Eleven years into the 21st century and we find young black youth more disengaged, more disenfranchised, and have in many ways disappeared more now than ever before. The politically active scene of the 1960’s and 70’s (when organizations like SNCC and the Black Panthers were at their peak) is all but gone 40 years later. So where do we go from here? There is an active youth presence in the Occupy Wall-street cause. This national campaign has transformed into an international movement. It began with activists and citizens around the country joining a fight against the abusive corporate powers in the United States. Through this movement questions inevitably emerged. Individuals began to challenge and question the validity of our societal structure. This challenge translates into the examination of democracy, one of the fabrics that makes our country what it is today.
Although history shows us that young people commonly lead most transformational movements, these young people are often the same population of people who feel as though their voices have been silenced. This silencing of a youth voice especially in black communities comes from the lack of youth under eighteen being able to vote and the paternalism of some adults who feel as though young people (even those over eighteen) are not even the experts of their own experience.
If young people cannot vote for the the person who will be making decisions that impact their lives, then how can we expect them to consider themselves full citizens of the country they’re in. How also can we expect young people to be active in a political process once they do turn eighteen if we have disengaged them for the majority of their lives? The answer: Its simple, we can’t. And this is why most are not at all surprised by the lack of turn out among young people (Age 18-29) on voting day.
We saw an increase in young votes in the 2008 elections due to the inspiring nature of President Obama, however, many are not confident that those “inspiration votes” will be sustained over a lifetime.
We now, once again, find ourselves in one of the worse economic times in history. The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, unemployment among black youth is even further off the charts now than a decade ago, and the cycle of poverty has transformed to an entrapment of the poor. Even if the voting age was lowered, I’m not sure how much impact that would have on their lives.
There really is only one historical formula that ensures transformation in society. Many of the Occupy Wall Street activists seek to change our country into one that engages in direct democracy. I am not sure if this is the answer, but I am convinced that to truly transform society there needs to be a culture of active participation. Even though the right to vote is a very powerful symbolic and literal message, it is also a passive act that comes around only when there is an election.
This new more consistent and active culture of interacting with government must be formed and led by the young people themselves. Only then can it be an authentic youth movement that moves beyond voting and into a lifestyle of political and civic action. The London Riots led by youth was only a manifestation of the social and political marginalization that had been taking place for years. That very same social and political marginalization occurs right here in the United States, yet I do not think it would be beneficial to riot. I do however think that the desperation, strife and anger that people are experiencing needs to be mobilized into action. Not one act, but a consistent, active and deliberate engagement with policy makers that ultimately have a hold the futures that we as youth must live out.