When political representation and engagement matters

The Grenfell Tower fire has really taken its toll on me this week. The victim and witness accounts show a desperate call for those in power to take the voices of the people seriously.

The residents of that tower had been asking for help for years, only for their pleas to fall on deaf ears.

In this election year and in light of global events, I’ve been constantly reflecting on the structures we have in place right now – where the powerful can say and do whatever they want with little accountability – and the disconnect between them and ordinary citizens.

This is why less young people see the point in voting. In one of my sessions of the leadership programme in on this year, we discussed this very idea with a speaker we had.

While New Zealand has relatively high voter turnout among the younger demographic, it’s still not high enough. In the 2014 elections, 63% of enrolled 18 – 24 year olds voted. It will be interesting to see whether the international commotion will affect our election turnout in September as it did in the UK.

When you belong to a demographic that has constantly been forgotten and taken advantage of, no one is going to have faith in the system anymore, whether you’re a person of colour, live with a disability, or on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. This argument has merit – why should I engage with people in suits who have only cared about my well being when their own job is on the line? Why engage in a system that never listens to you?

In New Zealand we have families sleeping in cars or dodgy motel rooms. These children can’t go to school because they don’t have a permanent address, nor do they have access to decent healthcare. Poverty in this country is real and like in the UK, can also cost lives.

But it’s such a conundrum because no matter how disconnected we may feel, that fire is a reminder that politics and representation matters. You may think your life is unaffected because your life is sweet at the moment, but political decisions are literally a matter of life and death.

If the government won’t listen to you because you’re poor, brown or both, you have to stand up regardless. If you think the left and right are all the same, we need to talk about that too. It is literally life or death, whether you realise it right now or not.

The system is broken and it is literally costing lives. This is a system we have to engage with whether we like it or not. It won’t change by itself.

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