"Trying to 'change the system' isn’t effective if we just tap out of it - we need to have our voices heard."

Raven Maeder | student campaigner | Nelson

I’m extremely lucky to have grown up in a family of social justice and environmental activists. Even as a baby, I was strapped into my bicycle seat and taken along to critical mass demonstrations. This strong activist influence taught me the importance of always standing up for things that are important to me, and against things that I consider to be wrong.

Growing up in Nelson, a lot of my childhood was spent adventuring in beautiful places like the Abel Tasman and the wild West Coast of the South Island. Seeing these beautiful places threatened by things like Deep Sea Oil Drilling and open-cast mining, gave me a huge sense of responsibility to stand up and protect these places that are so deeply important to me, for all current and future generations.

This passion for protecting the environment was reinforced by an amazing experience in 2012, when I attended Powershift, Aotearoa’s first youth climate summit. This summit saw almost 1000 young people from all over the pacific come together to learn about the impacts of climate change in each others’ communities, the solutions and the power that young people have to be part of these solutions. After having felt a bit disempowered and unsure of my ability to affect change as a young person in my community, this experience was a shining light of hope, and like many others after that event, I went back to my community and started taking action.

Throughout my high school years I was involved in many environmental action groups, actions and summits, but by the time I got to university I started feeling somewhat disenchanted because even though there are so many amazing people working on awesome things all around Aotearoa and the world, it seemed like we still weren’t making any big dents in the massive issues that face our society and our world today; climate change, growing inequality, a mental health epidemic… it felt like the reality I saw among my activist friends, whānau and my peers, just wasn’t translating into our political reality.

After lots of discussions about this with friends, I realised that even though activism, campaigning and grass-roots action is an incredibly important and effective way to make change, it’s not enough on its own and voting and other more formal modes of democratic engagement is crucial if we want to influence big system change. Unfortunately, these are the things that young people often feel locked out of most because the lack of comprehensive civics education in schools means that we are not taught how and why to engage in our democracy. The system is rigged against youth participation because it isn’t where we are and doesn’t feel or look representative of us.

Realising this showed me the importance of engaging in politics across all spheres. Active citizenship isn’t just voting every three years, but it also isn’t just activism. Trying to “change the system” isn’t effective if we just tap out of it. We need to have our voices heard by politician’s in a currency that really motivates them – votes.

This election is the first time that I can vote, and I am genuinely super excited! I see voting as an opportunity to use my power in our democracy, a power that was fought for by generations before me, to stand up for the issues I care about – real action on climate change, protection of our natural taonga, reducing poverty and inequality, and addressing the mental health crisis facing our country, among other things. That is the kind of Aotearoa that I want to live in, and I will stand for that at a protest, and at the ballot box.

Young people are not selfish, disconnected or lazy. I have seen so many young people engage in politics in so many different and inspiring ways. We do care. We care about our communities, about the future of Aotearoa, about each other, about creating a more vibrant, inclusive and sustainable society.

Young people are voters and we have so much power. Let’s use it!


Disclaimer: This blog is a platform for students to voice their views and opinions to encourage healthy and non-abusive discussion.  The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations.


Author: Jessica Reeves