As the news has been telling us for months, this is the most important General Election of a generation. I voted a few weeks ago using my postal vote. I live in a very safe seat and it is almost guaranteed that the previous MP will keep his seat. Regardless, I voted for a different party because I know my vote is important. The candidate I voted for is not going to be MP but I agreed with the policies they stand for and that is why I voted for them.
I spent my gap year volunteering at a school in very rural KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. I lived with a local Zulu family, well educated and prosperous by local standards. Whilst I was there, an election was held. It was only a decade since all citizens in SA had been able to vote and my family took it incredibly seriously, discussing policies over dinner and considering local, regional and national angles. I was 18 and hadn't yet been able to vote, but I remembering feeling how little I knew about politics in my own country.
Election Day was pretty much a party. Women got dressed up to go to the polling stations, party banners and flags were waved and it was a big social occasion. For most of the adults voting, it was one of the first times they'd been allowed to do so and pretty much all of them clearly remembered living under the apartheid regime.
I shared a room with a 15 year old, who was born during apartheid. I asked her if she was looking forward to voting in a few years as I knew I was. She said no, she didn't see how it would make a difference. I pointed out how excited her parents were to be voting, how women a century or so ago had died in my country so I could vote and how men, women and children in her country had died in the fight for equality in her lifetime. She shrugged her shoulders.
The ANC (Nelson Mandela's party) won and there was great rejoicing when the vote was announced. There had been fears the Inkatha Freedom Party would be elected locally, but pretty much everywhere near me was ANC. Talk of the election and its result went on for days and I genuinely knew more about SA politics than I did about that of the UK.
I like to think my 'sister' was just showing a bit of teenage apathy, and that she has since voted when eligible. It clearly meant so much to the rest of the community and it was the first time I'd really stopped to think about the power of voting.
I live in a country where I am able to freely vote for whoever I want. It's no effort, a card comes in the post and I just pop down to my very local polling station (or just send back my postal vote). I don't have to camp out for days, or take time off work, or walk for miles to reach a polling station. I am incredibly lucky and that is why I have voted today.
I really hope everyone else does, too.