It is not new to hear that young people are increasingly distant from politics. Disinterested, lazy, or immature are some of the characteristics we have been accused of. But is this true? Do we really not care? Do we really not want to get involved?
By Mariana Descalço | YPA Portugal
To address this situation, we must first define what politics is and how politics is done.
If we accept that it is those who vote who can be defined involved in politics, then yes, there is evidence that we are facing a decline in the number of young voters. If we assume that it is young people who are members of youth parties who have political involvement, then yes, we have a low level of involvement.
In front of such a scenario, we could substantiate the accusations made: young people are not interested in politics.
However, non-partisan and civic politics, online and street involvement, movements and collectives and activism have been reaching unexpected popularity among the younger generations. It makes such accusations difficult to substantiate. It is questionable, to say the least, to claim that young people are indifferent to politics when the number of young people taking a stand in the face of the biggest adversities ever faced and the number of movements and protests organized by young people, for young people, increase every day.
Of course, there are also disinterested and individualistic young people, for whom it is often more comfortable to do nothing, either because they benefit from the system we live in or simply because acting “takes too much work”. But reducing all the effort, altruism, commitment and concerns of so many to the indifference of a few is unjustifiable.
Why are we gradually moving away from conventional party politics? It is a consequence of the simple fact that we have grown up with constant disappointments, empty promises, corruption, discrediting of parties and politicians, lies and so many other episodes that have changed the vision of many young people about politics. The youth is tired, fed up, disillusioned, and frustrated. We no longer see politicians and politics as a source of change and improvement in our lives, but rather as a source of perpetuation of a system that does not work. The premises are sad, but their consequence – the disinterest and lack of faith in conventional politics – more than legit.
It is not that the youth does not believe in the power of voting and in democracy. It is not that they do not appreciate how hard society fought to get here. It is not that girls and boys do not believe in the good intentions of many politicians. It is that young people need action, need change.
Society needs to convert a system that works for a minority into a system that works for everyone, that benefits everyone. And this is where the current political plans clash with what the youth wants. While the “lazy ones” want justice for all, the current political plans perpetuate a system that wants profit for the few.
Often, young people’s lack of faith in the current political models is due exclusively to the lack of ability that political actors have had over the past few years to integrate young people, their ideas and concerns into the political agenda as well as their inability to integrate politics itself into the lives of young people.
The truth is, getting involved in politics as a young person is not easy. Especially in a society that still devalues and belittles the interest and abilities of the young. Even the political language is in most cases inaccessible to young people, being very complex and somewhat elitist – and this is something politics should not be.
The views and suggestions of young people are as valid as those of any other person of any other age. Thus, they should have access to spaces where they are heard and to the opportunity to bring their ideas to the forefront. Yet, dynamic and fundamental ideas of younger minds are constantly devalued and painted as immature children’s utopias.
As a young student and activist, I know how many times my voice has been silenced and my opinion devalued because I am a teenager. Because I don’t know enough about life, because I am a hypocrite, I am wrong, and I don’t have the knowledge to comment on important topics. I disagree. I do not have absolute knowledge about everything, but I have the right to comment upon and act in all situations where I feel it is necessary.
Education is also to blame: it has failed to value street politics, although many of the rights we currently have were won in the streets. Every time I share that I am going to a protest, I still hear “ah but that’s not going to lead to anything” or ” but what is that going to change? “. This is because we are not explained the gigantic impact that social movements have had throughout history. After all, knowing the date of treaty x is much more important and convenient than knowing that we, the people, have power. Redesigning the education system is therefore a pivotal step in integrating young people into the political context since school is where they spend most of their time and structure many of their thoughts and opinions.
Instead of criticizing the youth, perhaps it would be more beneficial to listen to their suggestions and concerns and work to destroy the barriers between politics and young people, providing them with opportunities and spaces to learn, teach, collaborate and surprise themselves and all those who doubt them.
At the end of the day, it is not about knowing that young people do not participate as much as they should, but of knowing why this is happening. The real question is, is the fault in the “disinterested youth” or in the system that has no room for the youth?