Our generation is often stereotyped as being politically apathetic and ignorant. It is common practise for political scientists and journalists to circulate their ‘findings’ that young people are not knowledgeable and are disinterested in the formal political process.
Perhaps this is not unfounded. There are arguably significant gaps in many young person’s understanding of how the political system works. Some don’t even bother to enrol – I say this, thinking about the tireless campaigns by groups such as GetUp to try and increase enrolment around election time. Leave aside party membership, which is steadily on the decline amongst young voters.
Older commentators lay the blame of this political disengagement at our feet, perhaps doing so around the belief that we are self-centred and lazy. But what does politics really offer young people? For the majority of my generation, the two-party system fails to provide real choices. With seemingly only slight differences between the two major parties, we are left uninspired.
I would compare the two major parties to a stale marriage. Despite their party origins, most of those who make up the major parties seem to be the same breed of slogan and jargon speaking, still-suited apparatchik (even the cringe-worthy selfie taking Rudd couldn’t shake this vibe). They are a part of a closed (and often boys) club who represent the interests of older generations. Perhaps the tilt to parties like the greens and other independent candidates is a way for young voters to spice things up.
Not only are the major parties and their leaders unappealing, our generation sees that there is little that can be done to change them. Joining a political party is not seen as a viable solution. Despite the changes made by the labor party in choosing their party leader – where the party membership actually gets a say – there isn’t enough internal democracy to satisfy us, the generation used to choice and flexibility in all of our ventures. We all want a say. We get to choose the winner of ‘Australia’s Got Talent’ and the ‘X-Factor.’ The ‘tow-the-party line’ mindset is too simplistic and containing for a generation that is now used to a kind of hands on approach in decision making.
But the afore mentioned disengagement does not mean that we do not care how the country is run and fate of the world more broadly. ‘Apathy’ is an ignorant and inaccurate label to describe the political inclinations of Generation Y. While the two-party system bores us, that doesn’t mean that we are comfortable with current levels of political ignorance.
It means that are able to choose between caring about party politics and caring about the substance of politics. We have views, but they haven’t translated into traditional forms of political behaviour like party membership. Hardy apathetic, our generation is heavily involved in the parts of public life that are overlooked by political scientists, either to change political culture or make progress with political issues.
Young people’s political participation can’t be measured against the preconceived idea of what ‘real’ political behaviour is. ‘Real’ political engagement is traditionally seen as joining a party, donating money, contacting MPs. On the back burner of this traditional scale is community involvement, campaigning and protest activities. This is significant when these activities on the back burner are the very activities that attract young people the most.
Take the internet and social media, with less aligned young people more empowered then ever, connecting with one another and seeing through the spin circulated by special interest groups and politicians.
We are involved in environmental organisations, like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition, sporting and church groups, and independent groups like Get Up and the Oaktree Foundation. We are also willing to boycott products for political reasons. This mirrors other countries like the United States, where youth volunteerism is on the rise. Pushing aside from the national party scene, Generation Y seems to be taking a smaller, more targeted political approach, focusing their energy on organisations and issues that matter most to them. These seem easier to grapple with and influence.
We display a genuine attraction to volunteer work, community and local parties. While some still insist that we are politically clueless and indifferent, we are actually an idealistic and principled group with genuine interests making the world a better place. We just do so without turning to national political parties.
Because the current major political parties fail to speak this language, it becomes obvious why they fail to represent us. I am a part of a generation that doesn’t submit the entirety of their opinions to one party, whether in religion, philosophy, or politics. We will continue to think for ourselves.
Even if that means not having a place to hang our political hats on.