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Denied Brexit vote, teenagers protest in force

Isabel Stock | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:49 IST

As a 16-year-old from London, Brexit and its fallout has been a tremendous shock. As if being independent of the European Union (EU) isn't grave enough, the idea of Boris Johnson, a Donald Trump-esque figure, as Prime Minister is equally daunting.

Arguably, this decision was rushed and has divided the UK. The 'patriots' yearned to return to traditional British values - believing that leaving the EU would guarantee our beloved island's protection. Leave fanatics are fearful of the growing number of immigrants, and have used the prevailing fear of terrorism to further scapegoat migrants. However, those who wished to remain with the EU believe Britain's beauty is in its diversity.

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Members of the Remain side often brand their counterparts xenophobic, racist and overly patriotic. And their fears may just be coming true. A recent surge in hate crimes and racial abuse has been reported.

But rather than a fight between just insiders and outsiders, or simply Leave versus Remain, this vote has showcased a generational divide.

While the voting was close, with leave winning by a margin of 52% to 48%. The voting patterns for the different camps were very different. Statistics show that 64% of voters between the ages of 18-24 and 45% of voters aged 25-49 voted remain. On the contrary, 49% of people aged between 50-64 and 58% of those above 65 voted to leave.

Young people have termed the results an 'outright atrocity'. They have a point too. While the older bloc's vote determined the result, when polling data was used to predict the average number of years people would live with Brexit's consequences, the real losers were the young.

Those aged between 18-24 would have 69 years on average to live with the consequences, those between 25-29, 52, those from 50-64 just 31 and those over 65, a mere 16.

Both sides have received huge representation in the media, and rightly so. But there are other voices that simply haven't been heard. Or worse - ignored. Teenagers aged 16 to 18. My age group.

Since Brexit was first proposed, my Facebook feed consists of frantically written rants from my friends who've metamorphosed, seemingly overnight, into political pundits. They post their views, some quite nuanced, online and clearly feel very passionately about the referendum. So, the question is, if we are old enough to understand Brexit and are forced to live with our parents' decisions for 69-plus years - why can't we then vote?

With almost four million 15-19 year olds in the UK, constituting 6.3% of the population, perhaps our vote could have affected the Brexit result? Sadly, while Richard Branson has suggested lowering the voting age to 16, not too many others have given the issue any thought. But the idea isn't without merit.

In fact, to make just this point, teenagers have used social media to organize a protest outside the Houses of Parliament to demand a vote for those aged 16-17.

Catch spoke to the protest organisers to hear why they feel they deserve the vote. Isabel Anthony, a secondary school student in central London, came up with the idea on the day of the result because she 'felt wronged'.

After speaking to a friend, they agreed to protest and set up a Facebook page advertising their campaign. They decided to make the protest accessible to everyone by welcoming teenagers from all parties to participate.

It was a success too! Within days of the page's publication, the numbers grew. The day before the protest, 9,000 people had shown interest and 2,000 had confirmed their attendance. However, the final number at the protest was in the hundreds. Not quite two thousand, but still a good turnout.

Part of their turnout may have had to do with both the Young Labour and Socialist parties supporting the movement even as the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives kept away.

When asked why 16-17 year olds deserve a vote, Isabel said, "I believe we need a vote because the future are the future and this result will have the largest effect on our lives as we will have to grow up and live with the result.'

On being pressed further, Isabel had this to say: "At 16, we're expected to take serious exams that may affect our futures, choose A-levels that narrow down our university choices and career paths. We can join the army, marry, legally have sex and live independently from our parents. We are given power to decide our futures and asked to be smart with our decisions. If we can make these big decisions in our lives, then why not a decision like the EU.'

Isabel hopes people will pay attention to the movement, stating, "We want the government to hear our concerns - possibly internationally; we have the right to have our voices heard. If the Scottish allowed people aged 16-17 to vote, why couldn't we vote for Brexit?'

When asked about the future of her campaign, she assured Catch that "there will be more marches, letters to the government and separate parties...the march is not the end, it is the beginning."

Despite the overall success and the protestors' passionate approach, they fully accept that many are critical of the idea. Isabel acknowledges this, "I've been asked, if 16 year olds can vote, why not those aged 14-15? Where is the cut-off point!"

However, the criticism goes beyond this. Brexit focused majorly on taxpayer's money and finance within the EU. Most teenagers haven't yet chosen a career, don't have a steady income or have to suffer the burdens of economic upheaval directly. In this respect, their voices may thus be irrelevant.

Not only that, teenagers' understanding of economic and financial matters is also called into question. However, given the way a lot of the 'adults' were blindly swayed by Farage's comments on channelling EU funds to the NHS, one could argue that they don't quite understand economic or financial matters either.

Whether the protest is successful or not, what it will do is rekindle the debate on lowering the voting age. More importantly, especially with the turnout two 16-year-olds managed with just a Facebook page, it will remind the political class that the youth do have a voice and the future of the country ought to be heard.

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First published: 4 July 2016, 8:58 IST