The Community Worker Program, The Tommy Douglas Institute and the Student Association Community Action Centre at George Brown College held a Mobilize the Vote panel on September 29, 2015. Attended by more than 200 participants from the George Brown College community, the event provided an opportunity for discussion on voting rights, the importance and meaning of the vote and strategies for mobilizing communities to vote and toward longer term political action. The panel was organized to coincide with Voter Awareness activities happening throughout post-secondary institutions as we head toward the 2015 Federal Elections.
Gabrielle Ross-Marquette, Ontario Representative for the National Executive of The Canadian Federation of Students (CFS), an institution that represents more than 300,000 students, was the Panel Moderator. She explained that the official turnout for the 2011 election was 61.1% (Elections Canada) and a large amount of people that declined to vote at that time, did so as a result of apathy, unstable employment, unfair election etc. Gabrielle asked the panelists their views on a number of issues, from mobilizing the vote to how those who do not have the right to vote might otherwise engage in political action.
Artist and activist Mohammad Ali Aumeer suggested that instead of talking only about the election, we should get individuals and communities to talk about the issues. “Let’s recognize the important issues for us and then, subsequently, people will understand the value of vote”. A sentiment he had earlier expressed in his energetic rap performance which opened the morning’s session…
“We, the people, put your hands up. Tuition fees, child care, religion, transportation….We, the people, stand up and put your hands up…People united will be never defeated”.
Tommy Taylor, activist and Scarborough Southwest Riding/Green Party candidate, explained the importance of not waiting until the problem comes to you. “Start getting out and vote!” He emphasized the importance of mobilizing the general public toward voting as a strategy of community empowerment.
Jessica Sikora, from OPSEU/Provincial Young Workers #dontvote Campaign sought to clarify the sarcastic tone of their campaign. “This is a way to interact with people…like “Canada is so perfect, don’t vote”. The idea is to make people think about the issues that affect them and to use their right to vote.
Valerie John, activist, popular educator and member of the Toronto Aboriginal Social Service Council, explained that their focus is to “ensure that the Aboriginal community is well informed with regards to election issues and trends that impact its members.” Valerie also reinforced some important problems within the community, like housing, child care, poverty reduction, etc.
Popular educator and journalist Desmond Cole, expressed his concerns about Democracy. “If you do not use it, you can lose it!” Stating that the best engagement happens between the elections, not during the last weeks, Cole went on to explain: “The parties do not want us. They did not ask our opinions when they were preparing the platforms. They want our vote. But we need to find a way to be part of it. Now look at all candidates, check out who is empowering people, who is mobilized on issues that are important for you or your community…issues based over the long haul. And vote!”