This June, we'll have the opportunity to decide the Prime Minister for the next five years. And, with Brexit likely to dominate the debate - all is up for grabs for young citizens.
Following the Prime Minister's announcement, calling a snap General Election - slap-bang in the middle of exam season, no less - it feels as though history is repeating itself. How else do you ensure that 16-24 year olds have neither the time or inclination to research, register and vote for parties that do not appeal to them when they have more pressing issues such as exams and essays to think about? The problem was the same in the Brexit referendum last summer: young people were blamed for the fact that the referendum took place just at the end of exam season, when most students and young people were away, back home or at Glastonbury.
The systemic issue of youth disengagement in politics is something that we have written about before. Young citizens do not feel as though their ideas and thoughts are listened to or that they matter. They are often faced with politicians that they do not trust, and a political spectrum which seems insincere. Take May's shock revelation this week - we face yet another lifetime decision without proper time for debate to enable us to make an informed decision on June 8th.
At My Life My Say, we are on a mission to rebrand politics. A mission to make politics accessible to young people and relevant to their lives and issues. Our work focuses on bridging that gap between the future of today - the youth - and a political agenda that simply does not aim to address their concerns. We understand how young people feel, because we are young citizens ourselves. We are determined to show that politics is relevant to the daily lives of the youth we work with, and if they feel like they are listened to and matter, they are much more likely to demand that they have a say. We reject the notion that young people are apathetic about politics; instead, young citizens are faced with a political situation which does not resonate with them, and which is often organised in a way which alienates them.
Last year, we engaged with 25,000 young citizens through our outreach projects. Thanks to the innovative idea of a 'Democracy Cafe' pioneered by our partners Bite The Ballot, we developed 'Brexit Cafes'; reigniting that concept of a 17th century coffeehouse where local people would meet and discuss current issues and applying it to a local Starbucks where the local youth would go to meet their mates anyway. We found that over 80% of young people had no idea what the EU was, how it worked or how it affects their daily lives. They were disengaged not because they didn't care but because they were uninformed. By bringing young people together in a nonthreatening local cafe you create a safe space for them to discuss their thoughts. In doing so, they develop opinions, beliefs, demands. We find that these often disadvantaged young citizens are extremely receptive and eager to learn; and once they do, they become much more engaged.
This is why we have registered an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on a Better Brexit for Young People. With our partners of over 25 youth organisations from across the UK and the London School of Economics, we are carrying out up to 30 focus groups of diverse young people from different ethnic, economic and regional backgrounds to gather evidence for several reports that we will be producing on the views of the youth on Brexit, and what their Brexit would look like. We will then champion these demands and hold both UK and EU decision-makers to account over whether they are ensuring that young people are not overlooked in the negotiations.
Our APPG forms part of our campaign for a Better Brexit for Young People. We launched this campaign last wednesday in an incredible event in the heart of tech-city, Shoreditch. Instead of forcing the youth to engage with out-of-touch politicians and to go to the Houses of Parliament or Portcullis House to engage, we went to them. We used social influencers such as Slumflower, Nissy Tee, Sophia Thakur, Reuben Christian, Sugar J Poet and others, in order to create a safe space and environment to enthuse and inspire the 250 young people that attended. By these non-conventional influencers taking ownership of the political discourse as young people, and recreating it as something relevant, accessible and non-threatening, they reached out to those that would instinctively reject anything remotely related to the politics.
We believe we have revolutionised the way the youth engage with politics. By linking it to the intrinsic nature of social media to their everyday lives, and demonstrating how politics, too, is constitutive of their place in the world, we hope to tap into those groups of young people all over the UK that wouldn't ordinarily engage, encouraging them to get involved and demand they have a say. And as we all prepare for this election, we will be galvanizing alongside Bite The Ballot's #TurnUp campaign to ensure as many young citizens are engaged and registered to vote.
We are calling on you to vote, have your say and remind politicians that you are here, you matter, and you deserve a Brexit that works for you.