Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Are Millennials Compatible with our Democracy?

Last night I watched The Agenda’s program on youth participation with our democracy. Below I’ll post the videos of the episode.

Millennials Discuss Democracy

Democratic Observers weigh in 

The host, Steve Paikin was trying to get to the core of why only 38.8% of Millennials bothered to vote in the 2011 federal election. Sadly Mr. Paikin did not come up with many (or any) answers. As I watched my peers I could not help but think that perhaps our attention is on the wrong side of the equation. Much attention has been given over to the system failing young people, but could it be that young people are also failing the system?

Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time would know that I’m a democracy nerd and political junkie. It’s something I care about and invest a great deal of time and effort into. This makes me an outlier, which I accept. I don’t expect every citizen to be as engaged as I am as they undoubtedly have passions of their own. I began to wonder whether or not the certain zeitgeist of millennials means that they are inured to politics.

Looking at the twenty-somethings on the panel last night it was clear that they were all articulate, well-educated, and quite savvy. It’s likely that the producers at TVO worked to find an exceptional group, and one that would stand out for the reasons that you’d think they would be leaders in politics today. Beneath their positive qualities ran deep cynicism for politics, politicians and democracy. Even those who espoused concerns and political positions seemed to view participation within our democratic system as a bit of a fool’s errand, or at least as deeply unappealing.

Politics was likened to marketing, yet the objective of being sold to and appealing to constituents to build a mandate should not be interchangeable. Millennials are savvy and understand the tactics of media and marketing firms. When politicians and parties try them they are instantly recognizable and rejected.

I could not help but sense that my peers on the program were fundamentally missing the point. By not participating at all they were dooming themselves to irrelevance. Many in Generation Y prefer to observe the system and critique than get their hands dirty and try to repair it. Jane Hilderman of Samara, in the second clip above, highlighted that man Millennials participated in informal democracy, but ultimately we are governed through the formal process. Petitions and rallies can be easily ignored while candidates, voters and movements cannot.

I’m not sure any of the panel would be satisfied in our system. They seek “authentic” candidates that express their values. I cannot help but wonder if politicians who deviate only slightly from their ideals would be considered a waste of time, or irrelevant. Perfection becomes the enemy of the good and thousands render themselves silent in preference to an alternative that does not exist.

I suppose my question is whether or not Millennials, a generation jaded through media, marketing and entertainment, cannot operate within a system built upon loyalty, trust and imperfect candidates and parties. There may be an economic argument. The delayed adulthood due to debt, poor job market and high housing costs means that Millennials are taking on the responsibilities that drive people to vote later. Still that is no remedy and if Millennials want the system to better reflect their values they will have to start showing up.

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