Youth and Democracy
Political narratives are driven mostly by active participants in what most would describe as the process of history-making. Politics, in any case, thrives on action and different groups have vested interests in its development.
No event in history has made a seismic impact on human civilization like the creation of the concept of democracy. Its invention in Ancient Greece and its continued practice by modern nation-states prove that democracy continues to be a timeless force in political life. This has been possible through the continued influence and efforts of certain sectors of the society.
The youth, in particular, have a vested interest in engaging discussions on democracy since politics’ advancement depends on the transference of ideas and values from one generation to another. In each human epoch, it has always been the youth that challenge established norms and reinterpret history. This is evident in the eras following the Dark Ages. Figures in the Renaissance Period advocated for the re-emergence of and a return to Roman grandeur, while the Enlightenment Period saw the flourishing of liberal ideals popularized by thinkers such as Voltaire and Rousseau. In the 19th century, it was also the youth that primarily took part in various actions against industrialized society in what was called the “Spring of Nations” of 1848.
Without a doubt, it was also the youth that oversaw the development of democracy, right from its first emergence after the American War of Independence, to the emergence of post-colonial states in the later half of the 20th century.
Indeed, democracy may have been reinterpreted numerous times over the course of several epochs, but its survival has been dependent on the continuous participation of youth groups in uplifting national consciousness and in policy making.
In most nations, the youth secure important positions in so far as the crafting of laws is concerned. Most nation-states today would echo the common sentiment towards the youth as the light to a brighter future. This is anchored on the idea that the future of a society depends mostly on how it treats its young people and how it creates and maintains the structures of power according to their interests.
A stark example would be the Arab Spring in 2010 when young people from across the Middle East and North Africa took part in calling for the stepping down of autocratic leaders from the systems of power. Numbering over 100 million, much of the young population called for wider democratic freedoms and a significant position to steer their respective countries into idealized forms. The fact that they began to realize their place in the wider spectrum of Arab politics had been enough to create mass actions which saw the disposal of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt.
From the Arab example, we can rightfully acknowledge the youth’s influence on democratic discourse, but its actual purpose in national decision-making deserves to be scrutinized.
For its part, the youth functions as a social group on its own. And being such a social formation, the youth is pursues certain goals and objectives that further its own development. We can come to think about the relationship between a democracy and the youth as symbiotic in nature. Democracies must foster an environment in which young people can enjoy creative and intellectual freedom, which they will in turn and in practice use for shaping society. The youth, then participates in democratic discourse if only to actualize certain ideals. Wider freedoms in terms of political and creative expression, social mobility, economic prosperity and the furtherance of the national identity all are involved in motivating the youth towards active democratic participation.