By Charlie Pearson
Today, I was asked by a friend, “who are you voting for?” and it caught me off guard. It always does. This has happened a few times now, and my reaction is always the same. I go on the defensive. I say, “I haven’t made my mind up yet,” and that’s not a complete lie. I haven’t made my mind up, but then, that’s the sort of thing someone who doesn’t follow politics would say, and I’m not that sort of person. At all. When I visited Washington DC earlier this year with my dad, I made sure to specifically go to the National Portrait Gallery, because I had read it was the only place outside of the White House with portraits of every American President ever (I feel like this admission may have revealed more about my personality than I’d hoped). I almost cried watching the live stream when Trump made his Presidential victory speech. I’ve read articles from people who are convinced that Theresa May (the current UK Prime Minister) is a robot. I even dipped into French politics when people started getting worried that Marine Le Pen (leader of the alt-right party, who shared eerie similarities with Trump) might win the election. And now, after the Turei debacle and with Jacinda mania, I’m even interested in the election back home.
So, what’s the problem? I should preface by saying that I don’t have any problem with talking about politics in general terms, the premise fascinates me, it’s the specifics that I’m uncomfy with. I’ll talk about politics, just don’t put me in the picture. When the topic turns to my own political views, my heart starts to race and the words stop coming out of my mouth. Suddenly, I’m numbed by the thought that someone who hears what I’m saying will judge me for my views, twist them like they’re twisting my wrist as some kind of punishment. And God forbid if they don’t happen to share my entire political philosophy. Over and over again, I’ve heard people say, “you don’t talk about political affiliations on a first date,” and “it’s a no-no topic when you meet someone new,” and “it’s not a conversation for the dinner table”. When you phrase it like that, politics starts to sound painful, like an in-depth debate on the viscosity of diarrhoea (dear God, I can’t believe I came up with that metaphor so readily). But at the same time, I get it. Politics is a personal topic. Some people hold it closer to their heart than others. There’s no getting away from that. When you ask someone who they’re voting for, you’re asking them for a platter with all their ethics and morals laid out on it, ready to be served with crackers, not knowing if that person likes blue cheese or believes taking action on climate change is a priority. You’re opening up your pantry to show someone how you believe the world should be run, and simultaneously inviting personal scrutiny. There’s something so intimate about telling people those things.
So, I guess, to be honest, when my friends – or anyone for that matter – asks who I’m voting for, I should just say, “I’ve pretty much made up my mind, I just don’t want to tell you, because I don’t want you to judge me”. There’s something kind of twisted about that though. I’m going to get a bit preachy now, so I apologise in advance, but politics at its core is about creating positive change for the benefit of the nation and its people, so shouldn’t we really just be happy that people are voting? Because it shows that people care, not only about themselves but the greater population. It’s as simple as that, isn’t it? The overarching mission of politics is to make things better than they currently are, each party just has its own way of getting from point A. Here to point B. Somewhere better. The National Party’s blue road plows a line through the hill of lower taxes while Labour’s red carpet weaves through the valley of more-money-for-education-and-hospitals, and so on.
We’re voting for a better future. Isn’t that enough? And even to the people who choose not to vote, shouldn’t we be happy that they’re exercising their right to choose, to show that, ‘hey, we don’t live in a dictatorship where people are forced to do things that maybe they don’t want to’. If we have the ability to vote, shouldn’t we also have the ability to not vote, and be looked at the same way? I’m trying very hard to take the moral high ground here because, in all honesty, I do judge people when they tell me they’re not going to vote. For some – and I can’t help but share the sentiment – not voting reads like a statement of rebellion against the very fabric of our democracy. It feels like a wasted opportunity. You tell me you’re not voting and immediately I’m thinking you’re lazy, selfish and aloof. But that’s not true either, for the most part. Or is it? I like to believe that people who don’t vote, do so because they’ve thought long and hard about their options, weighed up each candidate and their policies, and come to the conclusion that they don’t trust any one person or party enough to give them their vote. I also know there’ll be people out there who don’t vote because they never have and that’s the mindset they’ve been brought up with. Then again, the way freedom in a democracy works, ideally, is that people have just as much of a right to vote and think about it very deeply, as they do to not vote and claim democracy as a ‘shit show’. But here we are, very passively shutting those people out of having a say in the politics conversation, stopping them from even wanting to engage with it. It’s like not letting white people talk about racism: I get it, but it’s also kind of rude.
Then there are people who don’t feel like they can talk about politics in general, let alone who they’re voting for, because of a lack of knowledge. We live in a world where the answer to any question can be found just by typing it into Google, so ignorance doesn’t need to exist anymore if we just make the effort to read. Which is great. Ignorance can be a hurtful tool, but at the same time, we’re all ignorant about some things. So, when it comes to politics, an issue that we’re all involved in whether we like it or not, there’s no room for to be ignorant if you’re roped into a conversation about it. Say you’re asked your thoughts on Labour’s new water policy, if you reply with, “I don’t know,” that might be interpreted as you not caring about the environment or not being a Labour supporter, when neither is the case. You just don’t follow politics. It’s not that you don’t care about our country, only that you don’t go out of your way to follow national news. Maybe you don’t have time to read all those policies and articles, maybe you’re just not interested in politics as a thing. Being uninformed shouldn’t be a reason for scolding and judgey looks, but it can be, especially when the person who asks the question is a politics fanatic or an environmentalist. So, what happens is those people will stop talking about politics at all. Not because they’re not going to vote, or even that they’re not interested in having the conversation – it’s because they don’t want to look like they don’t know.
Go on, let’s talk about voting, whatever your stance may be, whether you’re voting or not, whether you support NZ First or National, let’s talk. We’re social beings by nature, we like to talk, so why can’t we talk about this? And to those people who ask me, “who are you voting for?” I applaud you, despite your apparent inability to see how uncomfortable that question makes me. I applaud your brashness and transparency. So the next time someone asks me who I’m voting for in this election I’ll tell them: “I’m going to disgrace my family name and vote Labour.” (I seriously contemplated whether or not I would put that in, it still makes me uncomfy, I can’t help it).