In a historic referendum that occurred on June 24th, 2016, 51.9% of UK voters cast their ballots in favor of rage quitting - sorry, exiting - the EU, fueled by concerns over fees that the UK pays to the EU, distaste of “excessive” EU regulations, a hatred of EU immigrants who reportedly take jobs from UK citizens, and fear of non-EU citizens from sneaking in to commit terror attacks.
If this kind of disgusting rhetoric concerning immigration doesn’t sound familiar, you either a. Intentionally avoid all media sources (which raises the question of why you’re reading this), or b. Have spent your entire life living in nature and trying to assimilate into a wolf pack.
Political figures such as Boris Johnson, who John Oliver describes as a man having “both the look and economic insight as Bam Bam from the Flinstones”, and Nigel Farage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) whose facial expressions pretty much make you want to sock it to him, stood in staunch support of Brexit, backing their hate filled rhetoric with inaccurate facts and appeals to voters’ fear of immigrants and power structures that supersede their own influence.
Already, the results of the referendum have already set in motion a chain of events that should make apparent why Brexit wasn't (and still isn’t) a good idea. On an economic side, the British Pound fell to its lowest level since 1985 on the June 24th following the results of the referendum and is still falling as a direct result of the Brexit vote, and there's great concern regarding the UK's future in trade with the European bloc. The referendum’s result has also emboldened some Leave voters in expressing their hate-based beliefs, resulting in a stream of stories on social media detailing racist and xenophobic comments that UK residents have received following the vote. Examples include cards reading, “No more Polish Vermin” being put into Polish families’ mailboxes and Leave voters verbally harassing minorities - primarily Muslim UK residents - in public, saying that they're going to have to leave the country now that Britain voted to exit the EU. Finally, Prime Minister David Cameron stepped down after leading the failed Remain side of the vote as well, stating, “I will do everything I can as prime minister to steady the ship over the coming weeks and months. But I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its net destination.”
Young Britain is in a bit of a justified uproar. Out of the eighteen to twenty-four demographic, 75% of British youth voted to remain in the EU. Sixteen and seventeen year olds feel as if a future was taken away from them without their ability to voice their opinion. This young demographic are those who will have to live with this decision decision for the longest out of all of those who voted, yet older UK citizens essentially dominated the vote. Abi Kirkby, 17 years old, wrote, “I feel that I have been let down by an older generation who won’t be affected by the volatility of this decision.” To read more young voices regarding the decision, check out this article that compiles youth responses to the referendum from the Guardian.
Despite the fact that Brexit will indubitably affect us here in the United States as ripples from the decision spread from the UK, it also carries a host of lessons that we should take heed of in anticipation of the 2016 election. First off, more old UK citizens turned out for the vote than young ones. This isn’t necessarily surprising – after all, it’s exactly what happens in the United States pretty much every single election. Turnout for the referendum generally increased with age, meaning that the older population of the UK absolutely played a major role in the vote despite the fact that it would have the greatest impact on the younger generation. And of course, the ultimate result was contrary to what the majority of younger voters cast their ballot for.
As US citizens, and especially as young voters, it is critical that we turn out to vote in order to express our opinions and try to effect change in our nation. Sure, it’s easy to say, “I don’t care” or “I hate all of the potential results” but 1. You’re going to care when the things you didn’t vote for go into effect, and 2. There’s got to be one potential result that you hate less. Young people have the lowest voter turnout by far in the US. Sure, voter turnout has been decreasing in general (which, you know, would also be great to fix), but the youth demographic has taken the hardest hit.
So to my fellow young Americans, let me make this painfully clear: Your right to vote is also a responsibility – to yourself, to your peers, and to the future of your nation. There’s no excuse for not voting barring emergency. Have a busy day? Plan ahead. Living out of state? Apply for an absentee ballot. Not sure how to vote? Find information about your polling place. “I didn’t have time” or “I forgot” are not legitimate excuses. Take your future in your hands and vote. (And not just in presidential elections – your local as well as state and federal congressional elections affect you just as if not more, than the presidential elections). I get it – life happens. But making the time to vote is one of the best ways to inspire change in your state, city, and nation.
Second, a decent chunk of Leave voters in the referendum – about 1.2 million according to Independent - regret voting to leave the EU, saying that after the reality sunk in or they truly considered the implications of what they had voted for they desired to reverse their decision. Others stated that they didn’t think that their vote would actually count. The most ridiculous part as well about all of this is that following the release of the results from the referendum, searches like “What is the EU?”, “What does it mean to leave the EU?”, and “What is Brexit?” started to climb.
What we need to take away from this is the realization that every vote matters and that your individual vote makes an impact. Yes, the US system sports systems like the electoral college for the presidential election, but regardless it is imperative to recognize that your vote matters. All the time I hear, “It’s just one vote, it doesn’t matter” or “I don’t care because my vote won’t count”.
YOUR. VOTE. COUNTS.
On a related note, when you vote it is critical to vote informed. Consider the implications of your vote. Do your research. Know who and what you are voting for. Casting a ballot with no intention or information behind it can be just as detrimental as not casting one at all.
Now as a result of this referendum, the UK is left in a position where its currency is falling, its ties to the European market are in jeopardy, and its population will soon lack the freedom to pursue life, education, and experience abroad in Europe with few restrictions. As a United States population that is approaching our general election, we must take the Brexit vote as its own set of lessons. Vote smart. Vote informed. Vote passionately.
But above all, just vote.