Want to Shift Power?

By Gabrielle Arkett

“Oh, your generation will fix  all the problems of the world today. Youth are the future.”  I hear this a lot from parents, political leaders, policy makers, heads of charitable organizations

However, I have to wonder if anyone, especially politicians, really believes this. Does anyone really think that youth have the power to fix the world’s problems? Judging by the focus of many political campaigns in the last election, well no. Most election propaganda was aimed at boomers and at seniors, not at the youth of this country. And with only a 37% youth voter turnout in the 2008 election, why should youth issues have been a priority for politicians? This might reflect the fact that many youth don’t view traditional voting as an effective way to create change, or it might indicate some severe and systemic apathy, which is hugely problematic.

When a population is apathetic about an issue, it means that their elected leaders will be apathetic about it as well, as politicians are nothing but representatives of the people- or are supposed to be. Political apathy about an issue then leads to public apathy, as people get frustrated when their leaders do nothing to fix the problem. It’s a vicious cycle, and it needs to be stopped.

Take, for example, the issue of climate change. We currently have many of the technologies and abilities available to at least mitigate some of the worst effects of this massive environmental problem. What is lacking is the political will; our political leaders are not listening or doing anything real to stop climate change. In my view, it is political apathy on this crucial issue that makes  the public frustrated, feel hopeless and hence, unwilling to stir themselves  on this issue, as they don’t think anything they say or do will be listened to or taken seriously by political leaders. Political apathy feeds public apathy, which feeds political apathy… You get my drift- it’s a cycle. You have to break one part of the chain to break the other.

When people say that it is youth who will fix the world’s problems, they think that youth are not as apathetic and cynical as our low voter turnout would make us appear. Just because youth didn’t participate in traditional democratic processes does not necessarily mean they are apathetic.  It could be indicative of something else- perhaps hope for change through action of a different sort? Maybe that is where the sentiment that youth will fix the world’s problems comes from.

But, to me, 37% youth voter turnout doesn’t indicate hope or apathy. It indicates that youth are fed up with the current system and the current leadership, and are seeking other methods than voting of making their voices heard and getting their issues addressed. Is the built up frustration that much of the youth in this country feel finally breaking the cycle of political and public apathy? What other tools do we have to make our politicians do what we need them to do?

Enter direct action. When you give people the tools to organize and resist effectively, you empower people to take control of the issues that directly affect them and you allow them to make their voices heard.  When politicians listen, as they are often forced to by the direct and memorable methods of direct action, you destroy the cycle of apathy, and you create real and lasting change.

That is, at least, the goal behind the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition’s (CYCC) Power Summer campaign. Power Summer is a plan to create six regional camps all across the country to train youth organizers, in order to build a strong, coordinated grassroots youth movement to force politicians in this country to listen to our demands and to take real action on climate change.  Participants will be trained in educating, action/strategy, communications/media, campaign planning and other organizing skills. They will also increase their understanding of climate justice, a layered concept that brings other social justice issues and perspectives into the traditional climate change analysis. The resistance movement that has been building in this country for years, and will heighten with the Power Summer campaign this summer, is working toward achieving climate justice and also to destroy political and public apathy on this issue.

We, the youth, are the future- we will determine what we want it to look like. That 63% of nonvoters suggests to me that youth think the current leadership is not listening or responding to our demands for a better future. With the strength of the grassroots movement we are building, we will change all this. We will make our voices so loud that the politicians can’t possibly ignore us any longer.  We will give them a message that they can’t ignore:
This is our future. We want it to be just and sustainable.

We are in the right here. Our collective will and our collective actions will help educate and raise awareness, and will hopefully destroy public apathy towards climate justice. This will translate into political will, and once apathy there is destroyed, we can work with our political leaders to create the solutions that we need. Or, that is, at least, the goal. Join us.
Power Summer is taking place all over the country. Check out this link for more info and to register.


Gabrielle is a Media Coordinator with the CYCC and an organizer with Climate Justice Ottawa


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