‘Generation Apathetic’ they labelled us. ‘The Generation who may never vote’. These are just some of the headlines churned out by the media to reinforce the Tory backed-notion that young people simply do not care about anything any more. The truth is we care too much.
After 40 years of a reported declining student interest in political matters perhaps it was easy for them to say this. A safe-bet for Theresa May to bank on while she planned to earn herself a big old majority in the general election. To be fair to Tezzy she hadn’t gone completely mad (not like when she wore those diamond encrusted shoes), statistics suggested that student participation in political activities was down 40% compared to 40 years ago. And statistics are always right, aren’t they?
But when our girl Theresa decided to trust in the newspaper claims that a whole generation of people simply couldn’t be arsed to care about anything, she made a big mistake. Yes, numbers of student protests have declined, particularly since the 1990s. However, it is no coincidence that this reduction has occurred simultaneously with the introduction of university fees. The truth of the matter is that students and young people are simply not able to engage with politics in the same active way as previously seen.
Young people are now designed to emerge from school or college or sixth-form as business-minded robots, enshrined in the mantra that you better work and never stop working if you are to ever have a chance of getting a job, anywhere. Do not stop, do not pass go, do not collect £200. The big dreamers of our generation are those who hope to one day, part-own a 2 bedroomed semi-detached next to a power station on the outskirts of Dewsbury. And these inspiring heroes are too busy working Monday to Friday in a job they hate and counting their spare change to look up and see which politician is on the television today.
And as for declining votes? That is something that has been witnessed inter-generationally yet somehow focused, and blamed, on the under 25s. Either way political apathy is not something to be scorned. It is not, as the Daily Mail would have you believe, because the non-voters are lazy or uneducated or without a care in the world for the running of their country. It is because they feel like they simply have no choice. Regardless of political persuasion, nobody is listening to them and they are left in the polling booth with a choice between being ignored by somebody who wears blue accent colours, or red. Political apathy is evidence of a failing political system and not as the Tories saw it, something to be seized as an opportunity to win an election.
But in June ‘Generation Apathetic’ said enough is enough. Analysis by Ipsos Mori suggests that young people turned out to vote in the general election in greater numbers than at any other point for 25 years. Perhaps because people felt they finally had a choice more meaningful than between the colour of a tie. Perhaps because they simply could not take any more. We had seen what had happened in America last November and we said no, it’s time for change.
Protest is in our history, it’s in our blood. But until now Millennial activism has often been restrained by those who then questioned and judged our ‘apathy’. The media constantly emphasises generational divisions, ignoring the greater things that unite us. Millennials are relentlessly compared to previous generations but the media should recognise that we were raised by these people. The Baby Boomers picked us up from school when the Gen Xers were working late. They taught us of our history: of the suffragettes and the miners’ strikes and the poll tax riots, and we have not forgotten.
They labelled us apathetic and believed that they could do anything without so much as a question to their outdated system. But our shouts have been muffled to murmurs for too long, and now they have become screams. And if scream is what we have to do to ensure that change happens, then we will. We will no longer sit and wait for another atrocity before we say, stop. Stop ignoring us. The poor, the young, the disabled, those seeking refuge, the LGBTQ+ community, junior doctors, nurses, women. Stop ignoring us, because we are you. We are British, and if there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s make a bloody picket sign, call our mates and get on the first train to London.
The government has refused to give us power or equality for too long, so we are taking it back ourselves. Not Generation Apathetic, but Generation Change. We, who have been silenced for so long that this time, we will ensure that it will never happen again. We will no longer wait until there is a burning building as a catalyst for change. We are the catalyst, June 8th was just the start. And that is hope.