To many young people, politics with a capital ‘P’ can often feel like something which is far removed from everyday life, and something which most young people don’t easily relate to. Yet if you have been a youth worker for any stretch of time like me, you’ll understand that youth work is political with a small ‘p’.
It is very much about engaging young people to enable them to make positive decisions for themselves as well as giving them the skills to be able to interact positively with the world around them. It is also being able to answer some of the toughest questions that adults often shy away from. So inevitably, the issues that most affect them in their daily lives will be discussed and addressed in the course of community youth work. And that’s the crux of it. The issues that most affect people in their daily lives are precisely what politics is all about.
Nevertheless, politics and youth is still a touchy subject. Despite over the years hearing the phrase ‘the youth of today are the leaders of tomorrow’, the majority of young people are still afraid or naïve in many ways to engage in politics.
In the first place, young people, whether from developing or developed countries, have a tendency to think that every political system is broken, and in many cases it is easy to see why. They feel that these systems are governed by people who do not understand their needs and aspirations, and that these systems are run by people who do not even match their wave length. To put it simply, for a long time, the majority of young people have viewed politics as a ‘dirty game’.
Globally too, the youth shun politics as they feel it is very drab and boring and meant for men and sometimes women with grey hair. The inaction by many governments on any matters of administration causes more cynicism in the youth who feel that it is not worth their time and energy to restore a defunct system. Take for example the former Italian Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi’s case. He was charged in the case of sexually exploiting underage girls while at the same time misusing the entire state machinery in order to fulfill his greed. Such instances prove to be a turn-off for the youth.
But perhaps things are beginning to change. Many governments, including our own, have embarked on sensitising young people through various channels to enable them to understand the ins and outs of politics. This explains why in 2012 we witnessed an unprecedented amount of campaigning through social media tools when Barack Obama and Mitt Romney went head to head for a seat in the Oval Office.
It was evident that both sides used social media websites to further their campaign and ‘connect’ with young people.
Also, I am finding that young people are becoming more and more politicised and prepared to fight injustices they feel are taking place around them. Whether that is by standing up to defend Rwanda against those who seek to disrespect our country by pulling her through the mud – as witnessed this week in London when hundreds of young Rwandans descended to the capital from all over Europe to defend Rwanda’s dignity against those who intended to tarnish it – or whether it is simply through engaging in constructive debates at local level to allow for a common understanding.
Internationally, young people have engaged in social causes such as the ‘Occupy’ movement because of the injustice they see regarding bankers’ pay and bonuses, and the sacrifices they see other people (the 99 per cent) being forced to make through redundancy, unemployment and financial hardship.
But the battle is a long one, and young people do need support to keep going. Initial enthusiasm and energy can dissipate quite quickly and perseverance is needed to keep going if a campaign is to be successful.Political parties must seek to engage young people in meaningful ways and draw them into insightful dialogue. Politicians must find ways to connect with young people so that the youth do not feel as if their voices go unheard and hence distance themselves from politics as they feel disillusioned with the system at large. After all, if you ask me, politics affects each and every one of us one way or another.
So why then, should young people engage in politics? My answer – because they already are, and they didn’t even know it!
The writer is a UK Parliamentary Intern and holds a Master of Science in Public Services Policy.