By Laura Bonjean

In October 2022, the Euroculture Professor of History and Politics of European Integration in Udine provided students with the opportunity to attend the Tenth Jubilee ECPD Global Youth Forum “Youth power for the common future” which main topic was “Building Forward Together – Towards Resilien Youth”, organised by the European Center for Peace and Development of the  University for Peace and Development established by the United Nations. 

The forum was, as the name already suggested, dedicated to youth and young people. Cooperation, education, solidarity and optimism were key words during this conference. To sum up, we as young people are the future and it is necessary that we start acting now towards building a better horizon. Yet, one could not help but notice that the majority of people talking at this conference did not belong to the category of what youth refers to generally. The forum lasted two days and we spent most of our time sitting and listening to people advocating for us to stand up for ourselves and to speak up. Bit ironic, isn’t it? 

Truth is, this has been going for quite some time now. The older generation takes the stage and asks us to change the world, praising our brilliant and innovative ideas, making sure we understand it is our responsibility to fix their mistakes, whether it concerns the environment, gender equality, the inclusion of minorities or the rights of LGBTQ+ people. They expect us to carry their burden while preventing us from accessing platforms where our voices could be heard and our words taken seriously. 

We, as a generation, are navigating between the pressure of living in this world and the constant pressure to improve our situation. Yet sometimes, we feel so utterly desperate by the way our hands are tied or the way we are constantly disregarded because of the way we look, our discussions or our sexuality. But we are not waiting for the older generation, we take matters into our own hands, and our sense of activism is like never before because of the world we are living in. 

Matthew Goodwin, Professor of Politics at the University of Kent and Fellow at Legatum Institum, argues in his article “Will Gen Z recover from Covid?”, that our political conscience has been shaped by major economic downturns and recessions, international crisis, debates about globalisation and a worldwide pandemic. He states that we are one of the first generations whose life is not said to be brighter than the one of our parents: there is no economic stability and climate change is happening now. This global environment contributes to making Gen Z become increasingly individually responsible from a younger age by changing the ways of activism. When it comes to lifestyle, Gen Z is more likely to choose a more sustainable one than the  predecessor of Gen Z,  for instance, according to a study done in December 2019 by FirstInsight, Gen Z asks more for sustainable products than Millenials. Additionally, Megan Carnegie writes, in her article e “Gen Z: How young people are changing activism” Climate change is front and centre, threatening the future of the planet they will live on” and this influences the way we take part in activism.  The knowledge of being in the crisis makes us more active, and the new means of resources such as Social Media give us space to express ourselves and new networks to rely on.

All this activism and personal responsibility make the gap between the responsibility given by the older generation and our concrete powers to act all the broader. Indeed, when it comes to participating as citizens of our countries through the official channels of decisions making, our voices are often not as heard as they should be, and more could be done to make us feel like we matter. And, one of the most striking illustrations of this phenomenon is the outcome of the Brexit vote in 2016. According to Pippa Norris, in the article Generation wars over Brexit – and beyond: how young and old are divided over social values “, what divided the voters among the referendum on Brexit Is more a generational factor than a electoral cleavage.

When looking at the study by Dr. Sam Mejias & Dr. Shakuntala Banaji from London School of Economics and Political Science UK Youth Perspectives and Priorities for Brexit Negotiations.”, it appears that overall young people voted “remain”. No matter their desire to stay in the European Union, they now have to face the consequences of this decision, and they will be the ones suffering from its future consequences as they get older. Some of the main concerns guiding their ambition to remain European Union citizens concerned their opportunities within Europe and the rise of intolerance, exclusion and racism of some multi-ethnic communities in the United Kingdom.

We witnessed the same trend in 2022 in France during the French Presidential elections. According to the polls, more than a third of people under 35 years old voted for the Far-Left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon: the analysis by the  French Institute of Public Opinion showed that 34% of people between 18 and 24 years old, voted for J-L Mélenchon, while Emmanuel Macron acquired most of his votes by people older than 65 years old. It seems that if only young people had voted he would have, at least, made it to the second round instead of the Far-Right candidate Marine Le Pen. 

However, it seems that outside of Europe things are changing. New Zealand’s Supreme Court has ruled that the country’s current voting age of 18 is discriminatory and the Parliament is now discussing a possible lowering of the voting age to 16. Indeed, the campaign group Make It 16 brough the case to the court by demonstrating that the minimum voting age of 18 was not aligned with the country’s Bill of Rights which claims that people over 16 years old have the right to be free from age discrimination. Moreover, as the younger generation gets more and more affected by climate change, they feel compelled to vote on certain decisions and get increasingly involved in politics as they are the ones who will be going through the future. If the leftist and progressive parties were in favour of this change, the more conservative ones were opposed to it, considering young people not able to handle such powers. 

Throughout this article it has been shown that our generation is one of the most concerned by the state of our planet as we have no idea what our future will look like. Yet, we keep hearing about how we are the future. But, isn’t it time to finally stop speaking about young people and to actually give us the space to express our ideas and our opinions? An example could be the European Parliament, which actually gave space and representation to the youth and improved the relationship between politicans and young people, as the German student, Julia, interviewed in the European Lab Democracy Podcast by the Institute of European Democrats, explains. Through initiatives and workshops, the youth could actually become an integrated part of politics and finally  bring on the stage topics that concern, not only them, but everyone.

Picture Credit: Callum Shawn

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