Troubling political alien-nation, and what to do about it

I’m going to diverge from my usual subjects, and illuminate something I feel is VERY important to grok, and that is the near-absence of young people (that is, under-30) participating in our recent federal election. 

I was very involved in a local campaign from start to finish, I attended debates and meetings, canvassed neighbourhoods and reviewed election results, and I can confirm the absence of young people in almost any way from this election. Evidently, fewer than 30% of eligible voters under 30 years of age across Canada actually voted in this election. 

If that’s not sobering enough I can further confirm that in the past 12 years or so in which I have participated in several other municipal, provincial and federal elections and many other regional-political events, I have noted a near-absence of participation by young people. 

Declining participation in voting, of course, is symptomatic of a larger trend on the part of young people of tuning out political messaging of any kind. This is NOT good news and portends very poorly for future civic participation and the vitality of our democracy.

Many reasons are being punted around for declining interest in political participation, and young people themselves are candid about the most obvious turnoffs: negative attack advertising, a perceived lack of relevance to issues most salient to young people, or that voting for things that matter most to them (i.e. environmental protection, student-related issues) doesn’t matter, so why bother, and a perception that politics is mainly tedious (i.e. boring).

Whatever one may think about these reasons, I think a more obvious reason is and has been a near-total abdication of responsibility on the part of educational leaders and bureaucracies from encouraging (non-partisan) participation of young people (in K-12 education programs and colleges and universities) in our political processes pertaining to all levels and kinds of government.

I’m not talking about teachers churning out more lesson plans forcing students to learn the minutiae of the British Parliamentary system – that kind of response is part of the problem! No, I’m talking about encouraging front-line participation, as much as possible, of kids in political processes relevant to their lives. That includes community processes such as demonstrations and special-issue debates, encouraging candidates to attend school and class-based discussions and forums, and encouraging young people to understand the mechanics of different approaches to democracy, such as consensus, and the first-past-the-post and proportional representation systems of voting.

In the high school my daughter attends, the political up-take by staff and administration to my perception is and has been pathetic. In the past 10 years there have been numerous political events there that I have attended and I have never counted more than a hand’s worth of young people in attendance. That’s disgraceful, but even the leaders here need to hear from the big-wigs thatimproving student participation in democracy is important and should be supported. Until that happens, the turn-off will likely continue, and our society will be the poorer for it.

In coming weeks I’m going to write to the educational leaders I know to encourage them to do their part in turning this trend around. If they can do it for the three Rs, they can do it for the big-D. Please join me in addressing this. 
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