Time for youth to lead
Young peoples’ leadership is showing these days... with activism in Britain, Iran and Burma, entrepreneurship in a global recession and developing counter cultures with different ways of doing things.
In traditional politics, however, young people aren’t showing up en masse. The activism is bubbling up, but youth issues aren't at the forefront, and where they are things aren't looking good.
There are many legitimate reasons for the lack of political interest, and they are far from a reported existence of widespread youth apathy. Politics has put up barriers to entry – irrelevance of ideas, lack of meaningful consultation, lies, childishness, etc. The value in participating is simply not evident for many. And that’s what many of those in power are banking on.
Many don’t see that the big problems face them day to day, so perhaps don’t decide to get involved. But our generation is feeling pressure from a lack of jobs and high rates of debt (both personal and government). The parents are oft well-off, but that’s part of the problem if that wealth is kept within that generation.
Today’s youth are stuck with some big problems. We’ve got ecological systems collapse, loss of natural space, nuclear weapons, state and individual terrorism, massive global inequities, ineffectual federal governments, corporate control and advertising, the police/prison complex, institutional racism, Fox News & Sun Media, and 1950s-based food, urban planning, energy and transportation systems that are resistant to change.
Meanwhile, youth have benefited by of social movements for human rights that have come before us, along with economic, cultural and technological changes such as mass communications and information distribution, scientific advances, global transportation networks, material prosperity for many, immigration, public infrastructure, health care and public health, education (though standardized), later Beatles music that was pretty good, and a lack of broad global conflict at present.
Young folks are focusing on new ideas of social entrepreneurship, relationships, work, religion/belief and information sharing. This generation is on the move and has the energy and resources to get things done.
With previous generations having defined what society looks like with its challenges and opportunities, it’s now time for young people to stand up to shape things in a way that will also benefit them and future generations. Many of the changes to be made will continue to happen through rapid change in culture and technology, in activism and social innovation.
"Sometimes I wonder if we shall ever grow up in our politics and say definite things which mean something, or whether we shall always go on using generalities to which everyone can subscribe, and which mean very little."
- Eleanor Roosevelt
Politics has a huge role in social change as well, but needs to be shaken up. Young people who are leaving politics behind are missing an opportunity to make the social change that traditionally comes through this realm – things changed or decided through political legislative action have included women’s right to vote, desegregation, depletion of the ozone layer, public health care, minimum wage, transit, urban design and war.
For significant change to happen in politics, people will have to get involved and change the system from all angles – make known what they expect to see from politicians, and become the ones in those circles making impactful decisions.
At the moment we’re in a catch-22 of sorts, in which young people must get involved to change the system, but are not getting involved because of how the system is acting.
Political parties and politicians have the ability to make changes to engage young people and bring them in. This would help change the democratic system as a whole. In fact, there is a perfect opportunity for a political party that wants to take advantage of the generation’s energy and ideas, and votes. This could be done by bringing youth to the table in meaningful ways and bringing ideas that are of interest to young people.
Policies that will actually solve the climate crisis, bring democratic discussion, create meaningful work, provide relevant and affordable education, tackle the debt load, make differences in equity abroad and at home... these are discussions (although I cannot speak on behalf of all youth) that will bring us folk on board. Past that, parties wanting to bring youth in must get past the lies, childishness, and games that don’t have a place in formative institutions.
The opportunity exists for the party that can do this, to bring much of the next generation along with it, capture the future scene, and be a voice for youth to change the world.