New Internationalist

So you think young people don't care about politics?

This is a post written by 24-year-old New Internationalist subscriber Leah Williams. Have a read, and then let us know whether or not you agree - however old you are!

I went on the Put People First protest with my Dad, the oldest rocker in town, last month. He turned to me at one point, with genuine surprise in his voice, and said: 'There are loads of young people here!' I wasn’t surprised: I'm young and I was there, but I was quite inspired, as I jumped in behind the anti-war coalition banner and saw four teenagers leading the procession and organizing their protesters with the rallying cry of 'what do we want? Jobs not bombs! When do we want it? Now!'

It is hardly surprising that the perception of young people is that they are not interested in politics. Sadly, some young people have been stupefied by Reality TV and a barrage of magazines about Britney Spears' cellulite and Cheryl Cole's fake eyelashes. Politicians occasionally take it down a notch or two and talk to us 'yoof' about The X Factor and Jade Goody (may she rest in peace). I wonder if the political classes had a peek at the protesters during the G20 protests and realized that among the ageing communists, concerned about the drop in the value of their houses, and the usual eccentrics, there were swathes of young people, for whom the G20 and the current economic mess is not just about money. For young people this is about a political system that doesn't represent their views, where the issues they really care about are not even part of the political agenda. Are the political classes finally getting the message? It is not that we don't care about politics, it's you who don't care about our politics.  

Youth politics, through music, cartoons and other young people's media, concentrates on the irony and hypocrisy of a world system that has created inequality, subjugated the developing world and reinforced racism, classism and poverty on a national and international level. I can hear the sceptical middle-aged mind thinking 'Yeah, right'. I am sure that you never imagined that the angry-sounding music blaring from your daughter's room was anything other than depressing or offensive, just as you have probably raised your eyebrows and shaken your head in despair if you have ever witnessed your son watching South Park. Admittedly, 50 Cent and Girls Aloud aren't deeply concerned with exploring racial tension or Third World debt, and I don't mean to imply that there is a political reason that 'they killed Kenny' in every episode of South Park, but there is a reason that the only black child in South Park is called 'Token'. Other cartoons, like the Boondocks - which covers the theme of racism and the modern world through the eyes of an inner city black boy, taken out of the ghetto to live in a rich white area with his grandfather - and American Dad - about a CIA agent with a socialist daughter, a Stepford wife, a talking fish and a pet alien - challenge their US audiences and expand their political horizons.  

In music too, there are plenty of political messages. If you look past the 'N' word and the 'F' word, designed to deter anyone over the age of 30, Immortal Technique is one politically opinionated and interesting rapper. As he explores the link between poverty-stricken post-colonial populations and the drugs trade, talks of revolution and states that 'democracy and capitalism are not synonymous', Immortal Technique smacks of communism. Just because I know the name of the theory, doesn't mean that the inner city 'yoof' who listen to this music and feel strongly about its messages are less political than I am.

My generation are products of a pre-citizenship school system that never explored political theory and brought us up to assume that the British way (a shallow, unrepresentative democracy) is the only way. And therein lies the problem. The official, mainstream political agenda has become so narrow that the issues that concern young people are not recognized as political issues by those in mainstream politics, or even by us. And I don't just mean the issues concerning urban youth. Even middle-class youngsters straight out of uni, turning away from corporate job opportunities to spend years working on terrible salaries in development organizations and charities, don't recognize how their interest in alleviating world poverty and creating more equality at home and abroad is politics. It is politics, it is the new political agenda, but it is not making it onto the British political scene.

Young people, idealistic and hopeful for a better future, care about the horrendous state of many of Britain's housing estates, where stabbings go unnoticed by the media and un-investigated by the police. We care about the continuation of protectionist trade policies that ensure the EU continues to perpetuate its extreme wealth, while Africa can't stand a chance of competing, even with superior produce at a fraction of the price. We care that the arms trade, the drugs trade, the sex trade all continue under the nose of our political parties. We care that middle-class parents with cultural capital and the influence can get their children into good schools, while less well-off kids are left with the educational dregs. Young people care about 'stop and search' and the anti-terror legislation that could see any one of us thrown into prison for several weeks without any charge. These issues never make it onto the agenda, or get swept aside when we start talking about the ever-so-important issue of falling property prices.  

Of course, a lot of young people are very idealistic, and maybe not that realistic. However, many political élites are un-idealistic, rich and selfish. I’d rather have a bit more idealism back in politics than the continuation of this selfish status quo that has reigned since Thatcher. There needs to be a shift: not to engage young people in politics, for we are already engaged, even if we don't realize that concern about getting stabbed or anger at the police hassling Black and Asian boys is politics. It is politicians who need to get engaged and start listening to us. We would get engaged in the mainstream, if the political élites bothered to engage with our politics.

      

Leah Williams is 24 and has been reading NI since she was about 17. 'I got interested in it while studying Politics A Level. I went on to study Politics and East European Studies at University College London and always enjoyed reading the New Internationalist because it presents a refreshingly international perspective and addresses world issues that really concern me. I am currently writing a novel about the dual themes of integration and multi-culturalism in Britain and the flouting of justice under anti-terrorism legislation.'

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  1. #1 ADH61 06 May 09

    Good on you!

    I'm an old fogie now (probably much older than your Dad!) and have been on many a march over the years. I've been a socialist and a trade unionist all my adult life. I was born just after the Second World War and have seen many changes in that time. Unfortunately most of them not for the better. To tell the truth, I don't like the world we live in. I don't like the way it's going.
    I was on the march you mention, and to be honest the only thing that lifted my spirits was seeing so many young people involved, getting out there and being heard.
    Good on you!
    Don't ever give up!

  2. #2 zeina beydoun 07 May 09

    leah..great article...very well written, you totally nailed it, whether we realise it or not we are engaged in politics, shame that our non-conventional channels are mistaken for apathy. hurry up and publish your book im first in line!

  3. #3 mehtadone 10 May 09

    In my opinion, I think the younger generation have been disheartened by the fact that their points of view are never taken into consideration.

    I can remember back to the times when I was growing up as a teen and musical artists such as Public Enemy, Bruce Springsteen and Rage Against the Machine, trying with no energy spared, conveying politically inspired messages. In particular, remember when Wall St had to be shut down as Rage Against The Machine decided to do a gig outside.

    As this generation grew up, they probably realized that their energy was wasted in trying to convince the politicians and the mass media. Instead they set up charitable organizations such as Axis Of Justice, Love Music Hate Racism and the like.

    If the youth of today have these generations as their daily role models, it is not surprising that many of them don't really pay much attention to politics. In my case, everyone has to earn a living somehow and I've come to terms with the fact that I have to integrate with the norm. It doesn't change the fact that my points of view are the same and if the views of me and other like me are not going to be heard, I might as well try and cure the symptoms rather than the cause.

    Great article by the way!

  4. #4 Chigsk 11 May 09

    As a young Asian man, who is constantly stereotyped by the police, airport security and people who won't sit next to me on the tube, I can honestly say you have hit the nail on the head. I do care about politics, but until I read this I didn't really think I was political. None of the parties represent my views, they don't speak about the issues that concern me. The big parties set the agenda and the mainstream media is complicit in it. There is genocide taking place in Sudan and Sri Lanka and Tamil protestors have been occupying Parliament Square for weeks, capitalist greed has caused a global financial meltdown and people are loosing their jobs like work is going out of fashion. So an expenses scandal creeps out from under the carpet, where it has been lurking for generations! Who cares? They manipulate their expenses? Like we don't all go for Sushi and order the most expensive food on the menu when work is paying? I have become so disillusioned that I don't even vote anymore. You should go into politics, that would make me vote!

  5. #5 rnye6588 11 May 09

    they do care

    I work with Young Offenders and had a legthly discussion with a young person last week about the G20 riot clashes. They talked a lot about how what they saw on the news reflected what they see on THEIR streets on a daily basis. Young Offenders recieve bad press on a daily basis, and from my time spent with them i have seen that they face further persection from the police, employers, teachers, those who should be there for them. They feel frustrated at being unable to get their voices heard. I do not want to get into the rights and wrongs of offending at this time. The point i wanted to get across was that, as Leah has so brilliantly put across, YOUNG PEOPLE DO CARE!!

  6. #6 tolaog84 12 May 09

    Very well put, its shame that whenever young people are portrayed in the media it is to do with knife crime or ASBOs. Young people are certainly interested/engaged with politics but often outside conventional means, using different methods to express their concern for the issues facing today's society. If mainstream politics would look beyond Radio 4 and broadsheet newspapers I am sure they would be surprised to find that it is possible to engage with a perceptive and interested yoof.

  7. #8 Lopez 13 Sep 11

    I think that more people should read this article. Kids should give a shit because the world they don't care about today is the world they inherit tomorrow. Also I'm 22 and staunchly conservative, and educated. It goes to show that not every kid who is politically active is liberal in nature. I respect communists because they want to change the world around them to be better than it is, but I disagree with their logic and their understanding of human nature. At the same time that doesn't mean fascism is ok. America the way it is now would be perfect if everyone truly grasps the concept that with freedom is responsibility. Entitlements shouldn't exist, social welfare should be reformed to actually provide incentive to find a job. Anyone who says that is heartless is naive and has never lived in a inner city section 8 housing neighborhood.

  8. #9 Fiona 13 Mar 13

    I'm only thirteen, but couldn't care more about politics. I go on marches, read political books and newspapers, watch debates and debate the issues myself.

    I have strong socialist, feminist views. I hate austerity, the coalition, sexism, less inheritance tax and the social elitism of university fees and the tory party.

    I know lots of teenagers (and some pre-teens) VERY engaged and very interested in our politics.

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About the author

Jo Lateu a New Internationalist contributor

Having joined New Internationalist in 1998 as distribution manager, Jo moved into the editorial team in 2008, where she tries to keep her colleagues in order. Failing that, she edits, proofs and commissions pieces for the magazine and website and waters the plants when she remembers.

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