Back in the 1770s, Great Britain dominated the American conversation. After all, the colonies were trying to break free of their mother country and fight for their independence! Funnily enough, now in 2016, Great Britain is back in the American public eye again, and it has to do with independence—but in a much different sense from the United States breaking ties with King George.
By now you’ve likely heard about “Brexit” (“British Exit”)—the United Kingdom’s referendum to exit the European Union. There’s been all sorts of stories coming out about how the vote was tied to anti-immigration sentiment, how some who voted to leave are getting cold feet, and how the vote may not even be binding (as a referendum is not a binding vote). As an American who isn’t planning on living in England—unless I do a study abroad program there during college, which is certainly a possibility—I don’t have that much of a stake in what’s happening. I’ve also only ever visited the “European Union” once when I went to Poland during our senior trip. But of course there are consequences to “Brexit” that either affect me in some way or that bother me. I’m not going to say “Brexit was wrong” or “Brexit was right,” but I do want to say that “Brexit is troubling.”
First off, there’s a reason why I feel I can comment on Brexit even as an American citizen. Given that the future of Europe is in the balance, financial markets around the world are all hanging in the balance as well with the Brexit vote. People are nervous about their investments, given that even the U.S. stock market has been falling after the vote. Right now it doesn’t seem as if we’re facing financial disaster just yet, but we’re still on shaky ground. Thus, Brexit may actually affect me and/or people I know in a financial sense.
(My heart goes out to those who have already been affected financially by the Brexit vote, particularly since the pound dropped immensely in value. CNBC said the pound reached a “31-year low of $1.3224” on Friday, June 24.)
After the results came in, it became clear that many of those who voted to leave the European Union were among the older generations, while many of the voters who voted to stay were among the younger generations—including those my age. According to TIME Magazine, for instance, “Across the U.K., polls showed that only about 19 percent of people between the ages of 18 and 24 supported a British exit—the Brexit—from the E.U. Among pensioners, who came of age before the E.U. was created, a staggering 59 percent wanted their country to leave.” It almost seems ironic that the older generations—which could be stereotyped as stagnant—voted to change the status quo, whereas the younger generation—which could be seen as the iconoclasts—wanted to keep things as they are. I know that it was a democratic vote, and that every voter’s voice counted. But I wish that the young population could’ve had more of a say in its future. They’re the ones who will have to live with the consequences of the exit from the EU, and they’re the ones who will need to figure out how to move forward into the future even as this all unravels. Yet, it’s also sad that relatively few young people voted: according to The Independent, only 36 percent of British 18-24-year-olds voted. Perhaps some thought that Britain wouldn’t leave or that their voices wouldn’t matter, but had more young people voted, things might have been different…
(As a side note, I know that immigration and EU rules played a major role in the whole Brexit debacle. I don’t know enough about those fraught topics to comment on them; from the bit I’ve heard, however, it’s not enough to convince me that it was for sure the right choice for Britain to exit.)
What strikes me the most, even though I do understand it, is that many people who voted got cold feet when they found out the result of the vote. I’ve read that there’s a petition to hold another referendum on breaking away from the EU, and that “more than a few Bremorsers [sic] voice regret over their vote for Leave, in the wake of the financial and political chaos unleashed on the U.K.” (Politico). I can relate, in some ways, to this. I’ve made choices in my life that I’ve second-guessed and even regretted, thinking that I should’ve thought it through more before I made the decision. But often—and I’m still grappling with this myself—we need to accept that some decisions represent the point of no return. We make the decision, and then need to live with it, no matter what.
I think a major lesson of Brexit is that no one should vote as a joke. One vote by itself might seem like it doesn’t matter, but, of course, they all add up. If voting isn’t taken seriously, and citizens vote simply to prove some sort of point whether they want the result or not, then the results could lead to a future they don’t truly wish for. Once they hit that point of no return, there’s no going back.
By Oren Oppenheim
Oren Oppenheim, 18, is an alumnus of Ramaz Upper School in Manhattan and lives in Fair Lawn, NJ. This coming fall he will be attending Yeshivat Orayta in Jerusalem; he will start college at the University of Chicago in 2017. He spends his free time writing and reading, and hopes to become a published novelist and a journalist. You can email him at [email protected]