Whether or not “woke” British Columbians are actually discussing whether “pro rep is lit,” Premier John Horgan’s quip during Thursday’s televised debate on electoral reform got people talking.
About 21 minutes into the broadcast by CBC and Global News, B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson and Horgan were fed a question from a voter in their 30s concerned about low political engagement in their generation, and wondering whether it was time to test a new political system of proportional representation.
“Young people like the idea of working together,” Horgan said at the end of his response. “If you were woke, you’d know that pro rep is lit.”
Moments later, the B.C. NDP pounced on Twitter with an ’80s-themed meme bearing the same slogan. Elsewhere on social media came a collective groan, which suggested Horgan had ventured from well-trodden dad-joke territory into a cringeworthy attempt at luring B.C.’s younger voters toward his preferred electoral system.
“Woke” can mean being politically conscious. Specifically, it has roots in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and resurged in 2008 with a lyric in a song by R&B star Erykah Badu before gaining more traction with the Black Lives Matter movement, according to an Oxford Dictionaries blog post.
“Lit” has long referred to being extremely drunk or high. But over the past decade, through rap music, it has also come to mean that something is excellent or exciting, according to a blog post by Merriam-Webster.
In recent years, however, both words have been co-opted and stripped of some of that meaning for Internet slang, often used by younger people to generate a laugh.
In a scrum after the debate, Horgan told journalists it was simply an off-the-cuff remark based on something he heard on a TV show. But he was also using the slogan of a Vote PR B.C. offshoot launched last month on 10 university and college campuses.
Simka Marshall, 25, a Vote PR B.C. field director working on the “Pro Rep Is Lit” campaign, said she was certain Horgan’s comment was meant to get a laugh, and said her group appreciated his making the reference.
“I thought it was a way of engaging with and acknowledging young voters, which is something that honestly doesn’t happen a lot,” she said.
While the quip was met with some criticism, Marshall said she has seen plenty of positive response on Instagram and Twitter, where younger people seem to understand that the premier said those words with them in mind.
“It’s become a thing,” she said. “He found a way to enter our network and found a way to speak the way that we do, or make a reference to it, even if it was a little bit tongue-in-cheek. That’s kind of our style.”
But Gavin Dew, founder of the non-partisan Forum for Millennial Leadership, said he actually cringed when the words “woke” and “lit” came out of Horgan’s mouth.
“I’m 34 and I’m too old to get away with using that kind of line. Respectfully, the premier is 25 years older than me,” Dew said.
“I think young voters would be more impressed by clear and specific information about whether and how proportional representation will result in more young people serving in the legislature, than by a cringeworthy attempt at being hip by using what is actually outdated lingo.”
Dew, who was the B.C. Liberal candidate for Vancouver-Mount Pleasant in the 2016 byelection, said his group has committed to not taking a side in the referendum. But he said regardless of whether or not people want proportional representation, he believes people want to see “authentic engagement,” and Horgan fell short.
Pollster Mario Canseco, the president of Research Co., doesn’t believe Horgan’s use of “woke” and “lit” will have any meaningful impact on the youth vote, which he said already leans toward proportional representation.
“What I’ve seen so far is that the level of engagement from the ‘pro’ side or the ‘Yes’ side has been higher with youth,” Canseco said. “So it’s almost like he didn’t need to say it.”
Canseco said the Yes side should instead consider crafting its message for voters 55 and older, who he said are more likely to want specific details about how a change in electoral systems would affect them, particularly how MLAs will work together and represent them well.
Instead, since Thursday night he has heard more discussion about Horgan’s quip than about the benefits and drawbacks of the two electoral systems, he said.
“It’s a fun thing to wake up to on a Friday, but it may not be the kind of approach that you require to get the voters who are on the fence,” he said. “This isn’t going to win them over.”
— with file from Rob Shaw
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