual orientation, gender, disability and socio-economic background in government and in the justice system. Systems of power bear little resemblance to the people they serve and this has to change.
If you don’t register to vote you can’t make sure that Parliament elects people you believe will represent you, nor can you sit on a jury. Many young black men have told me they’re going to register to vote simply because they want to make sure they sit on a jury and they become part of the justice system, where racial profiling and stereotypes are an enormous problem.
How does Bite the Ballot utilise the internet to elicit social change?
All our digital resources are online and available free of charge, from our interactive democracy workshop, The Basics, to social media assets for decorating your Twitter and Facebook page.
We’re a small team and all our successes have been achieved by mobilising citizens and providing resources and training so they can register their communities.
During NVRD 2015, we helped 441,500 people get on the electoral register, breaking the world record and making history. We could not have achieved this without thousands of people using our online and offline resources and engaging their communities in the movement.
In addition to resources for engaging communities, we have created and posted videos on our YouTube channel and edutainment on our BITE News channel. On BITE News you can find all episodes of our show, Leaders Live, which we produced in collaboration with ITV and YouTube, as well as short videos exploring issues like internet freedom, drugs, police, banks, and war.
We’re continuing to develop our digital strategy, including reaching hundreds of thousands of Facebook users with issue-based videos in partnership with Unilad during NVRD. In addition, we use Twitter and Snapchat as a means of engaging directly with people and as a platform for conversation. Online spaces, if used well, are a brilliant and effective way of reaching people who it’s difficult to reach offline.
What does Bite the Ballot hope to see in the future that encourages young voters to participate in democracy?
In terms of the future, our priority for online engagement is launching an updated version of our voter advice application, Verto, which we’re in the process of redesigning. Verto presents statements in plain and accessible English. Users simply swipe to the right or left if they agree or disagree with the statement, getting real-time feedback that shows how their views are shared by decision-making.
In line with our philosophy of making education and participation as accessible as possible, Verto is a simple web application and our version for the General Election last year matched over 389,000 unique users with political parties in just one month.
What can Bite the Ballot and other organisations do in the future to increase political participation?
BtB has Community Engagement Officers, Ambassadors, Activists and Volunteers all around the UK who engage communities in their local area by delivering workshops and talks, holding registration drives and stalls in key community areas like libraries and campuses, and who engage local decision makers on issues of representation and participation.
Across the UK we have engaged people directly, trained young citizens to keep delivering our resources in their communities, and built a model of engagement that enables those we have empowered to continue spreading the message and mobilising people to join the movement for a stronger and more representative democracy.
Engagement on any issue should be empowering. When it comes to democratic participation, one of the principal reasons why people don’t get involved is because politics feels disempowering.
By asking people to rebrand politics, to challenge the systems and processes behind it, to express themselves at the ballot box and elsewhere, we are helping people feel empowered about politics and to recognise their place in it. The spaces we create online and on the ground have to be empowering above all else.
How to get involved with Bite the Ballot:
- Run a session of their interactive democracy workshop, The Basics, helping people to challenge misconceptions and see the power in registering.
- If you’ve only got five minutes, play or share their two-minute video and inspire everyone you know to register to vote.
- Encourage people to register to vote in the UK by signing up online or downloading and printing the voter registration form.
- Sign and share their petition calling on UK Education Minister Nicky Morgan to ensure that no one leaves school without political education or understanding their role as a citizen.
- Become an Ambassador or Volunteer. Sign up on their website to find out how you can join the movement and work with BtB on the frontline.