Updated: May 4, 2020
Why the Political Perspective on Young People Needs to Change
I’m a snowflake. Born in 2002, I’m accustomed to the world of social media, quintessentially identify as bisexual and am seemingly shy to hard work. Whilst the latter is false, this is a narrative that I’ve heard for as long as I can remember, told with unabating satire. Ironically, such a narrative is spun by a generation who was subject to the same scorn as us snowflakes, by the generation prior to their own. Young people, whether in the 60s or now, have been and I assume always will be, notorious for being radically liberal and are subsequently subject to ridicule. It’s a rite of passage.
Yet it strikes me as peculiar that this is the mindset in which we choose to view our young people. We’re the ‘latest version’ of humanity, and with that, we bring a neoteric perspective to the world. It’s arguably counter-productive that society chooses to mock its very future. Young people are a formidable force when stimulated. It’s no coincidence that throughout history, young people have been at the forefront of social movement, whether that be good or bad. The classic example would be the civil rights movement, when boycotts, sit-ins and marches marked a momentous leap forward for human rights and equality. More recently, the 2011 Arab Spring pro-democracy uprisings, which saw significant youth participation, epitomised the indomitability of a unified grass-root force, and certainly more perversely, Russia’s nationalist youth organisation, ‘Nashi’, has been dubbed ‘Putin’s private army’ as it is predicted to be behind attacks against freedom of speech and civil rights. If this proves nothing else, it does ascertain just how influential young people are. We can be naïve and mouldable just as much as we can be perceptive and independent, but we are powerful, nonetheless. Young people drive history forward. We deserve to be listened to.
That’s why I’m not ashamed to kick up a fuss about the world I’m living in, even if I am ridiculed for it. I didn’t live during the World Wars or the Cold War and no, I’m no longer chained to the sink, but that doesn’t mean I should grow placid. Every generation has fought their own demons: youth movements in the 60s protested against the Vietnam War, in the 80s the focus was on nuclear disarmament and in the 90s, mass murder in Kosovo and poll tax, hence the irony intensifies. The same adults who mock us, should in theory, understand exactly how young people feel when our protest signs come out and no, nothing about our current political climate is any less precarious than in previous generations. I was born a citizen of the European Union. This citizenship has been revoked and no one bothered to ask how I felt about that. I’m old enough to have experienced austerity, but not old enough to remember the Blairite era of prosperity. I’ve grown up in an ever connected and globalised world, so that despite my own privileges as a middle-class white girl, I’m only a few clicks away from seeing the dire situations of my black or Asian classmates, or the gay man subject to abuse in Mauritania. I’m a child of the new terrorist era, someone who had friends at the fatal Ariana Grande concert on the night of the Manchester bomb attack. And of course, I’m currently writing this article from within the confines of lockdown, my final year at college cut short by Covid19. Granted, the world’s developed leaps and bounds, but the job’s not finished and now it’s my generation’s turn to take the reins.
I’m young, liberal, a ‘leftie’. I still have hope that I can make a difference, but more than that, I’m aware that I need to make a difference. Across the pond, with the 2020 Presidential Election looming into view, it’s no joke that back in 2016, Trump threatened to ignore the election result if he lost. It’s no joke that in the past four months at the time of writing, ten journalists and one media assistant have been killed in certain connection to their work, according to Reporters Without Borders. It’s no joke that in China, millions of Uighur Muslims are being forcibly interned in re-education camps or that in Russia, constitutional amendments have been made that enable Putin to retain power even after leaving the presidency in 2024. This is the future we face. We should be concerned.
In February 2019, I experienced for the first time a sense of drive amongst young people that I hadn’t seen before and in truth, had been itching to experience. Ditching class, my college friends and I joined the cohort of teenagers in Birmingham city centre striking against the government for their response to the climate crisis. Marching around Victoria Square we brandished our homemade signs daubed with pictures of the earth on fire and to our delight, we were supported by many adults – a reminder that not every adult is cynical of youth protests. Nevertheless, as boys held hands with boys and girls with green hair chanted at the top of their lungs, this march did not take place without judgement. I’m not asking for acceptance, nor tolerance, as I believe we are lucky enough to already have both of these things. I’m merely asking to be heard.
Not every revolution is a coup d’état. Civil rights can be taken away just as quickly as they can be granted. Should we really be chancing with climate change? These are the facts and questions that we must confront during our lifetime, thus politics is the nuclear force holding society together. The moment we choose to ignore politics is the moment we choose to ignore humanity. It’s the moment in which we actively decide to neglect the most vulnerable – and this is why we should care, why we shouldn’t grow placid. The challenges posed to us determine the need to scrutinise, to question, to never stop developing ideas and solutions. When all is said and done, the place where we were born, the God we pray to and the people we fall in love with, doesn’t account for anything. It’s the choices we make and the people we decide to become that leaves the greatest imprint. Young people are integral in shaping that imprint, for without us, any change is unsustainable. Consequently, we must ask why there is no youth parliament. Why are sixteen-year-olds prohibited from engaging in elections, even local elections? Why are the institutions that are run by the very same generation that protested against nuclear weapons in the 80s continuing to deny young people political participation? Perhaps if we listened more to what children and teenagers had to say, if we started to involve young people within the nuclear force that is politics, if we started to re-invest in education and youth services, we might better protect human rights and quicker find solutions to crime, the nation’s collectively deteriorating mental health and climate change.
Yet with these demands, comes responsibility. Young people demanding respect and increased validity of voice is a tale as old as time. If young people want to engage in politics, we must be prepared to set the example; adversarial politics is a tired and unbefitting approach. Exasperating as it may be, it’s about time our political system valued opposition – without it, scrutiny and therefore, accountability, is impossible to achieve. The seeming lack of tolerance that is displayed by some people, including young people, towards others, has led to a scenario in which ‘safe spaces’ for productive and deferential political debate have become threatened. For my generation, freedom of speech and expression is our zeitgeist, yet ‘God bless’ the young ‘Tory’. Whilst right-wing politics is not my scene, I fear living in an echo chamber. For as long as freedom of speech doesn’t involve hatred and harm, I’m more than willing to engage with people from all across the political spectrum. Allowing my generation to have an increased political role in society will ultimately teach young people the gravity of diplomacy. We can’t expect young people not to be obstinate in their views if our institutions simultaneously refuse to allow them access to the political sphere. Respect has to be earnt.
I might have some growing up to do and I may still need to learn how tax works, but I’m proud to be young, liberal and ‘left’. Facing a future that is more uncertain than ever before in my lifetime, it’s about time young people were valued and our complaints were not consistently disregarded as trivial. With the power of technology at our fingertips, young people are perhaps now more than ever before, able to instigate successful social protest if we should so wish, with the ability to create a storm both on Twitter and on the streets. There’s a future in mind that we want to see become a reality. The ‘snowflakes’ are rising and when we do, just like generations prior, we will make a difference.