We will look back on this election as the beginning of a political and democratic paradigm shift. Today represents an existential alteration for the country, a change of heart, a change of character, a change of mood – for the better. And it represents a triumph over fear. Those young people (72% of 18 to 24s - see reference below) who voted yesterday are now participants in a revolution, a revolution over a politic of fear. Their violent (politically speaking) voice of defiance and change, may well have inaugurated an era in which their own voice is finally valued by the political elite; and their democratic freedom will be seen for what it is, a crucial part of the formation of a fairer and more just society.
Young people have for centuries been considered with suspicion. Plato (4th Century BCE) was once heard saying “What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?” Peter the Hermit in the 13th century said, “The young people think of nothing but themselves!” Such quotes exemplify a culture of fear, a culture that has conditioned young people into silence for a long time. I was told last week that if you have a room of primary school kids and ask them who can dance, thy all put their hand up, ask them who can draw, they all put their hands up, ask them who can sing and they all put their hands up. Ask a room full university students and the number of hands that go up are in single figures, and likely to be by those who have taken classes in those subjects. Ask the same question to room full of grown adults, and no one puts their hand up. What happens in that time? Why do we lose the joy of being free? We become frightened very quickly – or limited by someone or something.
We live in a culture that is quick to socialise children into a particular way of life, frightened of what might happen to them if we don’t incorporate them into social norms and expectations. As they grow older we move from being frightened for them, to being frightened of them. Frightened of what they might say or do if they are given too much power. In this culture of fear, young people are treated as sub-humans, whose thoughts and opinions don’t really count, or have no substance in what real life should look like. If you are a young person that voted in the General Election, let me tell you this... you are no longer seen and not heard. We hear you.
I am currently a priest for the Church of England. Before moving to Cornwall, I was also a Young Vocations Advisor for Bath & Wells diocese, and before being ordained, a Youth Leader for my local church. Since 2010 £387m has been cut from state youth provision (see reference below). In that time, I have seen youth centres come under threat of closure, youth workers lose their jobs because of cuts, and funding pots reduced that have previously gone to develop and sustain youth provision. Too often now, any development in youth provision is at the hands of a well written grant application to the Big Lottery.
And you know, young people shouldn’t care, they are justified in snubbing the system, what is it doing for them? For many years that’s how it was. And society didn’t really want this to change, a quiet population of young people suited a culture of classes and hierarchy. But yesterday, young people in large numbers have shown a counter-cultural politic of hope, dismissing any idea that they don’t care. They do.
What is so revolutionary is that this massive shift is in the context of a well-developed post-modern world, in which humans are largely engaged in the business of exercising power over one another, resulting in a violent world that is obsessed with the preservation of the self. It is a time when truth is a product of the beholder, and the idea of a shared truth is counter to a world where the individual reigns. This is really important in understanding why today’s General Election result could be seen as the indicator of a massive change in political character.
I am proud that my Christian faith stands as testimony to the power of young people, and their revolutionary attitude to justice. Samuel, Jeremiah, Daniel, David, Mary, Ruth and Esther are significant figures in the Bible who stood up for God’s plan for salvation, for justice and freedom. They were all too young to be heard initially, but were empowered and trusted by God to be voices against injustice and oppression, to speak out for the powerless (Jer 7:5-6). Check out Daniel (Daniel 1:3-6) who becomes an interpreter of dreams and visions, and leads an oppressive king to gain a vision of truth and justice. Look at David (1 Sam 17:33) who was dismissed as being too young, too foolish, too brash, but ended up being a symbol of courage and faithfulness to a whole nation. And Mary the mother of Jesus, who sang a song of defiance before a world of injustice and inequality; her revolutionary canticle has been sung in church ever since.
Just in my short time in Cornwall I have seen young people show how passionate they are about matters of justice, equality, fairness and social reform. I’ve spent time with a cohort of student architects and designers from Falmouth Uni who showed me how, as architects they can make the world a better place. I have seen young people come together to make a difference to global issues such as the refugee crisis, volunteer at foodbanks, crowdfund for local projects, and protest for change. Young people are indeed radical changemakers, persistent peacemakers, militant groundbreakers, generous caregivers, and courageous liberators… if we respect their place as such.
This General Election shows a shift in belief in young people. They will no longer go uncounted, or unmentioned. General Election campaigns of the future will incorporate young people more than ever before; because of the power of their voice, because of the power for change that lies in their hands, because of the power of influence. The tables have turned. We will now have a political system where the young will continue to teach us a valuable lesson – that their vote counts as well as ours.
I am proud of our young people. I am particularly proud of my own daughter who was counted in the 72% of 18 to 24 year olds who voted yesterday. They want change, they want a better future, and they will keep on until they get it.
A collection of thoughts and reflections from the people of All Saints.