In my day, young people knew how to protest! Fifty years ago, students and other young people took to the streets in mass public demonstrations, marching against war, oppression, nuclear weapons, segregation, capitalism (in the West), communism (in the East), and any number of causes. The 1968 protests have gone down as one of the largest global youth protest movements in history.

How do today’s young people measure up? The youth of the 1968 questioned everything, from old role models, to sexual and gender norms, to mass consumption. New parties such as the Greens were founded, and organisations such as Doctors Without Borders and Greenpeace began mobilising worldwide. Today, those former young revolutionaries are now retired and encouraging greater political commitment from their own children and grandchildren. Is their call being answered?

Want to hear more about young people committed to political engagement today? Every year, our partner think-tank Friends of Europe invites future decision-makers to join its European Young Leaders project and jointly plan a better future.

What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in by Tom, who is worried that political engagement today is less than it was in the past. For example, he argues people are today more interested in sharing pictures of cats on the internet than marching in the streets. Is that correct? Would young people today rather surf the internet than protest?

To get a response, we spoke to Gesine Schwan. She was an activist during the 1968 protests, and has been politically active ever since (including running twice as a Social Democratic Party candidate for German Chancellor). She is currently President of the Humboldt-Viadrina Governance Platform. What would she say to Tom’s comment?

[Political engagement] has declined quite a bit in the last 30 years… [However] the election of Donald Trump in America has provoked a lot of people in Europe and increased their political commitment, because more and more people now realise that we have something to lose if we allow social problems to undermine our democracy.

Of course, it’s true that the internet takes up a lot of time [but] distraction has always been a problem. Moral philosophers have been complaining for centuries that you need a certain strength to push back against distraction.

Without the internet we could not conduct politics nowadays. In fact, the internet can also be very helpful in terms of mobilising people. So, I do not believe that young people are less interested politically than previous generations…

To get a millenial perspective on Tom’s comment, we also put it to Dominik Kirchdorfer, who is the acting President of the European Future Forum and editor of Euro Babble. What would he say?

I have two points to make: Firstly, we can decide ourselves what to do with our free time. People have always had free time. It is not without reason that we have representative democracies. Our elected representatives have to deal with politics so that we do not have to do it every day. That’s fine.

Second, there is certainly more information out there today. But that also means that we are better informed. For example, there is so much leaked government data and information available. We are better informed about politics than ever before – better than in the ’50s and ’60s.

Of course, this also fuels political disenchantment because people no longer trust the institutions as much as they once did. But I do not believe that this leads to less political engagement.

Next up, we had a comment from Frieder, who thinks young people are less politically engaged today with good reason. He believes Europe’s demographic trend mean that young people are destined to always be a minority, out-voted on issues by a more conservative older vote. Is he right?

How would  Gesine Schwan respond?

On the contrary, we urgently need all the citizens to engage politically, but especially young people because they bring new thinking and experiences. I do not think that young people are politically disinterested. But they need to be given the opportunity to take real political decisions – starting from in their schools and neighbourhoods – and not just engage in political fights online…

Finally, how would Dominik Kirchdorfer respond to the same comment?

In general, you cannot say that someone should not get involved in politics just because they belong to a minority. You need the participation of every minority, especially when it comes to young people. They are the future!

Even if we are outnumbered now, we will probably be the majority of the future. If the youth are not engaged, it will lead to political lethargy; they will not be able to serve as role models for their own children, and then nobody will get involved anymore. Therefore, youth engagement is very important.

Are young people less politically engaged than previous generations? Does it matter if they engage with politics, given they will always be outvoted by their parents and grandparents? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: Wikimedia (cc) – Stiftung Haus der Geschichte; PORTRAIT CREDITS: Gesine Schwan, Flickr (cc) – Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung; Kirchdorfer, Flickr (cc) – European Committee of the Regions


25 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Stef

    I don’t know about engagement but a lot of young voters seem to cast votes based on their feelings instead of doing some research. Which is really sad with all the information available online.

    • avatar
      Chris

      Idonno, Is that all too different what older people have been doing? People are people.

  2. avatar
    Joaquim

    This generation doesn’t know how to do it not cause they don’t know but cause they don’t care.

  3. avatar
    Matthew

    They’re engaged, but not always properly informed or educated.

  4. avatar
    Julia

    It depends on their parents. My children are very aware and also inform their classmates.

  5. avatar
    Ivan

    They are being taught everything about the West is bad & the only solution is to destroy & rebuild it along Marxist ideology. We know how that will end.

    • avatar
      Martin

      You wouldn’t know what Marxism is if it hit you with a stick made of class struggle.

  6. avatar
    João

    Yes! Cause this generation is less stupid… Same with religion

    • avatar
      João

      More money, less creativity… You are not more intelligent than me, and I’m not more intelligent than you, we just have different interests, at different levels of complexity, so doesn’t matter how we are, if we like very complex things our brains will take us to the objectives (of course at a passioned level it’s even faster and better)… (I hope lol)

    • avatar
      Ivan

      IQ is the measure of intelligence so it means everything. The fact people like different things is meaningless.

    • avatar
      Samuel

      Ivan – IQ is an imprecise and unreliable measure of intelligence. The idea that a given set of standard questions dealt with under test conditions can measure a person’s true intelligence. The idea that an insignificant IQ score can determine a person’s intelligence is ludicrous.

    • avatar
      Joao

      Remember, nature doesn’t make intelligent or stupid people, education does…

    • avatar
      Ivan

      João – Sorry but no, nature does create stupidity & education just enables it.

    • avatar
      EU Reform- Proactive

      Hmm João , so sure? It follows that you label your parents & forefathers more stupid & simple than you are? Interesting! Ever told them?

  7. avatar
    Alex

    As an early millenial – yes, yes we are less politically involved, and it is unavoidable that the next generations will be even less involved. In a world where everything is decided for us, where there is no room for trial and error left, where every notion of right and wrong, good and bad, are presented as unquestionable truths, any doubt and question is presented as heresy of values, and the mainstream claims to be the “voice of change and rebellion” (a ridiculous notion in itself, if you ask me) – we don’t want politics, because we’re comfortable where we are. We have no establishment to protest – because the establishment presents itself as the protest, and to protest the protest is wrong, isn’t it? They’re “fighting the good fight for us”, and we’re doing our part by retweeting things, and writing angry facebook comments. We’re docile, and we are being fed what to believe, so we remain docile. Docile, but content, a feeling many confuse with “happy” nowadays.
    We don’t have much to fear from Orwells “1984”. We are being slowly dragged into Huxley’s “Brave New World”, and we’re content with it.

  8. avatar
    Alex Sunekants

    As an early millenial – yes, yes we are less politically involved, and it is unavoidable that the next generations will be even less involved. In a world where everything is decided for us, where there is no room for trial and error left, where every notion of right and wrong, good and bad, are presented as unquestionable truths, any doubt and question is presented as heresy of values, and the mainstream claims to be the “voice of change and rebellion” (a ridiculous notion in itself, if you ask me) – we don’t want politics, because we’re comfortable where we are. We have no establishment to protest – because the establishment presents itself as the protest, and to protest the protest is wrong, isn’t it? They’re “fighting the good fight for us”, and we’re doing our part by retweeting things, and writing angry facebook comments. We’re docile, and we are being fed what to believe, so we remain docile. Docile, but content, a feeling many confuse with “happy” nowadays.
    We don’t have much to fear from Orwells “1984”. We are being slowly dragged into Huxley’s “Brave New World”, and we’re content with it.

  9. avatar
    Marquitos

    Politicians are less engaged into society than generations before and not the other way around.

  10. avatar
    EU Reform- Proactive

    DK- “youth engagement is very important”. True!

    “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man”. Spelled out by Aristotle and adopted by many over millennium- including the EU.

    One can only hope that all these “future forums” and (real) Friends of Europe will be careful and mold Europe into a better shape- acceptable to (all) the fast majority.

    Did “Revolutionary Europe”- from the days of storming the Bastille in 1789, the 1960’s Student movements/riots- demanding “a better life for everyone- everything else is open for debate”- until today’s EU concept- “unity in diversity”- consider history & “EVERYONE”? Or is it another dead end- just a more sophisticated attempt of a class who use legal means to (over) rule & regulate?

    http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/02/was-the-european-student-movement-of-the-1960s-a-global-phenomenon/

    The present “supranational EU concept” is “revolutionary shock proved”. Changes can only come via Member Nations referendums and not through a European Citizens Initiative (ECI). Any hope or insinuation that it can is false & disingenuous.

    Will the EU “conformist” or EU “anti-conformist” movement shape Europe’s future?

    In the 1832 “Les Misérables”- just a loaf of bread got stolen- in the EU it is everyone’s sovereignty!

  11. avatar
    Alice

    Most people I know who like posting cat videos or memes will discuss politics nearly simultaneously, so I doubt it. Plus you can’t compare this era to the 50s and 60s when huge cultural and social changes were happening really fast, unlike today where it happens much slower. Of course people won’t be out on the street as much.

    • avatar
      Ivan

      I wouldn’t worry as Brussels is about to ban memes, cat videos, links, facebook posts and everything not authorised by EU bureaucrats.

      EU fanatics are terrified citizen’s are getting the truth from the web. It will pretty much kill pages like this

      https://metro.co.uk/2018/06/08/eu-ban-memes-kill-internet-7615802/

  12. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    Research shows that the human brain is developing until 25/26.

    Science, therefore, suggests that the legal minimum voting age should be raised accordingly perhaps?

  13. avatar
    M.par

    As long as “freedom of thought” is not the main issue, “freedom of speech” will be a game for politicians to evacuate youths. Therefore, freedom of thought must be prioritized. Unfortunately, the media are the main driver for driving public opinion, and this is a lethal poison for freedom of thought.

  14. avatar
    [Anon] (^_^)

    I’m from Australia and we don’t really have protests. I live on an island of complacency, Our government lock asylum seekers on prisons offshore indefinitely but we don’t protest because we are all so bloody complacent.

    Australian Civil rights movements are a joke. If we aren’t careful we’ll soon be seeing some Orwellian surveillance state with permanently closed borders

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