The other day I had a coffee with a hipster called Richard. He has a beanie, a beard and a broken arm from a bicycle accident. Of course he rides a bicycle. Probably one with a chirp-chirp bell like all the other quaint hipsters. Anyway, the other day Richard changed my mind about idiots who don’t vote.
I definitely would’ve called them idiots. And uneducated. And democratically spoilt brats. Ooooh. Mean. I’d have ridiculed the biggest non-voter of them all, Russell Brand. I’d have called him a comedian dressed like a pirate, using a big vocab to dress up his terrible ideas. Russell doesn’t vote because politicians are liars and his vote won’t change anything. Those are my words. His words went like this: “I’m not voting out of absolute indifference and weariness and exhaustion from the lies, treachery, deceit of the political class.”
A few weeks ago I’d have told you that not voting is the civic equivalent of wearing your slippers and dressing gown to the dairy. It shows that life’s so comfy, you’ve stopped giving a toss. I’d have daydreamed the conversation between Nelson Mandela and Russell Brand:
Russell: I don’t vote because it doesn’t make a difference.
Nelson: I spent 27 years in jail for the right to vote. You’re a dick.
Before the coffee chat, I would’ve told you your vote could be the drop that overflows the cup. I might’ve pointed out that if just one person at each voting station in 1960 changed their ballot, JFK would never have become US president. ‘Happy Birthday’ would still be a kids’ song.
But then I spent an hour listening to a hipster explain the reasons he doesn’t vote. He got enthusiastic. He waved his broken arm about and scratched his head as he talked. He isn’t too lazy, too apathetic, too disinterested. He’s just unimpressed. He thinks it could be better. He wants more involvement than just turning up every three years to pick a party. He has lofty ideas. We could use our phones to text vote. We could have citizen juries voting yes or no to Parliamentary ideas. We could have councils of 50 people, which each send a delegate to the next councils of 50 people, which each do the same to the next councils of 50 people, till everyone’s had a say in a giant pyramid scheme of democracy.
I’m starry-eyed too, until I leave and walk straight back into reality. That’s not how the world works. But maybe, just maybe it one day will. We shouldn’t call Richard an idiot. There are as many of him as there are citizens who picked our government. For every person who voted for National at the last election, nearly as many didn’t vote at all. So this election, if every one of those non-voters voted for Richard, maybe he could beat John Key. Maybe we could have a PM with a beanie, a beard and a bicycle. And big ideas.