I often read that the youth are uninterested in politics; that young people believe that politics has become irrelevant, and that our generation might be willing to share posts on social media, but many of us will not cast our vote and decide an election. Generally, I am afraid much of this is true. Not many young people ever took part in a political rally, and many of us are probably less ideologically driven than earlier generations. From an electoral perspective, not only we are less numerous than the elderly, but we are also less likely to vote.
However, something remarkable has happened last year. Two unlikely white old men – a 75-year-old Jewish American socialist, and a 68-year-old British socialist with a questionable foreign policy agenda – mobilized millions of young progressive people throughout the Anglo-Saxon world with a truly progressive agenda, and created political earthquakes that might soon fly over to continental Europe. How can it be that Sanders and Corbyn are so popular among the young generations?
Sanders and Corbyn defied the political wisdom that elections are won at the political centre, and rallied on a strong left-wing platform, that inspired many and brought both candidates very close to unpredictable electoral wins against establishment candidates Hillary Clinton and Theresa May. Of course, neither of them won their elections, but they both exceeded all expectations, created strong movements, and a new awareness in the minds of many progressives: left-wing politicians don’t necessarily win elections by softening their message towards the political middle and by adding soft racism and tax cuts to win the souls of middle classes. Instead, true left-wing policies are popular among large groups of voters, especially in a political landscape that is shaped by 10 years of economic crises.
In a time when unemployment figures remain high in many countries, and a coalition of young people and blue collar workers share the burden of having an uncertain future, people ask for job security and a State that protects them from social and economic injustice. People believe that the well-off should contribute a little more, so that the State can provide quality healthcare, schooling, security and public services for all. They also think that everyone with a job should be paid fair wages, and that those in unemployment should be supported in finding a job. They want to live in a clean environment, and have access to safe food for their families and children. They request equal rights and opportunities for all, including women and all those who were born in less affluent households. No rocket science here and no outrageous populism; what we are only finding out, is that people are willing to vote for a sensible left-wing agenda, which Sanders and Corbyn gave form to and others too often neglected or failed to convey to voters.
Young people often are political trendsetters, and young people, who are among the ones who suffered most under the economic crisis, clearly choose to support a left-wing agenda over the same old depressing consensus of austerity when they are given the option. Young people do not live in perpetual political apathy, but they won’t become active unless they are given a real choice. That choice is a strong social agenda: if even the most unlikely candidates who convey that simple message get young masses excited, then left-wing politics still has a solid ground to build on.
Robert Zielonka (25) is the President of the Graduates of Democracy