From the Toronto Sun:
Politicians don’t speak to city’s twenty-somethings
By: Rachel Sa
Mention the municipal election in a room full of twenty-somethings and you’ll hear a chorus of crickets chirping. You may even see a tumbleweed drift by.
The youth vote is notoriously difficult to mobilize. My peers vote in appallingly low numbers. But is youth an excuse?
At 29, I have every reason to be engaged in this election. Like my friends and neighbours, I live in this city, pay taxes, ride the TTC and access services.
So why do my eyes glaze over whenever one of our leading candidates appears? Moreover, why do so many of my peers feel the same way?
Enter 34-year-old James Di Fiore. He’s a senior copywriter and freelance journalist — and he’s running for mayor.
You probably haven’t heard of him. He is one of the 34 candidates vying for the city’s top job, and one of the so-called fringe candidates who remain largely off the public radar as the frontrunners jostle for the spotlight.
Di Fiore caught my attention with his campaign goal: To break through the apathy of young voters. No small feat.
He notes that, in the last election, just one in five voters younger than 40 cast a ballot. Pathetic.
“I don’t think young people have ownership when it comes to apathy” he says. “In fact, it’s the older generations who are apathetic when it comes to reaching out to youth.”
Di Fiore believes one major answer to why the under-40 set remain unengaged is simple: The candidates aren’t talking to us.
“The general consensus is that politicians don’t want the youth to vote. If they did, they would talk to us. If they did, then guys like Rob Ford would be campaigning at keg parties and Rocco Rossi would show up to DJ an event in the entertainment district,” Di Fiori says. “Instead of getting to know us, they’re using tactics that were around when Alf was still on TV.”
Funny, but is it a cop out? After all, this is municipal politics. How sexy can it get? And when you’re not a teenager anymore, isn’t it time to pay attention to some of the “grown up” issues like taxes, development and transit?
Di Fiore believes that engaging youth doesn’t have to be about catering to youth-specific issues, but about how candidates reach out.
“Even the community organizations that try to engage us, they mean well, but they come off sounding like after-school specials.”
The front-running candidates are like Walkmans, he says. Our generation wants the iPod touch.
So, then, is it just about how we package the issues and ideas? I like to think we young’uns aren’t so shallow.
“It goes deeper than wanting new packaging,” Di Fiore says. “We, the youth, are the stewards of technology and innovation — we’re the generation born with the Nintendo in our hands. We have a more heightened awareness of issues like the environment. So we’re creating the ideas and pushing things forward, then we’re not given a seat at the political table.”
It’s that innovation and forward thinking that Di Fiore believes young potential voters crave and are not getting from the frontrunners.
“We can’t keep looking to 20th century solutions for 21st century problems …” Di Fiore pauses. “Oh, man, that really made me sound like a politician, didn’t it?”
It did. But that’s okay.
Di Fiore is realistic about his chances of winning: None. But a win is not his ultimate goal.
“I want to be a catalyst,” he says. “I want young people to vote. If they cast a ballot and it’s not for me, then the greater good was served.”
But the only way to get the politicians speaking to us is to let them know we’re here — and we’re listening.