Even yesterday, I saw posts and heard IRL conversations from people still undecided as to how to vote in today’s EU referendum, in some cases physical anxiety over whether their view might be the wrong one, in some cases saying they shouldn’t be voting at all because they don’t feel knowledgeable enough or confident enough. I’ve heard this stuff mostly (though not exclusively) from women, and in particular the anxiety/mental health side of things is really affecting a lot of people in a group I’m in for autistic women, and that makes me really sad given that marginalised groups such as these are likely to be hardest hit by any negative consequences of the referendum.
First things first – this isn’t really why I wanted to write this post, but for the record. I will be voting Remain. I’m not going to go into all the ins and outs of why – there are some brilliant summaries available elsewhere – but I’ll attempt a quick summary. Firstly, because of the many and varied protections and benefits the EU provides, ranging from legislation protecting workers’ rights to funding schemes such as Erasmus (my year studying abroad taught me things I could never have learned from textbooks) – sure, technically we could participate in some of that stuff without being in the EU, but given the current government is relentlessly cutting funding and disregarding the rights of everyone but themselves, in reality we wouldn’t. Secondly, the immediate economic effect would hit the poorest, most vulnerable people hardest and would probably be used to justify further austerity – not everyone can afford to take the risk of just waiting for eventual recovery. Thirdly, and most importantly, regardless of individual reasons for voting Leave, I think a win for Leave would be taken as a win for the toxic racist rhetoric of the likes of UKIP and Britain First, and that is absolutely not the route I want this (or any) country to go down.
Having said that, why I really wanted to write this post is that the majority of official and unofficial campaigning tends not to consider some of the people I spoke about above – it assumes an abled, neurotypical audience, it assumes people are able to jump right on board and share views on command, it assumes people aren’t already overwhelmed by the conflicting and often judgmental and aggressive things bombarding them from all sides. On that note:
- Please vote if you can – young people in particular are often underrepresented, marginalised groups generally are often underrepresented, it’s okay to not feel completely confident in your choice (see below) and, unlike general elections where you vote within a particular constituency where the result may already be certain, your vote in the referendum counts as much as anyone else’s. BUT do not shame people who can’t – some people are disabled, some cannot physically access a polling station, some may try to leave the house and then have a debilitating panic attack, some people cannot register to vote due to their immigration status or because their details on the electoral roll would leave them at risk of abuse, not everyone has an available proxy and not all of these issues are predictable enough for “just get a postal vote” to be the solution. Politics goes beyond the ballot box, and those who cannot contribute today might still be able to contribute in other ways tomorrow and beyond.
- It’s important to do some research, not least because both sides have used misleading “facts” and newspapers have been biased as ever – BUT (and I’m particularly talking to women here, although this does apply to everyone) it’s okay not to know everything. I don’t think anybody does. Seriously, three weeks ago I sat a university final exam in EU law and part of me still feels like I’m not quite qualified enough to be writing this. I find it so frustrating that some people have expressly asked around for unbiased sources and have clearly done their research but still feel an overpowering surge of panic and self-doubt about going to vote, whilst other people have made up their minds very confidently on the basis of a couple of newspaper headlines and Facebook memes. To be honest, if you’re even worrying “what if I’m wrong?” you’ve probably put a lot more thought into this than some people who will be voting today, and you have just as much of a right to express your view in the ballot box as anybody else.
- As mentioned above, this isn’t like a general election and every vote really does count, so do speak up where you can – BUT it’s okay not to be constantly on the defence in situations you don’t feel safe or comfortable in. If you’re not normally someone who can get through difficult interactions without panicking or shutting down or maintaining coherent speech and so on, that isn’t going to change just because there’s a referendum. If you’re in a situation where abuse is a factor, your safety is the most important thing to consider. And at the end of the day, everyone has their own free will – campaigning and persuading does make a huge difference, but at the same time, if this doesn’t go the way you want it to, it’s not solely your fault for not confronting that one person who shared a horribly inaccurate Facebook post the other day.
- It’s okay to feel anxious. Believe me, I do, and there are so many people who would be affected far more badly than me. At the very least, in just a few hours, all the campaigning and arguing and the pressure will be over. As I’ve said, I hope the result will be Remain and we can put this whole chaotic mess behind us tomorrow. If the result is Leave, as bad as the consequences may be, it’s not necessarily the end of the world – we can still fight austerity, we can still fight oppression, we can still fight the hatred that has been stirred up, we can still fight for fundamental rights. Again, politics goes beyond the ballot box.