Young people and politics by Matt Jeziorski (Pax Christi) and James Trewby

15th February 2015 - by James Trewby

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Young people don’t care about politics. Everyone knows that. Politicians promote the concerns of the aged because they turn up to vote. Young people don’t.

Not quite. Votes at sixteen in the Scottish independence referendum and an issue that they passionately cared about – their country, their future – saw an incredible mobilisation of young voters. The Girl Guides’ excellent Girls Matter campaign to ensure girl’s voices are represented and heard in the corridors of power, the influential campaigning of the UK Youth Parliament, and the campaigning by members of any number other youth organisations tell a different story. Apathy isn’t a youth problem.

Which is not to say apathy isn’t a problem. Voter turn-out in UK elections is low – sometimes scandalously so. We have police and crime commissioners elected on turn-outs of less than 20%, local authority elections often fare little better. It is easy to blame politicians but it is worth considering that some of the responsibility to change this lies with us, not them.

The richness of Catholic Social Teaching reminds us that issues matter not solely because they are relevant to us but because they might profoundly affect our brothers and sisters. As Catholics do not look at the chancellor’s budget or a party’s manifesto and wonder if we will be better off personally but rather see the figures through the eyes of the poor, the unemployed, the vulnerable, and the powerless – we are people for the common good. We know that to vote is the bare minimum level of political engagement. Prayer, protest, campaigning, solidarity, civil disobedience, lobbying, and education represent the ongoing work of our political engagement.

Justice and peace activists are good at this – but with the elections approaching it is worth considering if there is anything else we can do to inspire others to make their vote count. And to inspire young people, those first time voters in our communities, to make their vote the start of a lifelong commitment to the common good.

Three areas where political engagement is nurtured are the family, parish, and school. Taking each of these in turn we suggest some small ways in which we can use the elections to help building a culture of faith-inspired political engagement in our Church.

The home is perhaps the most critical arena for political education – as it is Christian formation more broadly. It is here the lived example of parents, grandparents, and others informs and inspires. It is here the connections between Christian life and political action are most clearly seen and the experience, passion, commitment, and understanding of justice and peace is shared with and nurtured within the next generations. In the lead up to the elections we might consider being more conscious of the importance of these conversations, more open with sharing how our faith calls us to act for peace and justice, and how our vote is informed by the light of faith.

As a worshipping community our parishes have a valuable role to play. In our regular cycle of liturgy as our scripture, prayers, and homilies speak to the key issues of the day we make clear the link between faith and political engagement. Parishes can also be organisations serving the community, for example in promoting and organising hustings ecumenically, supporting and encouraging voter registration particularly amongst new arrivals, helping those who might otherwise struggle to get to the polling station, and much else besides.

For schools and colleges the election offers a great opportunity to explore justice and peace issues so relevant to politics. Organisations such as Pax Christi, Caritas and CAFOD produce education resources to help young people reflect on these and explore how, as well as voting, they can have political influence for the common good.