What I gained from the “Youth Doing Politics” conference

EURYKA, a Horizon 2020 funded project, is a three year (2017-2020) transnational research involving ten partners from countries all over Europe. Their one-day conference ‘Youth Doing Politics’ was held in Brussels. It provided me with many insights into the opinions of young generations, aged 18-35 years, concerning politics.

The primary question put forth by the research was if young people participate sufficiently in the democratic process. Youth today is often not truly represented and rather talked about by decision makers, rather than being given a platform for raising their concerns themselves. Panelist and Sociology Professor at the University of Arizona, Jennifer Earl, confirmed this finding by stating how those in power like to preach the young, “If you don’t do it our way, you’re doing it the wrong way.”  Compared to the older generation, the youth are exposed to precarious times marked by economic, social and political injustice. It was a striking revelation for me to find out, for instance, that social security systems across countries are designed to better address the needs of older people, and not young people who are transitioning to work for example. Or, the adoption of youth specific policies was done much later by the European Union during the economic crisis, thus putting the needs of the youth far behind on their list of priorities.

Such increasing inequalities raised many concerns during the panel discussions at the conference, such as, political apathy, lack of political representation by young people or opportunities for political participation. One of the findings of the research was that young people are skeptical towards traditional politics and show mistrust in the political elite. Most of the youth are politically involved through associations and volunteering, believing in getting personally involved to support a cause, which by older on-lookers may not be perceived as political participation. These questions were met by creative ideas and solutions both from the panelists and audience. One was to incorporate civic education and promote active participation in democracy. Another suggestion was to empower the local government rather than national, because regional focus leads to more transformative changes. A young activist, sitting in the audience, strongly demanded for accessibility, financial support, and mentoring for young politicians, who in most cases lack monetary means to launch themselves. She also suggested for round table dialogues to encourage young politicians in creating an atmosphere where youth from different social and financial backgrounds can relate and build bridges.

Although the research was very informative on youth engagement in politics around Europe, it would have been encouraging to see more young panelists in the conference. There was, however, genuine curiosity and active participation from the young audience. I met many interesting young volunteers and activists involved in their home countries on a vast spectrum of issues, such as alcohol and drug abuse, support for more female experts in policy making, promoting a more democratic, equal and culturally open Europe and so on. Overall, the key-take away from the conference was a “Doing-it-ourselves (DIO)” approach by the youth across Europe, proposed by Sarah Pickard in her book Politics, Protest and Young People: Political Participation and Dissent in 21st Century Britain. Young people are practicing their political opinions today more often outside of traditional political institutions. Greta Thunberg, for instance, inspired many to actively participate in strikes and raise awareness on environmental issues. This leads me to think that changes today are demanded more often on the cobbled pathways of towns and cities, than on lacquered wooden panels in air-conditioned rooms. There is a need for young voices to not only be heard, but also be translated into quantifiable actions.

Published: January 29, 2020
Written by Moomal Shaktawat, a WYA Europe intern from India