How British Columbia’s youth are facing this election head on – even without the right to vote.

Since last March, the lives of Canadian youth have been uprooted and torn apart. Our classes were moved online, we couldn’t safely spend time with friends, and our spring break plans were cancelled. Six months later, we’re all supposedly getting back into the swing of regular life, re-adjusting to a new school year, and starting our jobs and extra-curriculars, though it hardly feels “normal”.

School is really important to young people. Not only does it provide essential education, it also acts as a resource for hundreds of thousands of families to access regular meals, technology and supplies and gives kids a better chance to rise out of poverty.

With the virus continuing to circulate in our population, the process of integrating students back into in-person learning has to be perfect. Not only does our presence in school affect us, it also affects our families and all the teachers who are hosting multiple cohorts of students each day.

But we weren’t properly consulted in planning for the return to school. Although at 16 we drive cars and can pay our own taxes, the Vancouver School Board and Ministry of Education thought youth weren’t capable of wearing masks all day. Instead of sitting down and having a discussion with us as to how we wanted our classes facilitated, they prioritized students getting back into learning as soon as possible, so as not to disrupt the economy any further.

The system didn’t seem to plan for how to best support families with underlying medical conditions, at-risk teachers who would be detrimentally affected by the virus, and families who would be forced to take public transit to and from class.

Youth cannot accept these inadequate policies. Our mantra is: “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” During the pandemic, we found our voices like never before.

Not just in the classroom

The murder of George Floyd sparked so much anger as we realized once again that our government and public systems are failing to protect or support people of colour. This wasn’t just limited to the U.S. Canadian youth are sounding the alarm about racialized violence towards members of the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) community. Youth signed petitions, shared posts and attended protests. Because of the pandemic, we were freed from the normal restricting school schedule, and were able to rally and fight harder.

However, we know the police brutality BIPOC communities face isn’t something that just occurred in May of this year. The discrimination and racism at play in Canada and the U.S. has been prevalent for centuries, but colonial governments have yet to address these issues of continual oppression to the minimum extent that is necessary.

Quarantine didn’t suddenly change the oppression in the world. It allowed those of us privileged enough not to be burdened with the constant violence to finally have the time and space to open our eyes and witness the horrors that our law enforcement perpetrates. Perhaps the wave of street protests and social media storms are over, but there is so much more work to be done.

Fortunately for us, our generation has the power to build the world we want to see – even without a vote.

We should continue to stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, minorities who are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and all those who continue to fight even when forgotten. With our entire schooling process in upheaval, this is our opportunity to raise the storm of activism and justice seeking. Why not use this moment to demand representation through a vote at the Vancouver School Board so we can use our education to make the world a better place?

The time is now

When John Horgan called a provincial election two weeks ago, he declared: “the challenges we face are not for the next 12 months but indeed for the next four years and beyond.”

Horgan thinks that despite the fact that the entire nation is barely holding itself together in the face of this pandemic, we have to be forward thinking. But he forgot to include the very people whose lives will be shaped for decades by the decisions the next government will make. He forgot about the youth.

The recovery and aftermath of this pandemic is going to last decades. Young people will struggle with limited education, uncertain career prospects and rising cost of living for the rest of their lives. Not to mention, looming in the background of everything is the climate crisis and a planet that rapidly continues to deteriorate.

The last time the voting age was lowered (from 21 to 18), it was after the second world war when young men came back from the front lines and successfully argued that they deserved to vote in the nation they were sacrificing their lives for. We may not be fighting the exact same battle right now, but between the pandemic and climate change, we are in a very similar situation.

The whole world is in upheaval. People are still dying every single day. Our government is in a state of emergency making wartime-scale economic and social decisions. Youth are on the front lines.

Yes, the election was called at a bad time. But we can use this as an opportunity to vote for a government that protects us as we navigate the unknown future. British Columbia can only rebuild the kind of province we all want to live in if we have political leaders who will show respect to their citizens by including us all in the next steps to recovery.

There is no better time to give youth the rights we deserve. Policies will be stronger, further reaching and more inclusive because of it. And the fact that young people are showing resilience and power despite the current circumstances is a testament to what youth are capable of.

If there’s anything to be learned from 2020, it’s that nothing, not anything, can tear us down.

Sign the petition to lower the voting age