Young people have plenty to say

25 Nov

They say that thirty-five is the new twenty-five.  If that’s the case then twenty-five is the new fifteen when it comes to getting your voice heard in political decision-making.  Is it the fate of young people that they will always feel ignored by politicians or is the unease with the current political machinery a growing phenomena?  The large participation of youth in Augusts London riots and the  growing Occupy movements around the world would suggest that indeed, young people are beginning to feel like traditional means of influencing societies decision-making process no longer speak for them.

Ever heard that young people today are politically apathetic? Yeah me too – except this doesn’t seem to fit well with my everyday reality, or that of my friends.  Coming up to an election that has been overshadowed by a Rugby World Cup and has seen what I believe is little meaningful policy debate I have had many creative and passionate debates with friends about the direction we see our country going. While we are overwhelmingly disappointed with the lack of integrity or intelligence within the debates, there is a growing sense that young people have plenty to say and they are saying it – just in a new language, in new forums and by connecting in new ways.  Perhaps this is what is at the heart of the Occupy movements: creating spaces outside the existing paradigms where we have stopped trying to be heard by the political elites and instead are just listening to one another (the 99% no less).  In efforts to add to these new political spaces outside of mainstream media debates, I have asked three friends to share how they feel about the current election debates, what they think is the most important issue not being talked about enough in these debates and finally whether they see the achievement of these goals as possible without government involvement. [Pseudonyms were used and some of their responses were abridged for space purposes]

1. What do you think/feel about this year’s election debates?

Geoff: I think they have been pretty limited and I really don’t like how much the media talks about polling – rather than actual discussions about different policies and the effects of these. It feels like it’s just reporting on some bullshit popularity contest – and to some degree I wonder how self-fulfilling always talking about polling is?

Lisa: I’m shocked that TV was allowed to host a “leaders” debate between only National and Labour, despite other parties playing major roles in parliament. This is totally undemocratic to me – isn’t the media supposed to be the voice of democracy?

Rachel: I feel like it has become ever clearer that Key is a slick marketing machine and the cup-of-tea episode has been the only thing to cause any chink in this marketing.

2: What do you think are the most important issues not being represented enough/at all in the current election debates?  

Geoff: I would like to see more discussion about jobs and education, and broader discussion about the future direction for New Zealand. I feel like there has been very little actual discussion about the nature of work in New Zealand and how this is linked into growing inequalities and how we value different forms of labour etc.

Lisa: I think that there is really underrepresentation on any issues surrounding climate change and energy in New Zealand. My climate change focus is because there will be no people, no politics, no economy if we can’t get our heads around making rapid changes to cut greenhouse gases right now and reduce the severity of climate change (although I know there are some other major issues that are not talked about because they affect ‘disadvantaged’ people who are small parts of our society, albeit super important issues – such as refugee mental health services being hugely under-resourced, and funding towards care of people with severe disabilities for example). Although you could argue there will be no action on climate change if people’s basic needs aren’t met, I think that we are an over-consumption driven society anyway, so when politics talk about “needs” being met, well, I think most of us have got it lucky in New Zealand and need to refocus from high earning and high spending to less productive and more social capital building.

Rachel: Debt, student debt and the discussion of how to keep New Zealandershere hasn’t been discussed in a pragmatic way.  Recent government legislation such as the Food Bill could definitely be a place to have some valuable critical debates.  I feel like race-relations are extremely interesting for politicians to discuss but not enough time is dedicated to it, as debates tend to break down pretty fast. The politicians have a diversity of views largely representing a lack of logic and not taking a long-term view.

3. Do you see the achievement of these goals as possible without government involvement? 

Geoff: Mmm- In terms of the employment and jobs and growing inequalities, I think that government can set legislation and should (minimum wages and pay equity stuff), but National isn’t going to bother because of the self-made neoliberal/individual idea they love so much. If they get in again what I would hope is that we see more protest, un-rest and, even though this sounds nasty, forms of bringing it home to the middle/upper middle class.

Lisa:  Climate change definitely needs government involvement. There have been studies done on individual behaviour change and basically, the barrier to most environmentally friendly behaviour changes are structural. So structural changes are unlikely to happen without policy support, and behavioral changes are unlikely to happen on major scales without structural changes. Although there is the role of social movements, which I haven’t delved into as much, so I’m hopeful that social movements are going to rise higher and bigger and force the political changes that are needed.

Rachel: It is definitely not possible to address New Zealand’s problems without government leading and supporting. We are a small democracy and place a lot of trust in government.

While my methods were completely un-scientific (and I was unfortunately unable to find a friend who supported the ACT-side of the political spectrum while remaining classified as ‘young’) both Geoff and Lisa comment on different aspects of what they see as the low quality of media reporting of election issues.  Furthermore, Rachel’s comments suggest an understanding of media as unable to see past the marketing campaign of the National party to real investigative reporting.  While all three talked about a wide variety issues they feel have not been adequately represented in election debates, all three comment on the lack of long-term forward thinking policy debates, potentially saying important things about the limitations of a three-year parliamentary terms for the development of sustainable policies for the future.  Finally all three agree that government involvement in social change is vital to lasting and widespread changes, however both Geoff and Lisa have high hopes for growing social movements as increasingly important with a government with which neither are happy.

I have attempted to highlight the opportunity young people have to create new forums in which we can actively be the change we want to see. It can be easy to criticise the media for that not providing in-depth reporting of the current election issues, and the current government for ignoring issues important to us. It is much harder to move beyond these criticisms into a space where young people are creating our own creative and positive, forward-thinking avenues of engagement. While young people may continue to feel ignored by politicians, the wide range of issues raised by these questions demonstrates that, when given space, young people in New Zealand have plenty to say.

Kiri Stevens


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