Caro Loutfi. Photo by Helena Valles

The youth vote is critical in this election — and every election

Apathy Is Boring executive director Caro Loutfi on the challenge of mobilizing the largest segment of the electorate.

On its website, Apathy Is Boring states that it is “a non-partisan, charitable organization that supports and educates youth to be active and contributing citizens in Canada’s democracy.” As you’d expect of the executive director of such an organization, Caro Loutfi prides herself on being “someone who gives a shit.” As we’re careening towards a federal election whose results will affect young people in this country for years to come, it made perfect sense to talk to her about the state of affairs. So I did.

Dave Jaffer: Generally speaking, who are you?

Caro Loutfi: Well, put simply, I’m someone who gives a shit.

I’m a first generation immigrant, born and raised in Montreal. My father immigrated to Canada from Beirut during the civil war, and my mother moved here after being born and raised in Takaoka, a small town in rural Japan. I was finishing my undergraduate degree in art history at Concordia University and was waitressing when I took on a paid summer internship at Apathy Is Boring. A year and a half later, I took on the leadership role and I’ve been the executive director for the last four and a half years. While working with the Apathy Is Boring team, I’ve been lucky to make a dent on issues in my community and country. 

DJ: What is the mandate of Apathy Is Boring? 

CL: Apathy is Boring works to engage youth in Canada’s democracy. This is not only critical for democracy itself, it’s essential if our democracy is to be responsive to the diverse realities of youth today. We’re a non-partisan, youth-led charitable organization with three programs.

Our Rise program is a nationwide community-organizing program that trains and educates youth on how to make a difference in their communities, through community-level projects. Our Vote program works to increase youth civic engagement and voter turnout at all levels of government. We provide educational resources and conduct outreach to get young people informed and ready to vote. Our Youth-Friendly Program gives organizations, institutions and government the concrete tools they need to engage youth in decision-making. 

DJ: How long have you been at Apathy Is Boring, and how have you seen it grow during your time there?

CL: I’ve been at Apathy Is Boring for about six years, and seen a lot of change in that time both internally in the organization, but also externally in terms of the global geopolitical landscape, and how democracy and civic engagement is viewed among young people. 

Internally, we went through a review process to ensure we were relevant to youth culture and civic issues today. This led to new and updated programs and ultimately to our team size growing four-fold [and] running programs from coast to coast to coast.

Externally, democracy and civic engagement is starting to be cool again, which it wasn’t six years ago. I attribute this as a reaction to the rise of populism and the increasing polarization on social media, which is bringing politics to the forefront of our everyday lives. Young people have always cared, but they are starting to recognize the power of engaging with our formal institutions on addressing the systemic oppressions and inequalities our communities and country face.

DJ: To what do you attribute the organization’s growth?

CL: I attribute our growth to a number of significant factors but above all else to the people that work day in and day out to move our mission forward. 

Stephanie. Samantha. DJ. Heather. Jamie. Camille. Rebecca. Celeste. Miley. Andrew. Taharima. Francesca. Phil. Jackie. Brenagh. Melika. Noelle. Jessica. Niamh. Elana. Alex. Alexander. Sarah. Ashley. Mohammad. 

And I could go on [to include] all our current and past superstar board members, staff, interns, volunteers, participants, donors and partners. 

DJ: What are your/AIB’s aims in re: the upcoming Federal Elections? How are you going about trying to satisfy those aims?

CL: We’re running our largest-ever non-partisan get out the vote campaign for this upcoming federal election, both a digital campaign and a ground game to get young people informed and out to vote on Oct. 21.

The digital campaign is about providing resources and tools to help youth get informed ahead of the election. We cover everything from how our [first past the post] voting system works, to how to navigate disinformation online. And of course, we’re working with partners like Instagram and Bumble to create social peer pressure to get you and your friends out to vote.

Our ground game involves volunteer-led street teams, going to festivals and concerts, many of them in partnership with Plus1, asking youth to vote. We’re also doing community events, table topics, where we send you a box of free food with a democracy menu to talk about the election with your friends, and election viewing parties among other activities. 

DJ: What facts and statistics regarding young people in Canada stick out as the most important for everyone in Canada to know?

CL: Youth 18–34 are the largest segment of the voting population this election, making up over a quarter of the electorate (26.5 per cent of electors). We have the potential to have a significant impact this election.

Young people in Canada are also the most diverse generation our country has seen. Marketers, government, parents are often trying to understand us as one cohort — but there is no one-size-fits-all young person. In partnership with the Environics Institute, we conducted a study where we identified six different groups of youth and organized them based on whether or not they are civically engaged, and what their motivations are. Half of us are interested in politics (52 per cent), and the other half are not (48 per cent), and there is a correlation between education level and stated interest in politics. Apathy Is Boring therefore has different strategies to engage youth depending on who we’re trying to reach.   

We also did a study with Abacus data which found that [57 per cent of young people 18–30] hear about major news events through non-traditional sources including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and word of mouth, [and] 55 per cent also describe seeing deliberate disinformation once a week on social media. This is more of an issue this election than in previous ones, and a new area of focus for us.

Studies both in Canada and the U.S. have shown that simply asking a young person to get out and vote increases their likelihood by 10 per cent. That’s why we prioritize face-to-face engagement.

DJ: What are the biggest misconceptions older people in Canada have about young people?

CL: It’s not that young people don’t care, it’s an issue of action not attitude, and how youth are choosing to be heard. Youth have been choosing informal venues to be heard, which includes protesting, social media movements and community organizing, to name a few. Apathy is Boring thinks that’s great, but we’re working to ensure that they also engage with our formal institutions on the issues they care about, which involves voting and holding your elected representatives accountable.

As I mentioned, Canadian youth are diverse — we don’t all vote the same way or necessarily care about the same issues. Recognize that we’re talking about over 7 million people, located in different parts of this country from urban to rural, to southern and northern communities, with different values and beliefs. ■

See Cult MTL’s 2019 federal election guide, featuring a breakdown of all the party platform (minus PPC), here.

See a two-part article arguing for and against strategic voting in this election here.