The Politics of Being Apolitical

It has become increasingly difficult to avoid politics these days. It feels like every new episode of a TV show comes with an op-ed about someone’s political agenda being forced on us. Maybe you’ve made the choice that you’d rather just not get involved in this whole politics thing: after all, it seems to get people pretty heated. Being politically involved can be really exhausting, believe me- as a journalism major, I get it. The reason politics are so unavoidable is because frankly, they affect us all in so many immeasurable ways. Honestly, some of the ways that politics affect us are things many of us take for granted. 

Every Seemingly Insignificant Choice Is Political

When people say politics are everywhere, they really mean it. Even the smallest choices you make, like walking to the pharmacy, are only possible because someone has made the politically active choice to allow it for you. Let’s say you struggle to get to work every winter because the snow gets piled super high on nearly every sidewalk. This is municipal politics in action. Some cities, such as Syracuse, New York, do not have by-laws about clearing sidewalks; leaving residents forced to walk alongside cars on the streets. 

For many low-income communities, cities can struggle to achieve proper funding for winter safety regulations. Meanwhile in Toronto, nearly 20 percent of the city’s sidewalks (around 250 kilometers) are not cleared in the winter. It was only after an influx of over two thousand letters sent to the city that a new program to increase clearing began. Something as small as just walking along the sidewalk is political because the livelihood of the city is controlled by your municipal government. Choosing to remain apolitical in your area means you won’t be holding city officials accountable for their actions: which they absolutely need to be.

Essential Community Resources Are Political, Too

Have you ever considered how convenient it is that your grocery store is always stocked with the freshest produce? What about how close you are to a farmers’ market? Do you ever struggle to find nearby foods appropriate for your dietary constraints? According to a study by the United States Department of Agriculture, 23.5 million Americans live in a “food desert,” meaning they are over a mile away from a large grocery store. Having access to something as basic as a well-stocked grocery store becomes political because it hurts some of the most vulnerable people. Ask yourself this: how are your political leaders ensuring that their right to access food is being met? If you live within walking distance of community resources like public schools, libraries, daycare centers, pharmacys, or grocery stores, it means your political leaders have invested the time, money, and skills into your community to make it liveable. When the basic needs of your community aren't being met, it is essential that you know who to vote for (along with who to vote out).

Not Making a Decision Still Counts As Making A Decision

If you’ve been on Instagram at all during this election season, you’ve likely come across this Desmond Tutu quote: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Essentially, this means being apathetic towards an issue isn't actually being neutral or fair. Of course, trying to separate right from wrong can be harder than it seems but it’s essential to try your hardest and figure out how your voice can help those forced to be silent. 

If you feel like your vote is useless, you’re not alone. According to Statistics Canada, only 60 percent of eligible voters aged 20-24 cast a ballot in the last federal election, while 90 percent of people 75 or older voted. There are so many people who vote knowing that young people are feeling too uninformed to participate in elections. People take advantage of the fact that voting for the first time can be very confusing. That doesn’t mean you should avoid voting altogether; afterall, someone at the end of the day will be elected. It will affect your life, so you should have a say in it. This is why trying not to be involved in politics actually still makes you involved in politics: it just means you’ve chosen to let someone else make the choice for you.

Being Apathetic Could Send A Message To Your More Vulnerable Friends

Being apolitical means you’re not taking the privilege to choose how your life goes. Truly for so many of us, being able to be politically active is a privilege. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be out on the streets protesting but it is important to know what the issues at hand are. There are so many countries (like the United States, for example) where your right to vote is withdrawn if you’re convicted of a criminal offense. This means that 1 in 44 Americans will be ineligible to vote in the 2020 federal election. 

For so many people, the fight to have your democratic voice heard can be the difference between life or death. Ignoring harmful politics could accidentally be sending a hurtful message towards your friends in vulnerable situations. For LGBT people, having a certain person elected could mean losing the right to a job, losing the right to get married, or losing the right to safety. For people in low-income neighborhoods, their lives are greatly affected by the ability to access safety and resources around them: an election could quickly take that away. The same is true in reverse: someone sexist or racist might be casting their ballot just because they know you won’t. You might not feel like getting involved in politics if you don’t feel like your immediate livelihood is in danger but for many people around you: it is. It could be telling your friends that frankly, you aren’t concerned about their housing rights, job rights, or human rights (even though you probably really do).

It’s Okay To Ask Questions

One of the ways university differs from high school is that there are so many new ways to engage with people from different walks of life. All of a sudden, you’re in a class of a hundred people who have a hundred different ways of thinking. Maybe the upcoming election is your first time voting but the person next to you has been to every local and federal election for the last five years. It’s important to ask questions about political issues. Being willing to learn about new problems is a sign of being a mature adult. The awesome thing about being independent is being able to form your own thoughts and ideas: just because your parents always voted one way, doesn’t mean you have to. It’s okay to listen to all sorts of different podcasts and read different types of news: being educated on issues that matter is what will help you formulate essential opinions of the world around you. Besides, caring about things is cool.