Building a youth movement from the ground up

How a network of young people across the country are doing the hard work of democracy as politicians fail them
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“We are so many and they are so few,” one of the demonstrators at Toronto’s Climate Strike rally said to the mammoth crowd amassed at Queen’s Park on Sep. 27, 2019. At those words, goosebumps ran through my entire body.

I was at the rally that day as an organizer with Future Majority. Since August, my work — along with that of 20 fellow organizers and a team of volunteers — has been to build an uprising of young people for this federal election on the issues plaguing our generations, such as the climate crisis and unaffordability. Every day for the past month, we have walked the length and breadth of 20 campuses, talking to students about the importance of voting.

We, the people between 18 and 35 years old, form the largest voting bloc this election. We finally have power.

The 2019 federal election is a game changer for many reasons. Rahul Mehta, a Future Majority volunteer organizing students at the University of Toronto’s Mississauga campus, calls this year a “critical juncture” for politicians and their politics.

For the first time, politicians are well aware that they cannot win without a concrete, solutions-oriented agenda for mitigating the climate crisis. And according to Mehta — a lifelong resident committed to Mississauga — politicians are realizing for the first time that they are losing votes as a new generation of voters is replacing the Baby Boomers.

Politicians, without a doubt, have helped mould an image of apathetic youth. They call us lazy. They call us disengaged. It seems this is their justification for why we don't get involved in politics. But how many of their policies actually reflect our concerns? Who among them is talking to us?

Politicians need to wake up and smell the smoke.

They say we’re lazy, yet according to Statistics Canada, young Canadians are more educated than older ones. They are also working more part-time jobs than ever because of a definitive lack of full-time jobs that match their qualifications and pay their bills. For the first time in 20 years, homeownership among youth has declined, and more of us are living longer with parents. We were told to follow the path of our parents’ generation, but society and its systems have changed since then and are no longer setting us up for success.

“Politicians may have written us off as apathetic,” says Adam Kain, a 17-year-old volunteer who is canvassing students at Brock University, “but what they are not realizing is that there are issues that are affecting so many young people that is igniting their spirit to get involved.”

As an organizer, I have spoken to almost 2,000 people about the importance of voting. Together, my colleagues and I have spoken to well over 20,000 people. And no matter where we have spoken to them, the issues clearly causing stress and anxiety are the rising cost of living, student debt and the climate crisis. What also became clear from our conversations — one youth to another — is that we are not averse to politics. Each organizer arrived on campus alone, but since then has built a squad of young organizers volunteering their time to get their voices heard.

“Sometimes it feels like the existent systems are built to remind us that we are not powerful. But that’s just not true,” says Vaideehee Lanke, a 19-year-old volunteer at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The value of organizing is so undervalued. We forget that to deal with national and global issues, we have to first find local solutions. The demographic is different everywhere. As local organizers, we are able to recognize grassroots issues and develop closer relations by people from the community, for the people intended to reach. And that is where the real power is.”

The strike on Sep. 27 was so powerful because it was a clear-cut demonstration of the power that people in a democracy hold if they come together. Approximately 694,000 people turned up to protest against the inaction of their political representatives on the most important issue of our generation. Their presence was a warning to politicians: we need action, we need it now and you can’t remain in office without giving us solutions.

In an ideal democracy, politicians should be doing the hard work of organizers by meeting people where they are to find out about and provide solutions to the issues affecting their lives. But career politicians are only concerned with holding on to power. As soon as elections come around, so do they, with their ingenuine door-knocking and flakey promises.

“[As organizers] we’re thinking big and small at the same time. This work recognizes that there are people on different levels of civil engagement all at once, and we’re engaging them at different levels,” says Rahul. “Through intimate interactions with young people, we have actually given them time to think about their issues for the first time between all the hustle in their life.”

How can Canada expect to evolve and progress as a society if the majority of its people are living paycheque to paycheque?

Politicians need to wake up and smell the smoke. There is a network of young people across the country coming together that have been provided with the tools and skills to build a movement and use it to create serious change.

In fact, we are already together — more than 20,000 of us across Canada are mobilizing. We are mobilizing for the planet and for ourselves. Politicians may not have realized this, but we have.

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