Feature Story: Edmonton youth organizing “vote mob” to tackle voter apathy

Edmonton youth organizing “vote mob” to tackle voter apathy

Ashley Valberg, Navneet Khinda, and Elizabeth Cytko are the organizers of the Edmonton Vote Mob taking place on April 30.

Linda Hoang, April 28, 2011

EDMONTON – In a coffee shop on Whyte Avenue, on a Wednesday afternoon, a trio of young women sit at a table near the window, chatting enthusiastically about politics.

The three political science students have spent two weeks putting together the “Edmonton Vote Mob,” a rally that more than 500 Edmontonians are expected to attend on Saturday.

It’s hard to believe this is the first time Elizabeth Cytko, Navneet Khinda, and Ashley Valberg are meeting.

But the three strangers were brought together by their passion for Canadian politics and their desire to ensure Edmonton youth take part in the “vote mob” sensation currently sweeping the nation.

“We (youth) are kind of ignored in politics,” said Valberg, who is a third year political science student at the University of Alberta Augustana Campus.

“We do have power in this country. We are the leaders of tomorrow. If we vote, it makes a difference.”

Valberg is putting her attitude and energy, which is shared by thousands of students across Canada, into an enthusiastic rally, or “vote mob,” promoting democracy, change, and the importance of voting.

“With the vote mob, it’s kind of raising the issue,” said Cytko, who will be entering her first year at the U of A in the fall, with the intention of majoring in political science.

“Youth are starting to click in, like, ‘oh it doesn’t have to be this way, I can have my say.'”

It began after a rant from Rick Mercer on March 29, when the comedian and political satirist made a plea to Canadian youth to exercise their right to vote during the 2011 Federal Election.

“If you are between the age of 18 and 25, and you want to scare the hell out of the people who run this country, this time around, do the unexpected,” Mercer urged. “Take 20 minutes out of your day and do what young people around the world are dying to do, vote.”

Days later, students at the University of Guelph accepted Mercer’s “challenge,” started the first youth vote mob of the election, and now Edmonton will be home to one of the last mobs before Election Day.

“It’s just about getting awareness out to the people, especially with the voter turnout that happened in the last election, which was awful,” said Khinda, who is a first year political science student at the U of A.

“It’s about getting people to know that there’s stuff that actually does matter and it’s worth it for you to take your time out and vote.”

But despite the country-wide hype, and apparent enthusiasm from students locally and afar, University of Alberta political scientist John Church says this election’s spurt of vote mobs won’t likely translate into actual votes on Election Day, and he’s not alone.

Pundits across the country have been sounding off on vote mobs and most share Church’s sentiment.

“I don’t think they’re happening in large enough numbers to really send a clear message and to mobilize that age group to get out and vote per se,” Church said.

“I think it’s a more sporadic, local, kind of response than it is a universal, viral response that’s well-organized across the country.”

But Church says seeing youth being politically engaged in this election is a positive sign, and a “good start.”

“It would be good to see that (vote mobs) become a regular part of electoral processes moving forward, if they can do that, they may be able to build some momentum,” he said.

The Edmonton Vote Mob begins at the U of A by the Rutherford Library at 1 p.m on Saturday.

Participants will march down 112 Street, onto Whyte Avenue, and end by the Old Strathcona Farmer’s Market.

“We would split up the mob into two groups, so one on each side of the street so hopefully we can get more attention like that,” Khinda explained.

Dressing in bright or outrageous outfits, bringing posters and making a lot of noise, are the only real requests the organizers are asking of participants. That and a healthy dose of cheering, chanting and maybe some dancing.

“I have one chant prepared. It’s ‘What do we want?’ ‘Democracy’ ‘When do we want it?’ ‘Now’,” Cytko said with a laugh.

“It’s a classic.”

Whether vote mobs will effectively reduce voter apathy, or lead to any other political change, organizers Khinda, Cytko and Valberg are remaining optimistic.

“I think it’s alerting politicians that the youth care and maybe next election they’ll say ‘oh maybe we should cater to the youth as well,'” Cykto said. “I’m not too sure how it will play out but I’m hoping it will play out with a lot more votes.”

“This is a great start,” said Valberg.


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