Youth engagement in politics indifferent or just different? | Jacob Helliwell | TEDxYouth@Victoria

Youth engagement in politics indifferent or just different? | Jacob Helliwell | [email protected]


Translator: Jihyeon J. Kim
Reviewer: Denise RQ There’s been a lot of noise recently
about falling voting rates among youth. Some, usually as young people,
we like to claim that politicians and political parties
don’t advocate messages or agendas that really appeal to us. Others, often our parents
and our parents’ generation, claim that schools
aren’t teaching enough civics, and that our society doesn’t create
political behavior in young people. And still others, often
our grandparents’ generation, like to claim that youth
are just self-centered, lazy, and likely undeserving
of the right to vote anyway. It is these substantial differences
that are leading to a miscommunication between youth
and their engagement in politics. A few weeks ago, I heard a politician
speak to a group of young people. And one of the things
he said really stuck out to me. He said: “Young people are not voting
and not getting interested in politics. It is those that do that will
actually make the difference.” Although I strongly disagree
with this statement, from a narrow point of view,
he is correct. Youth have the lowest voter turnout at about 37%
for those under the age of 25. By this measure, we youth really
don’t participate or engage in politics. And we’ve all heard the insults
against youth in politics that youth are dropping out of politics, that we’re eroding political behavior. I’ve even heard some goes
as far as the claim that this generation will bring
the destruction of democracy. These charges are often harshly stated. And after hearing these criticisms, I did what any self-respecting,
rebellious, young person would do: I set out to prove them wrong. One of my first realizations was that voting isn’t a particularly
engaging form of participation. I mean, how exciting is it really to check off a ballot,
fold it up, and put it in a box? Personally, I can think of a few things
that I would rather be doing, and dare I say,
would probably have more impact. But don’t get me wrong. Voting is a vital part of our society,
and we really should all vote, but it is important to acknowledge that there are other more
engaging forms of participation. And it is this generation
of connectedness, of ideas, of innovation, some of which we heard of today, that is leading
this reinvention of politics. So youth, almost 60% of us, engage in some form
of non-voting political behavior. Compare that though to 38%,
less than 38%, of those under the age of 50, yet if we look at voting turnout,
the stats are completely opposite. So what is it we included
this non-voting political behavior? Thinks like political demonstrations, volunteering, social and Internet media,
or even using the marketplace as a form of political expression
through boycotts or buycotts. The Occupy protests taking place
in New York and around the world are a prime example
of youth getting engaged. And in the last Canadian election,
the Federal election, not the one that took place yesterday, was characterized by flash mob videos
with students across the country coming together to try and motivate
youth participation in the election. But what really made
this idea hit home for me was right here in B.C during the petition
to bring the H.S.T to a referendum. A boy, no older than 14, came to my door asking for signatures on the petition. He wasn’t even tall enough for me
to see through the door’s window nor would he have even been
able to vote in the referendum. Outside of voting, our age group
shows levels of participation greater than any other age category. These charges
of political apathy among youth are using a very narrow
definition of politics. This generation, my generation, our generation is not
dropping out of politics, but shifting to new
and different forms of participation. So why are we seeing participation change? Why are we seeing engagement change forms? Well, I mention one reason that traditional measures of politics
aren’t particularly engaging like voting. But more importantly, youth and politics are constantly
misinterpreting each other. It seems that for youth ‘politics’
has become synonymous with self-serving, narrow,
partisan political behavior, and therefore, of little interest to us. And there’s also a failure in interpreting
youth activism and engagement back into traditional politics. When asked his opinion
of the student flash mob videos, made in the last Canadian election, Cabinet Minister, John Baird said: “I’m not sure what a flash mob is
but it sounds a bit disconcerting… I don’t know about ‘flash’ or ‘mobs’ but I don’t like the context
of either word.” (Laughter) For you, and some university students,
and community organizers, Baird’s comments made them chuckle. But it really underscored of wider problem in the last, and frankly,
in all Canadian elections, this disconnect between politicians
and the younger electorates. Dozens of projects have been implemented
over the last 20 years to try and motivate youth to vote. But none have been successful. It was predicted
that the last Federal election, the one characterized
by this flash mob videos, would finally reverse
declining youth turnout, but it never happened, and the numbers were as low as ever. It is this lack of mutual understanding
that plagues these attempts. If government were to broaden
its definition of political involvement, we may see more youth engage
in traditional measures of politics. For example, polling stations are in churches,
community centers, and elementary school gyms. By quick show of hands, how many of you have been
one of those in the last week? OK, not including voting yesterday, How many of you have been
one of those in the last week? A few. Now, imagine if they were
on university campuses, and shopping malls,
or even the local Starbucks, how many of you have been
one of those in the last week? A significantly higher
number, as I suspected. I’m not saying we need to lease out
every single coffee shop for the next Canadian election. But what I am trying to say is we need to re-examine how youth
and politics understand each other. Feeling misunderstood
or not catered to is no excuse not to make your voice heard. Things like the H.S.T petition,
the flash mob videos, and the Occupy protests
are examples of youth using their engagement
to try and make their voice heard. And the good news is that those who engage in some form
of alternative political behavior tend to vote more often. So I implore you to get out there
and boycott, protest, and volunteer. The important thing is
making your voice heard, because rather than being indifferent youth engagement is merely different. Thank you. (Applause)

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4 thoughts on “Youth engagement in politics indifferent or just different? | Jacob Helliwell | [email protected]

  1. Use the US as an example. The majority of the elected in congress are heavily lobbied. Your vote means nothing if those in the government had campaigns paid for by lobbyists, continued to get paid to create laws, and then paid once they get out of government via corporate jobs. No amount of voting, or protesting (what are you hearing now in the media about OWS? Nothing) will change that.

    The voting public are heavily out weighed financially.

  2. You may find an incorruptible candidate, but they will be out financed, they will get little exposure, and they will be too few in number to make a difference since they are out numbered by the corrupt in government.

    So, give me a TEDtalk about how to remedy this situation.

  3. vote thumbs down…this freak is the perfect student… in Babylon. you need to re-examine civics! not why the youth is not voting! we know more about politics than our older generations, we understand that a chicken has a right and a left wing! did he mention freemasonry,or did he tell you what a birth certificate, car registration,internationas and national laws licence are? we're in 2012, you got google on your phone for G.O.D sake! wake up, sheeple!

  4. World over youth indeed are playing an important role through various agitations and movements but that is not making enough impact to shake governments. That is the saddest part. Youth should express their opinions strongly through ballots — at least wherever there is democracy. Only then would politicians begin to take youth seriously and work for their progress.

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