ROUSING THE RABBLE JULY 17: Youth are involved, but not in status quo politics

Grand Forks' mayor recently talked about the youth's disconnection from civic affairs, primarily that most youth don't vote.

On July 1, Mayor Brian Taylor spoke briefly to a Canada Day crowd gathered at Gyro Park in Grand Forks.

He said he had been asked to talk about youth and had chosen to comment on its disconnection from civic affairs. His specific concerns were that most youth don’t vote and don’t volunteer.

Taylor’s solution to these problems (if they are problems) is to simply embrace the electronic world of iPads, smartphones and other devices of choice of young people and eventually make it possible for them to vote electronically.

The idea came to him during a visit of four young people to his home recently.

They sat around the kitchen table texting and tweeting while he sat in an adjacent room. They were engaged, but not with one another.

The suggestion that we must join young people in their world of electronic devices has some merit but we must ask some harder questions about their lack of engagement in community. Why are they disconnected? Why are they not involved in politics as we experience it?

Lea Williams, a 24-year-old living in England argues, in an essay published in the New Internationalist, that young people are involved in politics and it is the politicians who must change. She says, “There needs to be a shift, not to engage young people in politics, for we are already engaged … It is the politicians who need to get engaged and start listening to us. We would get engaged in the mainstream if the political elites bothered to engage with our politics.”

Murray Dobbin, a resident of Powell River and journalist and social activist, addresses the lack of involvement of the majority of people in a recent posting on his blog.

Dobbin is critical of the political system we continue to support, that works fine for the elites and corporations that feed off of it. He states, “The multi-party system is designed to be dominated by money and increasingly sophisticated marketing, micro-targeting and data mining. Disengaged citizens haven’t a prayer in dealing with the modern electoral machine.”

The recent election campaign in B.C. was a prime example of what Dobbin says.

Surely Taylor doesn’t want youth and older voters who stay away from voting places to continue to support a system that is far from democratic and lacking in integrity.

Dobbin talks about the political game that is played during elections across the country.

He says, “Left wing parties try to play this game but inevitably come up short. The ‘game’ has been designed not to represent the needs of people or communities but to manage capitalism in the interests of the elites. As soon as you accept the rules of this game that is what you end up doing. The electoral contest is inherently corrupting of genuine democracy.”

Surely Taylor doesn’t want youth and older voters who don’t vote to continue to support a system that is far from democratic and presents itself as corrupt. Where might we begin to change the game?

Dobbin says, “A key to this goal is to be found at the level of civic politics. It is the level of government closest to people in their daily lives and presents a scale of politics with the most potential for community building.

According to Dobbin, if those with progressive ideas wish to succeed in changing the system, they will have to engage people at the community level year round.

There is your challenge, Mr. Mayor. Engage people in meaningful dialogue about the issues they face in Boundary Country. Give them face-to-face opportunities to talk about the issues and above all, listen to what they have to say.

If young people are engaged in the decision-making processes, and if they feel that their contribution is valued, when it comes time to cast a vote it won’t be necessary to make it easier because the odds are that they will want to be part of the action.

– Roy Ronaghan is a columnist for the Grand Forks Gazette

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