The World Forum of Democracy drew hundreds of young people and their organisations from around the world. They arrived on the doorsteps of the European Council in Strasbourg, ready with both ideas and evidence of how youth can reinvigorate democracy.
And yet, not all of their stories were ones of idealism. From Tunisia and Egypt, youth shared their experiences of their bloody battle for democracy. Many were still experiencing the aftershocks of revolution as their societies went through the painful birth of a new regime. For others, there was disappointment for what had failed to materialize. But what became evident was that young people have been at the forefront of these revolutions; not just protesting on the streets, but re-imagining the systems and institutions necessary to transition to a more democratic society. Despite the on going struggles, the congregation met with a common and unequivocal commitment–however high the odds were, democracy was worth fighting for.
Youth are too often described as apathetic: disinterested in politics, they are unlikely to vote, and even less likely to stand for political office. A delegate from Britain provided a useful reminder when he said that “it’s not that we don’t care about politics; it’s that those political institutions do not serve us and purposely exclude us. Why would we want to join them?” There were clear signs that the old systems are no longer working for the next generation.
A reoccurring theme throughout the three days was how to create a system more in tune with young peoples vision of a good society: reform from inside or to build an alternative power base with civil society? The answer is: well, both.
Helene Landemore a Professor in Political Science believes we have reached a “post-representative democracy” world. Decision makers are no longer left to their own devices in between elections, but can be scrutinized by citizens on a daily basis as channels for participation multiply into diverse modes.
Matt Leighninger from Deliberative Democracy distinguishes between “thick engagement” that might include activities like budget tracking that ActionAid youth currently lead on or engaging directly with local government officials, to more “thin engagement” where citizens can participate in a survey through a simple text message. Technology is key in this non-reversible democratization process; The latest smart phone will soon be available for 25 USD bringing internet to every corner of the globe. Politics is no longer an elite endeavour, but accessible to every village and every citizen. It is ultimately our responsibility to wield these new modes of participation to hold decision makers to account.
A commitment to the democracy proves time and again to be universal, across cultures and across generations. But this new generation is giving birth to a democratization that is beyond what our forefathers and sisters could have possibly imagined.