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Are young people going to change the world?

For decades, young people have been the catalysts for change all over the world. Protests against the Vietnam War and nuclear weapons as well as movements such as the Arabic Spring have all been pushed forward by the young generations. These movements tend to occur together with some core question that people gather around to bring about political change. In the last couple of years more and more of these movements are appearing, with young people being the main source of inspiration and force behind these movements, above all through their activity on social media. But do movements such as the March for Our Lives and Me Too really bring about lasting change in the political arena? Or do we need to do more?

In today’s society, more than 43% of the world’s population has access to the internet, and the group of people that really knows how to utilize this tool are young people. From a young age on, we have learned how to create a brand of ourselves, how to merchandise this brand and how to make people listen to us. Therefore, it is no surprise that young people all over the world now use this knowledge as a weapon to make changes in their society. Only to mention a few, the March for Our Lives, Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements all had social media as their tool of conveying their message to millions of people all over the world.

However, there has been a lot of criticism against these movements. People argue that the younger generations political engagements stop short, at a shared Facebook post or a passionate tweet. That the earlier low voting turnout from the younger generations in the majority of the Western countries actually shows that we don’t understand the manner in which political change is brought about. A statement that up until now seemed to have some merit.

Allison Hanes, a reporter from Montreal Gazette examines in her article “Civic education for young people, starting with the basics” whether today´s younger generations are politically engaged or not. A Canadian statistics study referred to in the article states that the voter turnout for young people is normally lower than average, but that despite this, we should not dismiss their political participation. For example, younger generations tend to more likely sign petitions or join marches and demonstrations, as well as they care more deeply about environmental, social and human rights issues. An argument supported by the last years many international movements.

Furthermore, the study showed indicators that there are “a more spontaneous political awakening among young people” underway. A lot due to the new polarized climate in the world alongside the high-stakes issues that we and our planet are facing. Young people demand meaning in their democratic participation and they are ready to work for it. This is clearly shown in the movement March for Our Lives, where teenagers from all over the United States encouraged their participants to become politically engaged by voting and writing to their political representatives regarding national gun-control.

Anti-Brexit protesters in London on 25 March 2017 (Image: Ilovetheeu, Wikimedia Commons)

And the encouragement has actually worked. In advance of this fall’s midterm elections in the United States, a study shows that 37% of those under 30 said that they “definitely will be voting” compared with 23% before the last midterm election in 2014. When movements on social media focus on the importance of political participation, young people will read and hear about it, and eventually end up in the voting booth.

The augmented voter turnout for young people is also true in other countries. For example, the young voting turnout in Great Britain has with and since the EU-referendum in 2016 increased in several percentage. There are many explanations on why this has happened, but one of the main ones would be the reasoning that when young people are confronted with an important choice feeling that their votes are going to matter, they will vote. The previously pessimistic approach that political participation does not make any difference is starting to change, and that will probably materialize in future elections in many countries throughout the world.

So, in conclusion, the movements made famous by social media do most certainly make an impact on the political arena, at least regarding the engagement of the young generations to get interested in political issues, as well as voting in elections. Even though we can do more, political engagement in today’s society is more important than ever and it is clear that we are slowly seeing a change in mindset of the young people regarding these issues. The internet revolution with the movements on social media are no longer just a like-hunter, it is a real arena where young people globally can come together around political issues to make real change in the world.

Peg Magnusson

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