Sumra: Young Americans should learn from Brexit that voting is essential

Eish Sumra, Op-Ed Contributor

The author of this op-ed is currently studying abroad in Paris.

The night of the Brexit vote, I fell asleep to the news that Britain would be leaving the EU and, like other Brits, had no idea what would happen next. I woke up the following morning and discovered our prime minister planned to resign, and the pound had dropped to one of its lowest points in the last three decades. America may not have felt a cataclysmic shift in global politics, but it surely hit me, hard. Young Americans should look to the results of Brexit as a warning about the danger of deciding not to vote in the U.S. presidential race.

In the weeks before and after Brexit, hate crimes surged across the country, with an average of more than 200 per day reported, according to the BBC. Before Brexit, I had rarely seen xenophobia in Europe. But in the last weeks, while studying in Paris, I have been called a “Paki” in a pub in London, had a restaurant owner shout “Pakistan” at me while walking down a street in Brussels (despite the fact that I’m Indian) and almost was refused entry into an academic building in Paris until my white classmate confirmed that I was indeed a student, as if my ID card was not enough. These experiences have showed me the increasing ostracization minority communities face today, proving the dangerous implications of giving in to the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that some “leave” supporters displayed throughout their campaign.

Both social and political representation have been harmed in the wake of Brexit, with only two people of color among the new cabinet ministers. New policies, outlined at the recent Conservative Party conference, revealed a shift toward isolationism, with the government planning to monitor companies with foreign employees and cut back on visas for foreign students. These policies ignore how vital immigrants and their families are to Western economies. Foreign students bring over £4 billion to the UK economy each year and 20 percent of the UK’s 100 richest people are at least second-generation immigrants, with Sikh and Jewish households being the wealthiest in the country. Despite this, foreigners are now being used as bargaining chips to appease a small majority. This is a shameful, regressive move from a country that used to be a bastion of Western progression. America can easily avoid the same mistakes that my country made, but the support for Donald Trump and his hateful dialogue is example enough of the potential for America following Britain’s treacherous path.

It might be tempting to blame the older generation for the results of Brexit, with 73 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds and 62 percent of 25 to 34-year-olds voting to stay. But in fact, young people had the lowest turnout of all age groups, with the turnout reaching 80 percent for people over the age of 55. The fact that young people stayed home instead of exercising their civic duty might have been a deciding factor in the “Leave” campaign’s success.

I know a shocking amount of American students who are refusing to vote because they see their vote as “pointless” and “immaterial.” This is not democratic. Seeing that the difference between the remain and leave side on June 24 was only a million votes was heartbreaking; my own friends and family contributed to that deficit by choosing not to vote.

You might dislike both major party candidates for president, but hateful dialogue is being weaponised across the Western world, and young Americans can take a stand against it at the ballot box. The power and strength of immigrants and their families is unrivalled and irreplaceable, and young people must vote to reiterate their promise of freedom and respect.

Eish Sumra is a Medill junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.