in News July 5, 2018

Democracy Week 2018: Fighting Apathy And Making Your Voice Heard

Whether or not you agree with the results, the most significant political events of the past three years have been a consequence of grassroots political movements. Brexit, Trump and even the Labour Party’s surge in the 2017 General Election were all startling reactions to the status quo, brought about by supporters who campaigned for something they believed in then – to put it simply – got out there and voted for it. Democracy, for all the apathy it can inspire, worked.

This week, from the second to the eighth of July, the UK is celebrating National Democracy Week. Across the country, events are taking place to champion democratic participation and highlight its importance in our society. Here at Faiths Forum, we are running the Civic and Democracy Leadership Programme, a series of talks and workshops that connect young people with policy advisors, Cabinet Office officials and members of local government. It also gives them training in political organisation, leadership and communications, among other things.

While we hope the Programme will prepare its participants to become upstanding, politically active citizens, we believe that they represent a generation that is already well on its way. Until recently, ‘apathy’ tended to be the word that sprung to mind when ‘young people’ and ‘politics’ were mentioned in the same sentence. Between the General Elections of 1992 and 2015, voter turnout among 18-24 year olds fell from 66% to 43%.

One year later, around 60% of registered 18-24 year olds went to the polls to vote on the European Referendum; while 64% cast their ballot in the General Election of 2017. So why the renewed interest in politics?

Both of those elections dealt with highly complex and emotive issues. Young people voted having been affected by economic unrest, job uncertainty, student debt, austerity, immigration arguments and social justice – and all of these issues were fed to them in concentrate via the relentless flow of social media. To be apathetic would have required a level of detachment (or even isolation) that few have. It’s little wonder voter turnout increased.

While that’s all well and good for enormous elections that have national and even international consequences, we want to stress the importance of participation at all levels of democracy. One example of the contrast between high profile, big ticket democracy and lower level voting is when Labour had an incredible result in the 2017 General Election, largely thanks to the much publicised ‘Youthquake’, while the party’s showing in the recent 3 May 2018 local elections was far less impressive. Perhaps for young people, ousting a local councillor just wasn’t as exciting as potentially overthrowing a Prime Minister.

This is a rallying cry, a drive to get young people involved in democracy on a local level, whatever your political viewpoint. Because, ultimately, this is where is starts. You have to change your neighbourhood before you can improve your city. Go to meetings and surgeries and get to know the issues that affect your community. Better yet, encourage your school or college to invite the local MP in to speak, so you can learn more about the work he or she is doing in the place where you live. Local action can seem small, but it can grow into something far more powerful.

We see this kind of action every day at Faiths Forum. Our work brings together people of all faiths and none, in settings that allow them to learn about one another, discuss their differences, and bond over common ground. Were you to look in the press, you’d never know that these connections are taking place – just as they do all over the country – but in reality, we are, by and large, a unified place where we work towards similar goals.

This spirit of unity drives Democracy Week. When we interact on a local level, we set out on the road to far-reaching political change. So don’t wait until the next General Election to make your voice heard. Get involved with democracy today.

in News July 5, 2018