Throughout February, we’re getting people from all over Northern Ireland to contribute personal pieces in the run up to the election on March 2nd. 28 days in February for 28 different voices.
There are still a few spots left to fill so get in touch!
Youth Activism in Northern Ireland is something of a rare gem. Living in a country where the political system is based around the past, old traditions are hard to change and new voices can be largely unheard. Politics was something I had previously been interested in, taking it on as an A-Level subject and being fairly well read on current events. I never took the extra step to become a political activist until the Assembly Election of 2016, when I was just 17.
I’m still young, only turning 18 in the last month but my experiences as a political activist have changed who I am as a person. Before I was even involved with the Northern Irish political scene, most of my political engagements involved lengthy discussions with friends in the classroom about the news of the day: Brexit, Welfare Reform, the rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and the day to day topical issues up in Stormont.
Politics was never a serious conversation, it was more of a general discussion of people’s views and we valued it to a point where we plastered the walls of the classroom with memes about David Cameron’s dick in a dead pig. However, the opportunity to become a political activist and join a political party gave me a new voice to shout with. I was able to have a say on issues that were dear to my heart and a method of expression which allowed me to get into outer society and make real change. Attending rallies, meetings and protests became an average Saturday and some of my closest relationships are with people from my party. Creating real connections with people from different backgrounds to that of my own taught me to appreciate new viewpoints and arguments in a way that I never could have in a classroom.
Youth Politics matters in Northern Ireland and the lack of focus on this should be more openly criticised. Politicians give us lip service, talking about the young voice of the people and arguing again and again about how each and every policy affects us. While there is some truth to this concern, there is still a large consensus with young people who aren’t politically active that Stormont is not looking out for us. The average teenager when asked about the political situation in Northern Ireland will respond with “Fuck Sinn Fein” or “Fuck the DUP”. It’s not that these people are disinterested in how politics affects us it’s just that they feel disenfranchised by the political system and that they have no real voice within an ever changing society affected by issues such as Austerity, increasing tuition fees and the general uncertainty of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.
While this is the case, young people are starting to fight back. Political parties have openly embraced youth organisations and actively encouraged young people to get involved. Sinn Fein, as well as some of the major parties, have incredibly active youth organisations and openly embrace community activity and promotion of party ideals. The Green Party even took an extra step and released a “Young Greens” manifesto which highlights policies that will affect young people.
Furthermore, younger and younger voices are getting into politics with each assembly becoming younger and more diverse by each election. Candidates such as Sean Burns and Pádraigín Mervyn stand at Assembly elections at the ages of 20 and 19 respectively. This shows that while the general youth population is disinterested, there are still a small dedicated few who will stand for the rights of the young in Northern Ireland.
Personally, I got into politics because I felt like I had something to say and genuinely believed in the ideals of my party. I have friends who were already in political youth organisations and they talked again and again about how they felt like they were changing the society we lived in. When discussing this topic with others an activist for the British Labour Party said, “Youth activism matters to me as political choices impact upon young people in almost every fashion for example education, health services, the future etc. Young people under the age of 18 are unable to vote therefore they need to have a healthy voice within the political environment to ensure their views are heard.”
What he said resonates with a lot of political activists in NI because they do feel that youth political organisations gives them a voice within the ever turbulent politics of Northern Ireland. Across the board from the most left wing party to the right wing there is a desire for the youth to get active. An activist from People Before Profit Alliance added to the topic stating that, “Youth Activism courses through the veins of any struggle. By organising in schools, college and workplaces we can find common ground with young people who yearn for change.”
Showing that the desire is there. It’s now up to the parties in Stormont to engage the youth, to get them actively enough and allow their louder voices to speak were the issues affect them the most. Politics for young people matters just as much as it does with the older population of Northern Ireland. The only difference is, we become the leaders, teachers and the thinkers and therefore our voices need to be heard loud and clear. We aren’t the future; we are the present.
Photo credit: Brendan Harkin