Clare Sheppard: An Open Letter To My Generation


Dear My Generation,

The generation of low opportunity and lost potential. The generation of four years in university for a part time job in retail. The generation of working over 40 hours a week (if you’re one of the lucky ones) and living with your parents because you STILL can’t afford to move out. This is my message to you.

I write this letter to you on an unexpected day off. I was supposed to be working (at my second job because just one doesn’t pay the bills these days) today but lost the shift at the last minute because frankly there isn’t enough work to go round. I write it from my parents house, where I live once more at age 25 after 5 years in my own flat because even working every waking hour across several jobs and saving every penny I can, rent is so high and mortgage deposits are so difficult to save, I can’t afford to move back out again yet. I look back fondly to my four years of university when I thought the whole world was at my feet, dreaming of graduating and becoming a young professional.

One honours degree later, here I am, trying to cobble together a full time working week from a patchwork of zero hour minimum wage contracts, eating whatever Asda is selling that week for a pound. And I am not alone in this. My story is all too common. It is the story of Britain’s forgotten young adult.

We are being let down over and over again by our own government, by the people who are paid (tens of thousands of pounds by the way) to represent us and look after us. We are forgotten and ignored by those in power. Left to wallow in unemployment or working for minimum wage that doesn’t equal living wage, doing unpaid internships in the unlikely and naive hope it will lead to something more, left to the mercy of a slowly dwindling welfare system that will brand us as criminals and scroungers and thieves if we ever dare to need it. Crushed by an economic recession that we weren’t responsible for. And I have some bad news for you. Really, you’re not going to like hearing this, but it’s our own fault.

I get it. We lost faith in the political system. At best we can’t identify with the people working within it and at worst we flat out don’t trust them.   It does nothing for us so we disengaged.

I get it. Politics is hard. The issues are complicated and huge and often the questions don’t seem to have answers and for every one person that offers a solution there are ten more to tell you why they’re wrong. Figuring it out is difficult and time consuming and nobody seems to be giving a straight answer so we disengaged.

And I get it. Sometimes (often?) politics is kind of boring. A lot of it seems kind of dull and most of it doesn’t seem to directly affect or relate to you. You’re not a farmer, so farming subsidies don’t affect you at all, so why bother? Stuff that doesn’t seem to directly affect us is hard to care about so we disengage.

But here’s the thing. It ALL affects us in some way or another and it’s time we engaged.

We’ve been overcome by apathy and hopelessness and somewhere along the line this mistakenly convinced us that feeling powerless is the same as having no power. But we do!

We have let ourselves be forgotten because we stopped caring. Or stopped seeing the point in trying. And we don’t even know some of the harms being done us because we’re not going to the trouble of finding out and they are certainly not going to tell us. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t being harmed and that doesn’t mean it’s not wrong. If I punch you in your sleep your face will still hurt in the morning whether you noticed it happen or not. We are essentially being date raped by our own government and we’re roofying ourselves.

And it has to stop. It’s time to stop feeling sorry for ourselves. It’s time to escape the never ending cycle of of eat, sleep, job search, repeat. It’s time to stop letting our lives be dictated by people who care more about their pay rises, second homes and tax subsidies for their rich pals than our needs. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to get involved.

Because here’s the thing, our political system may be rubbish in a lot of ways, but right now it’s the only one we’ve got and ignoring it won’t make it go away. If we want something to change, we have to make it change. We have to get involved. Infiltrate the system and work it from the inside. Become such a powerful force and speak with a voice so loud we cannot be ignored and our needs must be met. And the way to do it is laughably easy.

We have to vote.

It’s easy. Just like you do for the X-Factor. If you like exercising your democratic right to change the life of one person whose single you might quite like to buy one Christmas, imagine how cool it will be to change the life of everyone in the whole country. Our politicians are our X-Factor contestants and if they want to stay in the game they have to sing the songs we like.

Right now, most of the people in power are, if not exclusively the rich white male Etonian elite, by and large, fairly wealthy with an average age of 50. And they’re being elected by people with an average age of 49, and, excluding the 40 something’s, more 63 year old voters than any other age.

This means one very simple thing. When it comes to self preservation, the way to remain in politics is to cater to the needs of those who keep you in power: your wealthy funders and the older voters who choose the government. Listen to what the older, richer people want and give them it.

And us younger voters? We’re in the minority at the ballot box so, to put it simply, what we want doesn’t matter because completely ignoring us will have no detrimental effect on the politicians at all. The way democracy should work, if they upset us, we vote them out. But we’re not voting, so they can do whatever they like to us safe in the knowledge we won’t do anything about it.

But we can. And it’s time we do.

Vote. Vote every chance you get. General elections, European elections, local council elections… always vote. Fellow Scots, make sure you get out there and vote in the referendum. Whatever your vote, use it. Don’t be caught out. Get on that voters register. Make sure any time ANYONE is given the power to speak for you you have a say in who that person is. If enough of us do it, we will matter!

I don’t care who you vote for. That’s up to you to decide. Know what you believe in, know what you want and vote for the people who will give you those things. Find out what different parties stand for and vote for the ones who stand for you.

Watch the news. Read the papers. Find out what’s going on out there. I promise you’ll be shocked at some of the things that happen in your name. I know sometimes it’s really depressing, but avoiding it doesn’t mean the sad things don’t happen. Then isn’t it better to feel sad for a bit then try and change it? Stand up for the vulnerable by voting for people who will protect them. For the love of God don’t believe everything you hear or read. Ask questions. If something seems fishy, dig deeper. If you don’t like something, find out more. Find out who’s responsible and hold them to account. Read widely. See what different sources say about things, the internet is a beautiful beautiful thing and there’s so much more on it than funny pictures of cats. All the information is out there. Find it. Use it.

Our democracy is dying. Some people would say it’s already dead. Our politicians are getting away with anything they want because they think nobody notices what they’re doing. They don’t represent our interests because they think we don’t care. So start caring, Britain. At least try and fix it! Hold your politicians to account and make them work for you. It won’t happen overnight and there’s a lot of work still to be done but the first step is easy. All we have to do is vote. Pay attention and vote. That’s it. Let them know, across every single party, if we don’t like what they do, they’re gone. It’s not difficult but it does need all of us, every single one. Unless you are in the white, male elite, at some point in history someone fought for your vote. You don’t even have to fight for it. Just use it.

Impotent anger is getting us nowhere. Young voters, we are letting the side down. We’re smart. We have so many opinions and so much energy,  let’s use it, and let’s use it wisely.

All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. And all it takes for the elite to oppress us is for the majority to do the same.

18-25 year olds, there are about 6 million of us out there. Tell me that number can’t make a difference.

So vote.

Tell your friends to vote. Tell everyone you know. Share this letter, recruit an army of voters so large our politicians have no choice but to cater to us.

Politicians, you might not have heard us up until now, but hear this: We deserve better. We are young, we are angry and we are coming for you.

Lots of love,

Clare  Sheppard

National Collective