Why are young people so disillusioned with politics? Find out as 18- to 24-year-olds pitch ideas to the media at the FutureVote Showcase at 6pm
WHEN I first met Camilla Yahaya, she was 16 and had already set up a youth club, created a 10,000-strong movement campaigning for city safety and been invited to meet President Obama.
Poet Suli Breaks had posted a YouTube video on the purpose of education that went viral, sparking a global conversation that inspired him to develop his Millennial Generation Campaign.
They are two of the most passionate, community orientated, purposeful people I have ever met, yet neither would call themself ‘political’.
We have a deeply political generation that is engaging in community direct action and every form of political expression but staying away from formal politics. They are also staying away from most other formal institutions, from trade unions and churches to traditional news. The answer to how we re-engage young people in mainstream political debate lies with the young people already leading the way. Suli, Camilla and others are creating new forms of political institutions and dialogue and we should take note.
The starting point is they share power. Young people want more power and autonomy over their own lives, their politics and their work. The rise in entrepreneurial ambitions is part of their desire to be authors of their own destiny.
Many young people are used to co-creating content, putting their own spin on a video, improving a piece of code. They want the same sense of collaborative endeavour from their policymaking and their news.
Openness and transparency are non-negotiable for millennials. Too much politics happens behind closed doors in party structures. Young people need to understand where to infl uence and see the tangible results of their input.
If you ask young people what they are looking for from politicians, the number one answer is ‘honesty’. This means being direct about what politicians can and can’t influence but, just as importantly, it means living one’s values and presenting a whole person. This is a generation brought up on reality television. They like their celebrities real and raw. The one-dimensional, scripted blandness of politicians frozen in the spotlight of an unforgiving media compounds the sense of inauthenticity.
They are looking for inspiration and searching for causes and projects that give them a sense of broader purpose.
So much of the problem young people have with the political and media dialogue is that they feel they are misrepresented and misunderstood. Young people are talked about, they are not talked to. The assumption in much of the policy debate seems to be that their incentives are selfish, materialistic and lazy and their behaviour is irresponsible.
To really engage young people, there must be a culture shift in both politics and journalism, a suspension of cynicism and negativity, and a constructive dialogue about the future. It is no easy job for mainstream news channels or political campaigns. Many young people have literally switched off.
Wanting to engage young people is not enough. An organisation has to wholeheartedly believe this is a priority because it requires dedication, resources and structural change.
It also demands creativity: quality content that is funny and relevant. This is an over-saturated generation demanding the best. And from spokespeople they trust – we need more diversity in our media and politics.
For me, the biggest issue is that there is a generation full of hope and optimism, yearning for meaningful, creative lives, yet only a small proportion will get to live it.
The majority are too caught up with the desperation of now and that is worth talking about.
Gould is author of Wasted: How Misunderstanding Young Britain Threatens Our Future