Written by Kendi M’Mbijjewe
There is a global trend indicating that young people do not vote. It is especially worrying because young people will live (for longer) with the decisions that older generations make.
This is not to suggest that young people are oblivious to politics, social media has ample evidence that young people are constantly engaging in political conversation. We discuss the problems with our society, the weaknesses in our governments, and most significantly, we envision the world, as we would like to see it. A world with access and opportunities; a world that values and celebrates differences; a world with clean air and a hospitable environment for human society and other animals alike. A world that combines practical solutions to real world problems, but also a world in which art, spirituality, and the beauty that gives value to our lives is present.
And yet, we do not vote.
When you ask young people why they do not vote, there is a common feeling that political engagement has no value. They say, “It’ll all be the same anyway… what difference does it make?”
So why is it that young people feel disconnected from electoral systems? Why are we happy to rant on social media about the problems we see, but unwilling to engage directly in the political process to change them? How can we understand this disconnect between posting and voting?
I used to be an advocate of the idea that if you do not vote, then you have no right to post. I have since learnt that it is a grave injustice to dismiss the voices of the youth, even if they do not materialize in the ballot boxes. A better approach is to ask why one and not the other?
It is unfair to assume young people are too lazy to vote when we prove daily that are willing to spend life-minutes and life-hours engaged in movements that promote the values we believe in. Maybe the reality is we do not see our vision in the people who stand to represent us. Maybe the Bernie Sanders of this world are dismissed as idealistic, and therefore unrealistic. Maybe we are not willing to settle for the less of two evils. Maybe we want more.
The fact is the world has the resources and is quickly developing the sustainable technology to provide for us all. The question is quickly changing from “can we” create the world we envision, to “do we really want to” create the world we envision?
Don’t just tweet, run for a seat!
increasingly “maturity” has become a condition for political credibility, which is ironic since it is only in this modern age that people are living to 70, let alone become presidents at that age. We need to remember the power of political and conscious movements driven by young people. Martin Luther King died at 39, Thomas Sankara died at 37, Patrice Lumumba at 35, and Tupac at 23. I’m not saying we need to die for our cause, all I’m saying is you don’t need to be old to make a difference.
They say, “your time will come” we reply “your time has past”.
We have all heard the sentiment that young people ought to be patient, wait for our time. No doubt we must learn from our history, but we must affirm the value of youth. Our time is now before we get corrupted by life’s disappointments, disempowered by life’s burdens. Before we lose the idealism that can spark genuine revolution. We need fresh minds with new ideas in order to solve old problems and generate new possibilities.
Still, we have to know that political space has not been, and will not be, created for us. The institutions of power are designed to sustain the status quo. It is on us to create our space and define our terms of engagement. Let’s not wait to be included in the conversation, but flip the conversation upside down and have our own.
In Africa young people under 30 make up 70% of the population, what kind of world would it be if we made up even 40% of the political leadership? Let’s not be remembered as the generation happy to post, not to vote.