Together we rise: A guest blog from Apathy is Boring

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By Dr. Tara Mahoney, Samantha Reusch & Caro Loutfi
May 13, 2020

Young people have been retreating from formal political institutions for the last 50 years. At the same time, political participation has become much easier, more widespread and more diverse at a time when political institutions are increasingly perceived as unaccountable, exclusive and disengaging. Despite stereotypes about youth being lazy or uninformed, young Canadians are voicing their concerns and participating in social movements in unprecedented ways. There is an interest in politics but also a sense of alienation from the democratic process - many feel powerless and ignored when we try and engage with the formal political system.

Youth-led Democratic Innovation is a framework that creates space for young people to lead through a combination of empowering roles. It acknowledges the diverse and emergent forms of democratic and civic engagement in which youth both create and engage in that often go ignored by our broader narratives. In practice, youth engagement is not as a vertical ‘ladder of engagement’ but rather an ecology of roles and actions which are all essential to our democracy and are associated with various levels of power, purpose and potential impact.

Despite how it may seem, what we are witnessing is not a DECLINE in overall political engagement among young people but, rather, a shift. Young people are opting to engage more in community-based, non-institutional and social movement-oriented forms of engagement meaning that young people are under-represented in our institutions and decision-making bodies. Young people are apathetic to the PROCESS but not to the ISSUES. There is a need for youth-focused programming that both acknowledges that young people are diverse, have different interests and will develop different strategies to see their goals realized while simultaneously connecting the participatory forms of engagement championed by youth to the structures of institutional power and decision-making.

Engaging youth people in all aspects of democratic decision-making can begin to reverse the declining trend of youth engagement with institutions. This report addresses the clear need to engage young people in the urgent work of democratic renewal and the strengthening of our democratic processes. It offers key recommendations for organizations, governments, and institutions, which include empowering youth decision-making, prioritizing anti-oppression training and tools, incorporating culturally appropriate mentorship opportunities, creating a ‘sandbox’ for innovation, reinforcing the value of the skills and experience of young people, recruiting a diversity of youth, incorporating feedback and being responsive to young people.

To read the full report please go to: