Originally published in FUSE, 27 June 2012
When I was in high school I became involved in the anti-Iraq War movement. My involvement was limited (i.e. I attended rallies and put up posters), but really important to me. I got involved because I thought the cause was extremely important and I thought that I could make a difference – maybe not stopping the war, but hopefully changing some positions in Australia.
Now, in my early twenties, my political involvement has continued both through being active in party politics (the Greens) and social movements. I am active because I see much that I think needs to be changed in this world, and believe that in particular as a young person I have a lot at stake in seeing these changes happen.
Youth political activism has often been seen as essential to modern social movements. Political movements are often born out of places like universities, which are a hotbed of political activity. Today this role of youth political movements couldn’t be more important. With issues such as climate change and the financial crises around the world, young people have a particular stake in the political decisions made today.
Even with this activism however, young people continue to be marginalised in the political process. Politicians and decision makers are rarely young and the opinions of young people are often ignored across the board.
This marginalisation is not often overt. It is amazing how many times I have been told that young people are disengaged with politics and that we simply don’t care; apparently we are the “me” generation. I have been told that people of my age don’t care about anyone else and we don’t have the attention span to care about real issues. Strangely and sadly enough this doesn’t just come from people older than me; it is often young people who seem to want to tell me this.
Unfortunately many youth political organisations have been sucked into these ideas too, deciding that to try and get people involved in politics we need to make politics “fun”. We often treat young people as if we are too quickly distracted to actually pay attention to the political process. We get sucked into ideas about young people being disengaged, whilst at the same time forgetting about the reasons we, as young people, got involved in politics.
Why is this happening? The marginalisation of young people is all about to stop young people from gaining any real voice or more importantly power in our society. Whilst of course not all young people have the same opinions (and therefore won’t exercise power in the same way), it is easy to assume that many of those in power are very keen to stop anyone they can from gaining any of their power. Keeping young people out is probably one of the easiest jobs they have.
Many, if not most of the people I have encountered in my political activities over the years have been young. I am certainly not the odd one out. Strangely enough as well, these people are ready and willing to discuss and participate in serious political process to make real change. It’s about time we got rid of this idea that young people don’t care about politics and that politics has to be fun for young people to get involved. All around the country, left and right, young people are getting actively involved in politics for serious reasons. Let’s not act as though that is impossible and that young people are inherently disengaged with the political process. It simply isn’t true.