Mon, May 02, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Youth-led Internet campaigns step up before Canadian poll

AFP, MONTREAL

Initially derided by pundits as boring and unnecessary, Canada’s election campaign has unleashed a flurry of online, youth-led political activity showing no signs of abating before today’s polls.

More young people are following the election thanks to a proliferation of “vote mobs” — university student gatherings that are filmed and uploaded onto YouTube — encouraging young people to vote.

The events are organized through Facebook and Twitter and are intended to tackle Canada’s abysmal voter turnout among young people aged 18 to 24. In 2008, just a third of eligible voters in that bracket cast their ballots.

A vote mob staged earlier this month on the bilingual campus of the University of Ottawa featured students boldly dressed in red and white — Canada’s national colors — cheering, running, prancing and brandishing posters that extolled the virtues of the democratic process.

“Today I Realized People Are Dying For Democracy. I Am Voting For Mine,” a poster read. The upbeat gathering was filmed and posted on YouTube, against the music of British pop singer Mika singing We Are Young. Nearly 40 vote mobs staged across Canada have swept the Web hoping to persuade young people to head to polling stations today.

On Saturday, a vote mob was planned in London, Ontario, inviting students from the University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College to attend.

In tandem with social media, Web sites such as the independent, youth-led advocacy organization leadnow.ca are encouraging students to join the vote wave.

Jamie Biggar, co-founder of leadnow.ca, which features vote mob videos, said the online mobilization provides “ways for people to have their voices heard and to feel some ownership over this election and over our politics.”

The online engagement that has preceded this election is nothing short of a phenomenon, according to renowned political activist Judy Rebick.

“There’s been a massive citizens’ campaign. I’ve never seen anything like it,” the Ryerson University professor said.

“Not since the 1988 election have I seen so much citizen action completely independent from the party,” he said.

“Young people are having fun. They’re creative. It’s inspiring,” Rebick added.

Some of the online political campaigns target Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a Conservative. Project Democracy and Catch 22 Campaign are anti-Conservative strategic voting sites that have caught on in recent weeks.

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