Students have enough going on: combining work, study, other activities and a little bit of free time. But there we were, because we don’t feel heard or understood. Great that we’re getting 1,000 euros in compensation because we were part of the student loan system, but what about the tens of thousands of euros in study debt we’re being left with? We’re the ones that need to solve the climate crisis. The Covid pandemic hit us hard. I love my city, but can I still live there in ten years’ time? The problems, internationally, nationally and locally, which were created by previous generations, are being passed on to young people. If we don’t act quickly, I don’t know whether they can be resolved.
Soon, we will have another chance to do something. On 14, 15 and 16 March, the municipal council elections are being held. The municipal council is the highest governing body in a municipality. In Rotterdam, there are currently 45 council members, thirteen parties and seven committees. That’s a lot, but this is a big city. Your vote has an impact on the city and its policy. The municipal council addresses important local issues like housing, green and transport. Young people already have the vote: if you are 16 and over, you can vote for the district council. From the age of 18, you can vote for the municipal council (that also applies to students from other EU countries!). If we do that in the next elections, we will ensure that there is enough representation in the council for young Rotterdammers. Rotterdam is a diverse city, but there’s still a lot to do with respect to inclusion. That was a very important reason why I am running for GroenLinks (number 5 on the list).
For the last elections in 2018, voter turnout was 46.7 percent. So, over half of the city didn’t vote. Why not? Were you too busy? Don’t you find politics interesting? That’s possible, of course, but perhaps there’s an underlying problem: perhaps you never learned that your vote matters and what your vote can mean for your future? It’s a huge privilege to grow up in an environment where you are encouraged to think about social problems and where you are motivated to contribute to the solutions. If all young people were taught this fact early on, there would be more than 7 percent of young people in the municipal council in the Netherlands. Maybe, then young people aged between 18 and 24 would not often be the category which votes least. Then students at university, higher professional education and secondary vocational education would also get the opportunity to have their voices heard.
OK, you’ve got your vote, what now? There are easy ways to learn more about the elections, such as election podcasts like KiesAdvies or Young010. Vers Beton, Stem op een Vrouw or Stem op een Jongere are definitely worth checking out. For international students, Erasmus Magazine writes about the elections in English as well. Filling in voting guides (the Rotterdam StemWijzer voting guide appeared on 16 February) and reading the party manifestos are also useful ways to learn about the differences. In the coming weeks, there will also be plenty of debates, like the one in the Erasmus Pavilion where I will be.
Perhaps you are starting to feel curious, and you want to be more active. If so, register with the local department of a party (or its youth party). You can then talk about subjects that are important to you, contribute to writing the next manifestos, and often there are fun activities too. That’s how I started – I felt I wasn’t represented, so in 2017 I decided to visit the campaign building with a pack of biscuits and soon you can vote for me.
To me, it’s clear: we obviously can’t build on previous generations, because they aren’t building for us. That has again been demonstrated by the news that we are going to dismantle an historic bridge, De Hef, so that a superyacht can pass through, solely for the enjoyment of the super-rich. We will need to take matters into our own hands and for that we need a place in the decision-making process. If you make time to demonstrate, why not make time to tell your friends and family about what concerns young people. Tell them that they can vote on 14, 15 or 16 March and that they will then be contributing to a better future. Know that your vote matters and know that if we, young people, don’t make a stand, we won’t be seen. If you don’t vote, you leave the decisions to others. Take control.