There are quite a few things I’ve heard too often and I don’t get the feeling that the constant repeat does any well. So they bore me and I don’t want to listen any longer. One of those contemporary mantras seems to be the myth that youth are unpolitical and unwilling to engage in politics. As the newest example of this the Brexit vote seems to add fuel to the discussion. While the one group rages about how the old generation has ruined the future of the youth the other complains that youth is disinterested and didn’t bother to vote.
I’m clearly with the youngsters here even though I also believe that especially young people have to be pushed to the ballot boxes more insistently. Still, I don’t see the problem so much with the youth as with the politics and the political education.
I have been involved with youth projects to promote the European Union for about 5 years now. The European Union is a highly political matter and so is everything connected to it. It’s not as much a political and social institution as I would wish for, but discussing it always lead to a discussion of politics. Still, I have observed that many people who do promote ideas like mobility are reluctant to define their work as “political”. “It’s just a hobby”. “It’s just what has to be done”. I witnessed the same in local youth work. My boyfriend, to pick just one example, is strongly involved in the city’s youth council trying to give a space for youngsters from Oldenburg to meet and act. Only a few months ago he insisted on doing unpolitical work. It wasn’t difficult though to turn his head around and to made him realise that what he does is political youth work. He suddenly liked the idea.
The other day I stumbled upon a quite newly published book (2015), edited by Hilary Pilkington and Gary Pollock and called: ”Radical Futures?: Youth, Politics and Activism in Contemporary Europe“. In this book the editors present quite a lot of studies to proof to their readers that youth in fact are not ignorant and selfish, but that politics have lost all attractiveness. That’s not so new neither, we knew that all way long. What they found out though, and that’s the truly interesting part, is that youth in fact are engaging in political initiatives, they volunteer and debate – but they don’t call it “politics”. They don’t want to call it politics. That also means that they don’t engage in the classical forms of “politics” such as elections, doubled through the dilemma that there’s often not a decent candidate to elect; a representative of the youth.
So the question that must be on the table, again, is “what is politics?” And it must be up to youth to define it, not only, but also. Since our population in Europe is aging anyways, we need every and all young people in politics if we want to take our countries and our Union to the future. Youth have to reclaim politics for them, because – voluntarily – giving it to someone else means to give up on power. It is fantastic how young people care about their communities, about their neighbours and peers and about the European project. “I do it for my friends”, “I do it to travel”, “I do it because it brings us peace”. Whatever the reason for engagement and activism is, too often “politics” can’t be part of it, because apparently they are boring, dangerous, one-sited and outdated. Democracy doesn’t seem to work and life’s getting more and more unequal. So – politics have failed and youth takes distance.
When we learn about politics in school, it often paints the world in black and white and divides it into parts belonging to different parties. Politics don’t seem to be progressive or innovative or creative or changeable. And that’s the worst of all: politics seem to be so static. And our politicians honestly don’t do much to change that with their unauthentic and selfish hunt for capitalistic interests. Politics are frustrating as they are. And you kind of have to find out by yourself that it is up to you to do the change. Well, obviously we should expect all to get there by themselves, but on the other hand, it shouldn’t be difficult to promote a positive image of politics.
I love politics. I love many things and above all that there are politics. Not the neoliberal, economy-concentrated politics. I love the real deal: with people involved, with cultures and history in it, with one million perspectives and more, with variety, all backed up by social systems and moral values. The kind of politics I love is not solely what we learn in our politics classes. Is what should be taught through democratic structures in schools, through lectures on moral and values and through promotion of equality and empowerment in all subjects. I’m 100% positive that youth would love to be “political” if only they’d knew better, if we all would know that what happens in parliaments and behind closed doors, in lobbyists’ chit chats past 8 and in big industries is only a very bad representation of what politics are supposed to be. If we’d all think it’s more fun to discuss politics we’d live in a much better place and a much better European Union as well.