Sunday, 10 May 2015

Youth Inspiration UK

A lot has happened this week to make young people angry. The General Election represents both a time of power and powerlessness; unfortunately, it is the youth which are often left feeling powerless. 

I was once told, 'If you're under 40 and voting Tory, you're oblivious. If you're over 50 and not voting Tory, you're stupid'. I'm not sure I'll ever vote Tory, but aged 21, I certainly will not. And nor are a lot of other young people. For weeks my Facebook page, my Twitter feed, my Instagram stream has been filled with Labour propaganda...only interrupted by a reminder that, if we want to be really ethical about this, we should also consider voting Green. This can only suggest that me, my friendship group, and the young people I surround myself with, are predominantly voting Labour. And perhaps because Labour is the only party that's really made much effort to engage with the youth. 

We are fed up with education cuts, the tuition fees, the housing crisis, the ever-decreasing taxing of the wealthy, the ever-increasing inequality, the neglect of women, the ill (physically and mentally), the poor and the disabled that has erupted under the coalition government and we want to see some change. We are the #milifandom, drawn in by the promise of 'a future for all our young people, so they can get world-class apprenticeships and access to affordable, higher education'. And when we've finished education, being part of 'a Britain where everyone plays by the same rules, including those at the very top of our society'. The progressive sense of equality and demands for accountability that are engrained in our young people believe in the fundamental truth that 'Britain will only succeed when its working people succeed'. 

Not only were Labour leading the campaign for the youth conceptually, but materially. Where was David Cameron during the election debates? In fact, where was he for the majority of his campaign? I saw Ed everywhere, and engaging with everyone. I even saw Farage everywhere, and I wasn't even looking. But I appreciated the presence. I understood the engagement. And I think this is what we need more of.  Government policy arguably affects young people the most. We are victims of poor education standards, tuition fees, the housing crisis, the shaky job market – to name just a few. How can we have a democratic system that does not engage with an important 11% of the electorate? The youth are the passionate, the progressive, and the demanding. They are the backbone of the change the political parties are promising: the environmentalists, the educated, the (aspiring) house-buyers – and the future tax base.  We are not just the voters of today, but tomorrow – the parties that engage now benefit later.

I am extremely passionate about politics and youth engagement and, it is for this reason, that I would like to be considered for the Youth Inspiration UK group. National and international governance irrefutably lacks the youth perspective it so desperately needs - and this is more necessary than ever now that any chance the youth had has been pushed out by middle-aged, middle-class voters. I believe youth engagement should be about giving a voice to the masses: to react to existing ideas and create new ones. With 80% of 11-25 year olds using social networking sites, social media represents an important space for thoughts to be heard and shared. Twitter should become more prevalent; it became a powerful platform during #GE2015, but must become a space for youth discussion not just individual opinions. Networks of social media are needed; drawing together blogs, tweets, images and engagement events/resources. It’s about widening the scope and providing a safe and inviting space for discussion, advice and debate. We cannot appreciate and value the power of social media enough. 

My involvement within youth engagement has already been demonstrated in many ways. Most notably, I led a Youth Council in East Sussex to improve resources for young people in rural areas. We applied to the Youth Opportunities fund for a grant to build a basketball court in our village, which we were successful in, and provided a fun, social space for young people which also promoted physical activity. The popularity of this area increased participation within the youth council, and we were instrumental in deciding upon changes to play area facilities in the area. Furthermore, we were able to offer young people opportunities to attend courses in team-building and first aid. The youth council gave young people a space to voice their opinions, and get a taste of what opportunities are out there and how we can relate (and become relatable) to local and national governments. 

So this is it. I woke up Friday morning feeling powerless (and not just because I had a horrid, impending exam). I woke up Saturday morning feeling disappointed, and angry, and praying for proportional representation. But I woke up this morning feeling powerful. Like I could be in a position to help make a change. I won't deface a war monument today, but I'll probably keep writing...because we deserve to have our voices heard irrespective of the political party in charge. It's not about giving in, or giving up, but demanding a youth perspective on all global issues. 


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