This column is an opinion by Shayyan Husein, a Grade 12 student at Orchard Park Secondary School in Stoney Creek, Ont. It is part of a special municipal election project by CBC Hamilton, featuring voices from the community. Find all our election coverage here.
I turned 18 in April. I thought I cared about politics and being active in my community. I had been living in Hamilton for around a year by then and already felt devoted to helping out my community in any way I could.
For example, I worked for Elections Ontario, helping at a local polling station. I assisted residents of Hamilton to vote without any complications and running the voting location smoothly was our main goal.
This past spring I also helped start Orchard Park Secondary School’s first Muslim Student Association. I scheduled school events such as where we sold Kulfis (ice cream treats) to students and made sure we always had an available room to hold our Friday prayers. It was all part of building a safe and inspiring community for Muslim students.
Yet, despite my activism, on June 2, I didn’t vote in the provincial election — the first time I would have been eligible to do so.
Why? It felt like I didn’t have the time. I felt it was not THAT important. As I happened to be working at a different polling station than what was assigned for me to vote at, I felt like I did not have the time to commute to my assigned location and vote. More importantly, I felt like missing my vote once would not matter much, so I allowed myself to miss it.
Just a few months later, I feel differently. This time, in the municipal election, I will vote.
Why community engagement — and voting — is important
Building our Muslim Student Association from the ground up made me realize the true impact of feedback from the community and how much community voices can influence those in charge.
I’ve learned through my work organizing the association’s first Eid event, which saw 60 students come together at Waterdown District High School, that you can make a change by simply dropping a suggestion or by voicing your concern.
As our Eid event consisted only of Muslims, many asked if they could invite their non-Muslim friends, which raised a great suggestion that could be implemented. In the future, we can bring other students from different religions to experience how we, as Muslims, celebrate our holy event. Not only will they learn more about what we do, but they can also enjoy what there is to offer, such as cultural food, different games and the atmosphere of our community.
Many students also wanted the event to be held at Orchard Park, as many students who attended the event were from here. This way, transportation would not be a blockage for the majority of those who came and for those who wished to attend.
If it were not for community engagement and feedback, we would not have thought of these ideas to implement and make our future events better for the community that enjoys them.
Realizing how important this engagement and feedback was also made me realize that my feedback to my own community is important.
That is why I am voting in this election.
What matters to me
The issue that matters to me the most in this election is the young voices of Hamilton not being heard. I realize some of my peers don’t feel the same way, even though I think their voices matter, too.
During a recent school day in Orchard Park, as my friends wandered through the halls rushing for lunch, I went out to discuss with five of my peers who are or will be eligible to vote in the upcoming years about their views on voting and elections.
Four of them expressed their disinterest in politics and said they are opting to “vote for who their parents or relatives are voting for” in the future. The other friend was still unsure of whether to vote or not.
By not caring about our community and who will end up running it, we are not allowing ourselves to fully distinguish between different political candidates, what they bring to the table and what they plan to bring for the future.
Encouraging my fellow classmates and friends that are eligible to vote is an action that I have slowly started to do, as there is no harm in voting. Allowing the youth to have a voice within our community is powerful, and it is what I stand for when I look to vote in the upcoming municipal election.
I encourage all voters, new or experienced, to use voting as a tool to empower our voices for what we think is most important to us for our city. Hard-working candidates are relying on our feedback for the betterment of our community, so our duty as part of the community is to give our honest feedback. That way, they can continue doing what they strive for — and our priorities will be heard.
Our feedback can come in different ways, such as emails, word of mouth, messages on social media or even with a simple vote. I want to use my vote as a way to allow my voice to help create action within the community.
Not only will I vote for my own voice, but for the empowerment of other young voters as well. After all, how do we plan for our city to change for the next generation if we — the young voters — are not giving our honest feedback?
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