I grew up very disenfranchised. My family emigrated from Hong Kong to Canada when I was five and a half, and it took a long time for us to get used to life in the new country. My father started voting at some point but never discussed it with us. I think my mother voted after many years, and only a few times in her life out of a possible 50 or so. The two of them disagreed along conservative/liberal lines. Mostly we simply felt it had nothing to do with us.
Moreover, we would hear outrageous tidbits on the news about so-and-so, and then extrapolate from that to throw up our hands and claim there was no good option.
One of my high school aquaintances became a Member of Parliament. I got to know him a bit because we got lost on a hike during a field trip. He was someone many people made gentle fun of, as I recall. But the time on that school hike was enough to learn he was thoughtful, considerate, and liked to learn interesting things.
If I were plonked into the next generation, when the person running for office was an old friend of my parents’, if I could see that the people running for office were people like I knew, I think it would have made all the difference whether I voted starting at 18. To really know that some people in government are trying, that many of them are using their resources as best they can, that they make mistakes because mistakes are inevitable but it’s a long game and most mistakes are not only recoverable but essential learning experiences – I think that is what it takes to be able to get out there and vote. That, and having at one point roommates who were anthropology students and volunteered like mad for local elections, influenced me to start voting.
In a word, connection.
For me, the cornerstone of fighting racism and sexism and many isms is to act as if proportional representation of all of us by interest and merit is reality. That means, for example, I should act as if there are amazing geniuses in every town, every neighborhood, no matter where. And good political leaders too. They just have to be found, and could use a little boost.
So if there is no person who, if you got lost with them on a hike and you found out has a good heart, and who is running for office – if you don’t know such a person, assume that they exist, and find them! And vote for them!
To take a moment and be mathematically explicit: why OK to assume they exist? See above paragraph on why and how this mathematician chooses to fight racism and sexism. How can you find them? Talk to people in your neighborhood. Yeah, news and google whatever, but build trust with smart people you know (and why/how to do that? See above paragraph). What if you hate hiking? Replace with other activity of choice. It is not essential to get lost.
Finally, if you need an incentive, what’s in it for you? Hey, if you vote on your best ideas and most deeply held values, it’s a positive action to make the world better for yourself and for everyone else in your constituency.