Attention young people of Ireland
It's time for a reality check!
This is an opinion of a young person and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of SpunOut.ie. It is one person's experience and may be different for you. If you'd like to write something for SpunOut.ie please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Young people in Ireland need an equalizer and we are going to have to create it ourselves."
In recent months, young people have been exposed to political discourse in a way that has not been seen for quite some time. The marriage equality cause captured the attention and the empathy of young people in quite a remarkable fashion. Thousands upon thousands of young people registered to vote in their droves while others were inspired to travel home from long distances to make a difference. Young people stood up for themselves, their friends and family members and voted unapologetically in favour of marriage equality.The aftermath of the referendum led some people to wonder if this had politicized an entire generation, with some going as far as declaring that the youth vote had arrived onto the scene and was here to stay. Well, here we are a few short months away from a general election and if you are inclined to think that way then I’m afraid you need a reality check.
While we were getting kudos for our participation in #MarRef however, older people were at the same time telling us that even though we can be tried as criminals, we’re not mature enough to be allowed to contest presidential elections. Granted, the likelihood of anyone under 35 ever declaring candidacy would have been unlikely but it speaks volumes about how we are perceived. Our citizenship is an unequal one and older generations are absolutely satisfied with that. Unfortunately though, the second-class nature of our citizenship doesn’t stop at our democratic rights. Young people in Ireland need an equalizer and we are going to have to create it ourselves.
It can be remarkably easy to criticize politicians, especially as we enter an election cycle. It can be even easier again for older generations to dismiss opinions of young people because they are precisely that – opinions of young people. So let’s deal with facts. Since the onset of the economic crash, young people have been the first line of defence in practically every way. That is no exaggeration. The vast majority of graduates need no incentive to work. Yet it was the under 26s who bore the brunt of the Jobseekers’ cuts. All the while an entire generation was cast with a stereotype of being lazy, good for nothing scroungers who cannot be depended upon to contribute to the state without being forced to do so. I find that pretty offensive to be honest and so should you.
The same older generations tell us how emigration is good for the soul and then pontificate as if we are too stupid to know the difference between forced emigration and emigration by choice. Oh yeah, and who are we to give out about having to work for free while greedy employers line their pockets at our expense? We have been told that owning one’s home is what used to happen. It’s a thing of the past. People rent en-masse on the continent and our generation won’t be one of home buyers. What a bullshit answer. Our elders created this stinking mess and we’re expected to set lower ambitions for our lives just so they can make themselves feel better. Who’s going to challenge it though?
It isn't easy being a young person
I could go on for quite a while. New entrants into the public sector come in on lower pay, education is more expensive than it has been in the last 20 years and if water charges skyrocket like they have in places the world over, it will be our generation that pays through the nose for it. We are the first generation of Irish people who are going to be collectively worse off than the generation that came before us. Apparently this is because we all partied. I’ll have you know that I was studying for my leaving certificate in 2008. Of course, things could always be worse. We Irish are amazing at convincing ourselves that things could always be worse but we have to stop using this as an excuse to not try and make things better.
We say it time and time again but young people are shat on in this country because we traditionally do not vote. We have very little media presence or political representation to air our concerns. Many young people feel alienated by politics and don’t see our current system as either a vehicle for change or something that they are part of. Young people who take an interest can often have it beaten out of them due to peer pressure. Not just from our friends, mind you. One way of interpreting the result of the referendum on the presidential age is that your opinions don’t hold any social weight at all unless you are of a certain age. That is what society thinks of us.
Amongst ourselves, it isn’t seen as a popular thing to take an interest in politics. It can often be dismissed as ‘nerdish’ or ‘careerist’ or whichever one gets your self-professed ‘non-political’ friend back to watching the match the quickest. What more young people need to understand is that people who are interested in politics are, for the most part, interested in politics not in some abstract sense but rather how politics affects our lives (that’s right, you probably care more and know more about your friend’s parents’ variable rates on their mortgage than your friend does). We need to spread the understanding that the reason why the bouncer was allowed to ruin your entire weekend is political. There are political reasons behind why your amateur football team’s long overdue facilities upgrade is never going to happen. In other words, the personal is political and the political is personal.
The scant involvement that some youth organisations do have in the political spectrum seems to all stem from a place of gross misunderstanding. Politics is never going to be just about making clever arguments and getting people elected to positions. It most certainly isn’t about cosying up to the establishment and hoping they will look after us. Simply registering young people to vote is not going to cut it. Simply turning up on voting day won’t cut it either. Politics can be used as a mechanism for change but it requires courage. It requires an acceptance from the get go that politics is about struggle and it is about power dynamics. In the entire pre-election kite flying to date, no one is courting the youth vote. No one is talking about lowering tuition fees or leading the charge on defeating internship culture. Intergenerational solidarity is apparently a one way street and austerity has become a vehemently anti-youth monster.
We have serious questions to ask ourselves. What does it mean to be a young person in Ireland at present? What should it mean? What do we need to do to ensure that children and young people can live with dignity? How can we achieve this and when can we start? Do we accept that we are stakeholders in the present and the future of this country? Do we want to be treated as such? Why aren’t we being treated as such already and what do we have to do to get some respect around here?