What started in Hong Kong as protests against a bill that would have allowed China to extradite alleged criminals for trial has evolved into a full-fledged global movement for democratic development in Hong Kong. And that movement has arrived at UBC.
From the bricks of University Square to the Cairn, the Lonely Goddess Statue to the walls of the Nest and Life Building, seemingly every surface on campus has become a battleground, strewn with posters, sticky notes, chalk, paint and symbolic gas masks.
And on two occasions within the span of the last week, hundreds of students gathered to demonstrate in competing crowds, waving flags, chanting and singing to drown out the other.
In Hong Kong, the protesters’ stated “five demands” that go beyond the withdrawal of the extradition bill. They include destigmatizing demonstrations, freeing protesters who have been arrested and instituting universal suffrage for the election of Hong Kong’s chief executive and council members.
Whether you stand with these protesters or feel that their tactics — often resorting to violence and destruction of property — have grown too extreme, the conflict speaks to the lengths people are willing to go to achieve something we take for granted here in Canada: a voice in the governing process.
But such crises are certainly not unique to Hong Kong.
Since 2014, four million Venezuelans have fled the country as its leadership is contested between President Nicolás Maduro and Juan Guaidó, the head of Maduro’s opposition in the National Assembly.
Guaidó, his followers and the over 50 countries that acknowledge his legitimacy all claim that Maduro only won due to a fraudulent election. But as Maduro maintains control over the military, Guaidó has been unable to seize power.
Perhaps most egregiously, the future of Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region contested by India and Pakistan, has spiralled into uncertainty after India revoked an article in its constitution that stripped its side of the region of its autonomous government.
The state is now under a communications blackout. Residents are bound to curfews enforced by soldiers and tensions between India and Pakistan have escalated.
It’s only when you consider examples of countries and peoples who don’t have a voice that you can come to appreciate what the right to vote really is: a privilege
But, as is true for all privileges, it can be mishandled and abused.
Prosperous democratic nations, particularly in Europe and North America, are seeing a rise in far-right populism as certain groups begin to feel their governments no longer represent them.
Regardless of where you stand on each of these cases, they reveal that democracy is fragile. The right to vote is a privilege, yes, but also a grave responsibility: a call to action.
Those who lack it in full, like the people of Hong Kong, Venezuela and Kashmir, will risk life and limb to attain it. But in Britain, France, the US and other countries, democratic institutions can slowly erode, dividing the country as they go.
To save democracy, you must participate in it, to make your voice heard and elect leaders who will govern on your terms. On October 21 and the advance voting days leading up to it, we have that opportunity in Canada.
You can vote, so do it responsibly
It can be hard to give a shit about Canadian politics and voting. But the things the federal government does, from policies and legislation to scandals, do affect you.
If you’re smoking legal cannabis or paying for university through Canada student grants, you can thank the feds. If you’re worried about the climate crisis and whether we’re doing enough, concerned about Indigenous reconciliation or graduating in an oncoming recession — the federal government has a lot of power over those issues. If you watched scandals unfold from SNC-Lavalin to Trudeau blackface and felt the impact of the public discourse that ensued, you were watching the results of a democratic process that you are now a part of.
And that’s why you should care.
As members of the largest voting bloc in Canada, voters ages 18 to 24 — in large part university students — have the most power to effect change, hold federal party leaders to account and make our voices heard.
But that’s only if we show up, so take the decision seriously.
A recent poll showed that most people make up their minds about who to vote for in the final two days before election day. In other words, all your last-minute research matters. Be thorough and and read as much as you can right up until you vote.
If, even after you’ve read through all The Ubyssey’s helpful elections coverage, you still can’t make up your mind over who to vote for, you can still actively take part in the voting process by spoiling your ballot: leaving it blank or writing in a fake candidate’s name.
A spoiled ballot won’t influence the results of the election but is still counted in voter turnout. More importantly, it sends a message to Elections Canada that there is confusion or dissatisfaction with the democratic process.
Enjoy the excitement and intrigue of this elections cycle and as you stand in the booth contemplating your decision, remember those around the world who can’t vote and are fighting for the right to be heard.
Know that by voting yourself, you are committing a small act of solidarity with them.