As my votes at 16 term comes to an end, I would like to share the impact the campaign has had on me and some of the key messages that I have learned.
Your passion is your qualification
After being accepted as a Votes at 16 Youth Action Group member I was excited, very excited but also very nervous and anxious. It was the first time I had been part of anything like this. I quickly saw during our first meeting that several of my fellow action group members were very actively political: Members of Youth Parliament (MYPs), taking part in council work, canvassing with political parties, members of other British Youth Council programmes, part of extensive volunteering and charity work and so on. I was not an expert on votes at 16 or anything remotely political for that matter. The only thing I had was the passion. But this is where the British Youth Council perfectly embodies the quote “your passion is your qualification”. Something that is very true for political and social change work. I have learnt that if you are passionate about votes at 16, youth representation in politics and political education you can help support the campaign. Likewise, I am now much more aware that if you are passionate about gender equality, mental health, climate change, or wherever your interests lie, then you have what it takes to make the change you want.
You can do it
I like to think that the votes at 16 youth action group really brought me out of my political shell. Despite being interested and passionate about politics, particularly party politics, for years before votes at 16, aside from fundraising and volunteering with charities, I hadn’t actually done a great deal. I could never say I lobbied an MP or was even part of a campaign. I have never heard of political opportunities in my area for young people so I was beyond ecstatic when I joined votes at 16 with the British Youth Council. This campaign gave me a platform. It gave me the speaker. I was able to start contributing and meaningfully get my ideas and opinions across.
Votes at 16 made me realise I can do it. As a neurodivergent, a career and volunteering in politics has always seemed so inaccessible to me. However, I was able to anonymously communicate online during our online meetings and a joint effort was made between my parents and British Youth Council staff to help me navigate the labyrinth of British trains so I would get to the first residential. I always felt supported as there was always someone I could message.
And in case you were wondering, after two residentials, a photoshoot and a youth political conference, I am now more confident travelling across England by train than I am catching a bus in my town!
Your foot is in the door of the political arena
If you had asked me why we should lower the voting age to 16 two years ago I probably would have mentioned the fact that most political parties support the cause, that 16-year-old’s can do many things for the first time at 16 and that 16- and 18-year-old’s aren’t necessarily that different. Whilst none of the above arguments are incorrect as such, today I would give you a different answer. Today, I would tell you that votes at 16 is about defending our democracy, not allowing our younger generation continue to be disenfranchised from our electoral system, and even more our political system and democracy which needs radical change such as high-quality political education implemented into our national curriculum to equip young people with the political literacy they need. Do you see the difference? The votes at 16 campaign has equipped me with the necessary political language to aid my political activism journey. It also helps give you confidence that you know what you are talking about! This confidence undoubtedly contributed to my meeting last month with my local MP. Unfortunately, my MP is Conservative and against votes at 16 but he listened and was impressed. He also mentioned that his opinion could change. Small win?!
Having the experience of the votes at 16 campaign up my sleeve, has validated my self-confidence and belief in my interest of politics. I do not worry when a peer asks about politics. I do not worry when a politician challenges me. In fact, I thrive on it.
Since joining the votes at 16 campaign in October 2022, I have attended my first meeting of my local political party, canvassed for the first time, been co-elected as Social Media and Communications officer of my local political party, started writing political articles, attended My Life My Say’s Next Gen Conference, met and spoken with my local MP, began volunteering at a local homeless and vulnerable adults charity and I am close to launching a website for a newly founded organisation ‘Actively Political’. I don’t believe that this is a coincidence. Votes at 16 has made other campaigns and opportunities possible to me. I feel as if my foot is now in the political arena thanks to my newfound knowledge, increased interests and passion and the many contacts I have acquired.
If any of what you have just read interests or appeals to you apply before Monday 29th January to become a votes at 16 youth action group member. But let me be clear: I am not encouraging you to apply to join the votes at 16 youth action group because the campaign needs incredible young activists which could be you (though it does!). I am urging you to apply to join the votes at 16 youth action group because it is in your greatest interest.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you to the British Youth Council and thank you to its amazing staff, including Izzy, Rhammel, Samayya, Ajmal and Kieran who I was fortunate enough to meet. I will always remember and be grateful for being a part of this votes at 16 campaign. Votes at 16 and youth politics in 2024 and beyond, here we come!