The word “politic” is enough to scare everyone away from any text or person. But, before closing this tab or scrolling down the page – give it a try. It is not a dry subject as it is usually depicted to us or perceived by us. Here, I have written down my opinion on involving young people into politics and how that can lead to social change. No empty promises, no accusations, no radical opinions – just some facts and points of view. Bear with me and feel free to challenge what is written, because “It’s better to debate a question without settling it than to settle a question without debating it”.
Allergy to Politics and Politicians
Getting youth involved in politics is, probably, among the most challenging tasks that any youth organization could take on. This is due to the fact that nowadays the young generations don’t really have faith in the politicians and other governmental institutions. And who can blame us? After witnessing so many disappointments in the people “on the top” and so many pointless revolutions and promises, one naturally assumes that all that politicians are truly good at are words and speeches filled with “Yes, we can!” and “We need (bring) a change!” Unfortunately, the only change the electorate notices is the steadily increasing proportion of change in their pockets. Since it is easier for us to remember the bad things that happen with us rather than the progress, it is somehow natural that people choose to focus on the unreached expectations and commitments made by the politicians. I’m not trying to act as an advocate for the tricksters that try to crawl up the ladder of power and social status, because, unfortunately they still comprise a large portion of those from the stands yelling slogans of social equality, hope of deliverance and sometimes even, promises of building utopias.
A “Comfortably Numb” Attitude
What the youth fails to see nowadays, in my opinion, is the somehow banal and obvious reality that we’re the “next in line”. This reality that we chose to build upon the idea of representative democracy cannot be created in “that fair way” we all want it to be, and the lack of which disappoints us way too often. And this is mainly because we refuse to participate in this important and crucial process of creating our social, legal and even moral framework by making our voices heard. The main (read “preferred”) argument we choose to bring up is “My vote (read “voice”) doesn’t matter – what can one vote (read “voice” again) change?! It’s not worth the bother.” Without trying to seem overly optimistic or dreamy, I would like to ask the same people “How can all those ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ on the social portals change the lives of the children with cancer or the starving ones in Africa?” Feeling under siege, the natural response I hear back mostly is “Well, there are certain benefits: raising awareness about social inequality; or, perhaps, it can push a person to discover his inner philanthropist; it brings people of the same interest together – it creates stronger networks; etc.” The next question arises in my head naturally – how come then we don’t see the similarity between the goals of political organizations and the above answers of the defensively inactive youth (and not only)? Again, without trying to come across as a social expert or a contrarian, I would like to challenge these people on their BS – the truth behind your answer is the fact that it’s just easier to make one feel better about himself through a click rather than actually getting up from his posterior and the comfortably numbing pleasures of the modern life and actually do something. Well, my dear friends, as much as I share your perspective on comfort, there is a risk that without getting involved, the definition of a comfortable life might be “re-designed” into something that not all of us – the “facebook benefactors” – will agree with. I don’t want to scare anyone into taking action and responsibility for the creation of our common future – time doesn’t really care about us – it will come and go as it always did, but I urge the young generations to keep in mind the winners write and define history, and the model of our government makes it so much easier to choose like-minded people to define “the rules” of the social game, so it is so much easier for all of us to be winners, and not only those radical-minded people who wage war with other social classes, fueled by xenophobia, fear of change or the complex of superiority.
Youth and Voting in DK
And now, to get to more tangible and statistically measurable information, November 2013 marked a special period in the political and social processes in Denmark – the regional elections took place. The democratic process offered the possibility to elect representatives for the seats in the City Councils of all the regions in Denmark. Flyers and posters, video-clips and radio-ads, free flowers and free speeches in the town-squares – all of the sudden, we were all besieged by this flux of promises, strong words, lures and intimidations regarding the precarious state of this-and-that policy, tax expenditures and other complex and multi-faced notions. The set up was usual for this particular period in the political life of a country – nothing new under the sun. One of the most actual problems for the structures responsible for social engagement was the low participation-rate of the youth in the elections. This is not a newly emerging occurrence. It is somewhat similar to the 2009 statistics – when only 1 in 4 youth between the ages of 18 and 25 showed up to the voting booths.
Benefits of Having a Presence at the Voting Booth
I urge the reader not to misinterpret the data as a lack of interest of the Danish youth in the political process. Taking account of the encounters that I have had with Danish youth, I would like to point out the exact opposite – they seem to be more interested in the fate of their country (which is natural and healthy). At the same time, there’s about 15 000 foreign students studying all across Denmark, and most of them don’t even know that they have the possibility to vote for the City Council of the town where they have the residence. Thus, they did not bother to participate – hence the statistics. And even if they know, most of them gave the standard answers discussed above, plus the disarming argument that “I don’t plan on staying in Denmark for too long – why should I even bother!? I would rather focus my efforts on finding a job/my studies/my hobbies/etc. – It has a higher pay-off” True that, but most of them miss to understand and see certain details – all these privileges, such as: studying for free here, certain tax benefits, the ability to study Danish for free at the language schools, the good wages and the healthy work environment and so on, are due to laws that the local and national government – that representative government that people vote for, to represent them and their interests. For example, there is a certain Danish political party that believes that foreigners cause nothing but trouble in this country. That’s why they are trying to push certain laws in the Parliament to limit the access of foreigners to come to Denmark, to limit certain benefits that the foreigners have, and even to make it easier to send us “back from where we came from.” And some of these laws are slowly being applied. So, foreigners (students and not only), hold on tight to your pants! The main reason why this party manages to achieve their goals is because their supporters know that this is the way to make things work in here, therefore this party represents a considerably large portion of the Danish Parliament. So, why then we wouldn’t try and stand our ground? Especially, because this is not necessarily the opinion and attitude of the majority of the Danes. We deserve to respect the work and vision of those people who worked to make it possible for us to get here in search of a better education, life, place, etc. and help maintain it.
I believe that in the globalized world we all live in there should be no place for such radical attitudes and ideas. That’s why I encourage the (young) readers to get informed about the political life – no, not live with it, but know it – and make their voices heard in the elections that will take place this spring for the EU Parliament. In this case, my dear reader, there is no place for the argument that your voice will not affect anything. The EU Parliament makes decisions and policies that affect the whole EU – the country where you might be coming from or where your family lives and the one you are living in currently. Take responsibility and, as Mahatma Gandhi said “Be the change you want to see in the world.”