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23 June 2016

I am a 28 year old Londoner – born and bred – and a first generation British Asian. My dad moved over here from Uganda and my mum joined him from India after they got married. For the past 6 years I’ve been working for a youth charity called London Youth – so you could say “London” remains a huge part of who I am and what I do day to day. I really care about what happens here in the capital and what it means for me and others so that we can get the best out of this incredible city. So of course I voted in last month’s London Mayoral elections.

But now we are faced with another big question: to remain in the European Union or to leave?

When it comes to the EU, it wasn’t really something I’d ever thought much about before. Other than loving the fact I could travel to different countries easily for my holidays and without the extra admin and cost of getting a visa. But now – as I’m sure is the case for many – faced with a decision that could change things – whether for the better or not, and one that is likely to be permanent – I find myself actually caring more about decision-making beyond the UK.

I’ve always been a keen voter and champion for ensuring people have their say; in fact it’s something I support young people to do now through my current job. By teaming up with Bite the Ballot we’ve been encouraging young people to register to vote and also better understand what they are voting for. Only last week we supported Zak from our youth advisory board Dare London to host a Decafe at his local Starbucks to encourage discussions around the EU Referendum. Zak says: “Since the DeCafe session I have become a lot more comfortable getting involved with EU referendum events…It is important that young people are empowered to engage with Politics, because it gives us a chance to experience situations out of our comfort zone and opportunities to spread knowledge to our communities and peers.” We need to help everyone feel engaged and motivated like this!

And I extend this same motivation towards my family, even if they don’t want it.

Let’s take my older brother for example. He didn’t vote in the London Mayoral elections because it clashed with other priorities (i.e. gym in the morning before work and a date later that night) which meant our local polling station would be closed when he was free. And in all honesty, he just didn’t feel his vote would make a significant difference either way – not enough to warrant missing the gym for. Of course I gave him a lot of slack for this attitude! But now, at a time when we are on the brink of potential separation from a partnership of over 40 years within the European Union – something neither of us had really thought too much about until now – I’ve never seen my big brother more engaged or interested in talking about politics, and he’s genuinely motivated to vote.

When I asked him why, he said: “Because it affects me through my business. What happens today will affect my kids’ lives. In the London one I knew Sadiq would win. This one, it feels close and so I want to vote so I can say I have done it to help the final outcome.”

I suspect my brother’s way of thinking isn’t too different to how many people feel across the UK. But why is it that people feel more empowered now ahead of the EU referendum – feeling that their individual vote will make more of a difference – than they’ve done in elections closer to home, about electing key representatives specifically in London or across the wider UK?

For many, including myself, it’s because this referendum isn’t about which party or specific representative you want to win. It’s much bigger than this and will have an impact on us all right now and those around us for decades to come. Can you really afford to sit back and say nothing? No.

So irrespective of whether you decide to put an X in the box for remain or leave today, just make sure you turn up to the polling station and do one of those things. It’s finally time to give your answer.