In the run up to the general elections, talk of the political engagement levels among the younger generation is hot on the tip of many tongues within the political arena. Accusations of apathy, disengagement, and lack of political awareness are rapidly filling the airways of conferences, tabloids and social media. But in the midst of the speculation, I think it's high time that we really begin to re-frame the conversation and explore another narrative.
It's time to mute the myths of young people's apparent political apathy and include the narratives of the new breed of politically aware young people who are steadily moving beyond the ballot box and becoming active shapers of society. And I also feel that it's just as crucial to include the backdrop: the initiatives that provide these very platforms which allow for this to happen.
A recent event, 'Make Your Mark', hosted by West Midlands youth-led organization Beatfreeks created a space for these narratives to come to life through a partnership with UpRising and Bite the Ballot, commissioned by Aston University and the European Commission. Beatfreeks happens to be one of these initiatives which are steadily creating disruptive vehicles for change through a range of alternative medium. And in true Beatfreeks fashion, they created a multifaceted event that stimulated political engagement through a fusion of 'on your feet' debates, psychometric style political quizzes and busking political poets ready to share & debate their political views with an intimate audience. The event quickly became an incubator for these young political minds and evoked some fairly common yet largely overlooked narratives. The narratives served to remind that 'making a mark' comes in a variety of forms and that in order to cater to our needs, politicians should start taking notes.
1. Why some of us vote and why some of us won't: 'The lesser of two evils.'
The privilege of being able to vote for a political party that we can truly place our faith in seems to be a luxury that only a very small group of people can actually afford. During the event it quickly became apparent that both voters and non voters felt that current voting choices where confined to 'the lesser evil' of a bunch of political parties that really didn't 'speak their language'. Despite the obvious 'decision opposition' between voters and non voters, both groups were able to meet comfortably in this mutual territory. The main difference was that voters had decided that the 'lesser evil' scenario was more of a reason to vote, with the sole aim of keeping the least desirable party from gaining power. While non voters felt that this was specifically the reason that they wouldn't be voting.
Feeling that the lack of real representation meant that the act of voting was much more tokenistic than democratic, many suggested that not only do we need a change of political party, we need a change in the political system itself.
Most of us genuinely want to vote. But what we really want is something worth voting for.
2. Deciding not to vote doesn't necessarily mean that we don't care about politics.
In all honesty, we're still trying to figure out which secluded corners of the earth some of these politicians dwell in. Because where we dwell, young people do care about political issues. We're taking action. We're going out into our communities to make change, dreaming up new ways of doing things and leaving behind the outdated models that have kept us socially stagnant. We care about politics and society. Really. Don't believe us? Just listen to our poetry and songs, watch our vlogs and feast your eyes on our visual art. Believe it or not, many of us live and breathe politics. We care about it, a lot. Just not always in the way conventional politics might expect us to.
See, in a world where we can now take to the artistic stage, Twitter and other social media to inform local policies and spark change within our communities, these platforms are forcing us to reconsider the level of importance we place on the ballot box when judging levels of political engagement.
"I'm making my mark by being an activist with activity." - Joe Cook, Beatfreeks
Just because we don't do politics the conventional way, doesn't mean we don't do politics!
3. Polite request: Please leave the poetry to the poets & give us straight forward communication...
Believe it or not, most of us genuinely do want to get politically active and make informed decisions. But most politicians make it ridiculously difficult. The manifestos and projected promises which are delivered are rarely (if ever) articulated simply and transparently. Politicians seem to use more abstract concepts, similes and metaphors than most poets. But rarely do these poetic prose end up communicating anything of significance or answering the questions that we originally posed. So please leave the poetry to the poets and afford us the courtesy of simple, straightforward communication.
Keep it real: Transparency and clear communication goes a hell of a long way.
4. It's not that young people don't care about politics. It's that politics doesn't seem to care about us.
We'd really appreciate a political system that makes the extra effort to remember our existence on a more long term basis than just the run up to the general elections. You know, politicians that remember us before they think about tripling Universities fee's and making cuts in sectors that provide us with opportunities to reach our potential and build the type of characteristics needed to make positive future leaders. We don't just want to feel like we're being acknowledged. We want the real thing.
If you really want us to care, please lead by example.
5. If the conventional arena fails to give us a voice and stifles our ability to make the kind of change that we want to see, then respect our decision to start creating our own alternative arenas.
We are the self initiating generation of change makers that no longer feel the need to rely solely on politicians to make the change that we want to see. Through initiatives such as these, we're becoming more empowered and equipped to go out and initiate change ourselves.
And we feel that it's high time that this is acknowledged as a real form of political engagement and not a form of political apathy.
As a follow up to this event, during the run up to the general elections, BeatfreeksTV will be hosting a 7 part series featuring 7 poets tackling 7 political issues over 7 days. The series will run from May 1st, to May 7th ending on the general election. The series will be hosted on their YouTube Channel and will also be covered here on this blog!
Find them on Twitter @beatfreeks to follow the conversation!
Photographs courtesy of Paul Stringer, Beatfreeks Consulting