Robin Jourdan inspects the real audience of democracy in her ninth blog post for our Emerging Fellows program. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
In the past governments tended to serve the governors before the people. Inspired by Magna Carta in England, the US’s Bill of Rights serve as starting gates for the idea of government designed so that the people can exercise control over their governing representatives. Governance bending to build future strengths for all, rather than fortifying old victories took its first tentative steps.
A myth is that every generation’s youth go through non-political periods. This can translate into a cynicism about government; but not always. A “Youth LEAD” trend seems to be appearing with data points going back at least 50 years that show the youth of an area, region, and nations pulling together to represent their interests in environmental and climate actions. They acknowledge that problems are complicated; but angry over the inaction about the conditions they’re due to inherit.
Today, nearly half of the world’s inhabitants is under 30 years old. It’s known that educated, healthy, employed, and civically engaged youth drive economic growth, democracy, and prosperity. However, less than 6% of parliamentarians globally are under 35 years old. Young people are under-represented and excluded in policy related decision-making. Fewer than 2% of parliamentarians around the world are in their 20s and only 12% are in their 30s. In the early part of the 21st century, efforts have sprung up, Millennium Development Goals, to increase youth representation in advisory capacities, constitution reviews, reporting, and more. For example, since the Arab Awakening young people have remained politically active through “political movements” instead of engaging with and in political parties. The United Nations (Development Program) formally recognized that when young people engage in peace-building via new and mobile technologies, these can lead to non-violent change. A Nigerian Youth Agenda on political participation was developed to encourage collaboration. Bangladesh and Jordan launched similar actions with the assistance of the United Nations Development Program. Even with this progress, this generation at the beginning of the century have been left behind and denied opportunities. Some suspect there may be a far-reaching re-negotiation in the social contract between generations approaching.
What could change in the last half of this century is multi-tiered: from AI advances, security issues, to social media. Youths around the world will turn to smartphones rather than adults for what they need. Younger people use these fingertip tools for change and impact can only strengthen. Reforms for who government serves may be waged from the inside out and change the global narrative.
The end of the century may bring well-practiced socio-emotional skills and growth mindsets. Continuing the Youth LEAD trend of youth-motivated leadership, education, advocacy and development, has long-term potential to raise their global political power. Forward acting nations may pressure laggards by limiting access to their workforce. Instabilities for isolated regimes due to internal power struggles and energy could erupt into battles.
Going forward, if a business as usual approach continues, focus on skills-gaps and employment can go on to distract influencers, and a lack of real engagement with residents will continue in pockets. A grim retaliation could result. AI may diminish unwanted interactions with police due to autonomous mobility, but jobs may be even more scarce. Again, a distraction. To the second half of the twenty-first century, if people live longer, mixed with low pay, decreased employment opportunities, and constrained health care may strain even the most resilient of systems.
When in the past has one generation sacrificed for the benefit of future generations? Two examples: medieval cathedrals were built for future generations and fighting wars meant risking your life now to keep your country free for future generations. Wishful-thinkers may dismiss the trend for young people’s stand on environmental issues.
Alexis de Tocqueville pointed out that each generation must get the knowledge, skills, and traits of character that underpin a constitutional democracy. It’s relatively easy to produce competent people. Lobbyists today teach us an essential lesson about the service of democracy. Regardless of your side of an issue, they’ve figured out how to work the system for their sponsor.
Young people will continue to demand their right to a healthy inheritance when their elders fail to act on their metaphoric cathedrals. Knowledge and education can’t be sequestered anymore. Democracy is intended to serve everyone in its borders. Reality says it serves best those who take responsibility to make it work for today and tomorrow. Youth-motivated leadership and actions could reach a tipping point in this century to catch responsibility into their increasingly capable hands. Who is government supposed to serve? There are two kinds of people, those who focus on something to gain, and those treading water over something to lose. Democracy must move forward with its people and with energy, gusto and everything to gain.
© Robin Jourdan 2019