Questions about Youth and Politics

A student wrote today to ask the following:

Since you are involve in youth orgs I would like to ask you how traditional politics affect them? 

Your question could have two kinds of answers: One about youth orgs in general, and one about young people specifically. 

Politics affect youth organizations in a lot of different ways. Here in the U.S. politics are currently tearing at the fabric of a lot of youth orgs, as local, state, and federal governments are cutting budgets to a variety of programs, and often making choices not based on constituents’ desires or research, but rather on the delicate game of political roulette they so often play.

Politics affect young people directly in a variety of ways. As the objects of political decision-making, the entirety of all young peoples’ lives are affected from birth to death. Birthing, early childhood education and childcare, schooling, after school programs, social service programs… all of these are determined by politics… Politics is endemic throughout the lives of all young people, any age, any social class or economic state, or educational background. 

What values do you see they acquire from traditional politics and how does participation affect their political leanings?

Traditional politics, meaning the government structures and political climates that predominate our societies, have demonstrated to many young people the ineptitude and inability of government decision-makers to affect positive social change. In my experience working with young people of color and low-income youth in the U.S. and Canada, a growing number of young people are feeling disenfranchised with those inabilities. There are positive lessons in politics, at the core of the process: democratic participation can positively shape the core value of every person living in a society. However, the lessons many young people learn through their routine exclusion from voting and holding elected positions is that the government does not care about their voices. Worse still, by defunding and eliminating many programs for young people, the government is showing young people that they do not care about them personally. This will arch the curve of young peoples’ “political leanings” for generations, and the outcomes still have to be shown.

Thanks for writing with your questions – please feel free to ask me any others!

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