‘Youth and Politics – The Millennial Generation’
From online news sites to long-established radio shows, from TV networks to the depths of cyber space, the term “millennial” has gained a special currency among the commentariat of the democratic world. At once a trope for 21st century disengagement, a stereotype for the generation that came of age with the new millennium and an aspirational moniker for the evangelists of the rapidly changing tech economy, the Millennial generation is a much-discussed but little-understood cohort.
Amy McDonald, one of the young and promising British signers said in one of her songs that there is not much that the world knows about “the youth of today”. The breakdowns of the electoral participation records show that young people are absent within the framework of institutionalised politics and conventional forms of political participation. Journalistic diagnoses also often depict young people as lazy, apathetic and politically disengaged. Hence, a very negative narrative has been gaining momentum vis-à-vis the Millennial generation.
Indeed, in a time when the general public has turned away from party politics as traditionally conceived, Millennials emerge as a more extreme example of this tendency. Born into a world of digitisation, maturing alongside the growth and influence of social networks, social media and connected technology, this generation has grown up facing hostile labour markets and domestic austerity measures. What is more, traditional forms of social and political organisation have not included Millennials in their social contract.
However, contrary to the usual assumption of apathy towards politics, Millennials have turned elsewhere. They engage in other forms of activism, such as volunteering, as there they can feel that their efforts translate into tangible results. In politics, and especially within the traditional political party system, on the contrary, they feel underrepresented, disregarded and hence instead of empowered – powerless. In this context, asked about the qualities that they associate with the concept of traditional parties, they see many of them as dull, unattractive and lacking a sense of humour – which, put simply, reveals how they feel about them and their representatives, many of whom they do not even remember or recognise by name. As alarming as this observation might appear, there is an important question to be asked: what, from the long list of demands of the Millennials, needs to be addressed in order to change the trend and encourage Millennials to reconsider their access to established, institutionalised forms of political activism?
For, as the practice of the past few years has shown, Millennials tend to re-engage in politics, when they find a breakthrough in the existing ‘business model’ that the traditional parties hold in their everyday lives. This partially explains the phenomenon of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders, who despite being long-serving members of the political establishment, became a magnet to attract youngsters to reconnect with politics and the political party system. Against what might have been expected of them, thinking that politics is no longer a tool to change the world, in these two specific cases, Millennials have therefore shown readiness to reconsider. This has been mainly because they saw these two political figures as being able to restore value into politics, which should be about honour, consistence in political positioning and public service. This is also what explains why, as a generation, Millennials show great volatility in their voting patterns - they follow their hearts regarding both the leaders and the issues that, at any given moment, they find the most convincing. How can parties then open up, provide a tangible and attractive content to the notion of “a party member”, and to that end be the vehicles for interesting grassroots ideas to be debated? How can progressives reconnect with the Millennials generation?
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