Why Voter Apathy is Not an Option

All you need to do is switch on your TV set at prime time and you will be discouraged about the state of our country, our poor beloved Kenya.

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Corruption is out of control. Impunity seems the order of the day as those in power evade justice over and over and over again. The opposition is merely the mirror image of the government as the “it’s our turn to eat” narrative drives political ambition. Negative tribalism is disguised in talk of “strongholds” and “negotiated democracy” while many Kenyans begin to wonder if their vote – and their voice – matters in this whole charade.

It is easy to get discouraged as a citizen of Kenya. In fact, given the events taking place, it is the most reasonable thing to do. It was easy to be patriotic during the days of terrorist attacks. Back then, the enemy was tangible and discernible, and foreign. Both the opposition and the government had a common enemy. But now, now everything is all muddled up. The enemy is amongst  us, and often within us, and this has messed up with our collective sense of nationality. We don’t know who to trust anymore.

Outrage Fatigue?

Doctors have been on strike for almost three months ago and few people even seem to know what the issue is, let alone how to resolve it. News barely makes sense anymore. One day you are siding with the doctors, the next day the spin doctors have changed your mind and you are now siding with the government. Wait, does it even make sense to take sides if we are all “one country”?

There is such a thing as compassion fatigue (outrage fatigue?) and many of us are at breaking point. We are being pushed to breaking (no-caring) point. We just want to retreat to our little corner and focus on our job, family and friends and let the rest of the nation take care of itself. Life is too short to care about everything and everyone. Let us all eat and drink and (hopefully) be merry, for tomorrow we die. There are people who “run” this country and they will do whatever they want. We have no “real” control over their decisions and actions, so why even bother?

This is where many of us are, and where many more are heading. We are folding into ourselves. Ranting on social media has lost its appeal. Hashtags never go far enough and tweets never go deep enough. We are not seeing results. Those in power seem to have all the cards. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.

We Are Citizens, Not Merely Voters

I am a communication specialist, and I have previously worked as a journalist for four years. I have noticed that the efforts that make the biggest splash in the political scene are usually not very complex or calculated. Stories are perennially powerful, and often all it takes is a good story being picked up by the right person to make a difference.

This is what I mean; more often than not, it is not the statistics about a particular issue that move people to action, it is how you leverage these statistics to evoke emotions. This means that one story about a person’s rape ordeal could be more powerful than displaying staggering numbers of rape cases on a PowerPoint slide.

Just look at what happened in India. Rape is not a new plague in the country. It has been rampant there for decades. But it took a few stories showcasing the lives of those affected to start strong movements and cause radical changes in the law. In a previous post, I wrote about how there are more ways to be a responsible citizen than merely taking part in a vote. I focused largely on what we can do in our “circle of concern”. In this post, my focus is more “political”. My aim is to, hopefully, wake us up to the political options we have as citizen to contribute to positive change in your country.

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These may not make sense at first glance, and you may even doubt how effective they are. But sometimes you need to be part of something to see and appreciate its power. Having worked as a journalist, I had the advantage of seeing the areas where citizen participation made the biggest waves in government and society. More often than not, all it took was answering “yes” to the following questions.

Have you ever:

  • Signed a petition?
  • Contacted your MP, MCA or area representative?
  • Gone on a protest or demonstration?
  • Contacted a government department?
  • Spoken to an influential person about an issue you feel strongly about?
  • Raised an issue in an organisation you belong to?
  • Contacted radio, TV or newspaper?
  • Formed a group of like-minded people?

When we begin to see our role and scope of responsibility as much larger than the mere casting of a vote, then we will realize that we wield power to cause real political change in our society. Voter apathy happens when we limit the horizon of our political participation to casting  the vote once every five years. When we see our politics and our politicians through the lens of the ballot, we are only displaying our ignorance.

You have the power to do more. Join a political party. Join a political cause. Get out of the house. Talk to your neighbor. Unplug your earphones and engage that person sitting next to you in the bus (yes, I know it’s awkward and you are an introvert). Make use of that suggestion box. Send a letter to that politician. Write to the editor of that national newspaper (very few people actually do this, you’d be surprised). Get up, get out and tell your story.

The reason we get voter fatigue is because we have too narrow a view of ourselves. We are much more than voters in Kenya. We are citizens of Kenya.

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