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Youth Culture Is Renewing Democracy, One Click at a Time

Young Canadians are not disconnected from politics and civic life our political institutions are disconnected from our youth September 10, 2009 Election speculation season has begun, and almost as fashionable as hypothesizing the date of our next federal election are media musings on youth disengagement from the democratic process. Nothing could be further from the truth. Canadian Policy Research Networks (CPRN) commissioned a series of papers on the political and civic engagement of young people in Canada to go beyond surface characterizations of youth culture. Researchers found that youth are not only highly engaged in global and local civic causes, organizations and initiatives, they are savvy communicators, sophisticated networkers and soundly and demonstrably committed to democracy. Youth disaffection with formal politics was clearly expressed in our deliberative dialogues and workshops with Canadian youth, and deserves our attention and concern, but this bare fact says as much about our political institutions as it does about our young people. The CPRN research series highlights that youth engagement in political life is often misunderstood and misrepresented. Young people define political engagement in markedly different terms from previous generations, focusing more on individual action than institutional participation. Youth soundly reject partisan politicking and are impatient with the slow, hierarchical machinery of traditional political institutions. Young Canadians are more active in political demonstrations than their older counterparts, volunteer in higher numbers with organizations they care deeply about, mobilize impressive and effective social and political networks online and off, and are more likely to engage in consumer citizenship boycotts and buycotts as a form of political expression. Youth in Canada largely bypass traditional politics to affect change, but that does not mean they are not invested in making the world a better place. In our consultations with youth, they define political engagement in personal terms not along party-lines. Youth largely feel alienated from traditional political parties which they see as self-serving and dismissive of youth views; this is not apathy, but a clear comprehension of a generational divide.

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Formal politics are often silent on issues that are important to youth, and function in hierarchical ways (party organization and mobilization) that youth reject. Youth are dismissive of the leader-driven structures and top-down practices of political parties, and have strong participatory instincts that drive them to grassroots participation instead. The youth are not uninformed about civic life, as is often claimed, but gather and share information in highly specialized and niche communities and from alternative sources beyond the traditional broadsheets. In many ways, the youth of today are more informed and more media savvy than their parents or grandparents were at the same ages, and have higher specialized and more diverse sources of information from which they draw. Our traditional political institutions can learn much from young Canadians. Governments have been slow to understand and utilize the power of information and communication technologies to transform the relationships between citizens and decision-makers, and to embrace the participatory practices that youth have not only become accustomed to, but are demanding. Engaging citizens, especially our youth, can only make our institutions stronger, more effective and responsive to the values and needs of all Canadians. It is time for the political landscape to embrace youth as partners in civic and democratic renewal in this country. It is not just about getting out the youth vote, but addressing issues that young people care about deeply, engaging them directly with respect, and finding participatory methods, including online and social media, to reach out and communicate with, and be accountable, to them. As one young participant in our youth dialogues put it: We want our government not to be something untouchable, but rather a community in which we not only hear what everyone has to say, but we truly listen and care about the issues. Youth want to know that their voices are heard and that their participation matters. Why should they think differently? Lets take a lesson from young Canadians and work together to reinvigorate our democratic institutions.

Read the CPRN Youth Political and Civic Engagement Series:


Lost in Translation: (Mis)Understanding Youth Engagement Synthesis Report by Mary Pat MacKinnon, Sonia Pitre and Judy Watling Indifferent or Just Different? The Political and Civic Engagement of Young People in Canada by Brenda ONeill The Meaning of Political Participation for Indigenous Youth by Taiaiake Alfred, Brock Pitawanakwat and Jackie Price A Group Apart: Young Party Members in Canada by Lisa Young and William Cross

What Do You Mean I Cant Have a Say? Young Canadians and Their Government by Andr Turcotte The State and Potential of Civic Learning in Canada by Kristina R. Llewellyn, Sharon Cook, Joel Westheimer, Luz Alison Molina Girn and Karen Suurtamm Connecting Young People, Policy and Active Citizenship by Mary Pat MacKinnon and Judy Watling Towards an Action Plan for Canada: Our Vision, Values and Actions (CPRN National Dialogue and Summit on Engaging Young Canadians) Rendre compte et soutenir laction bnvole des jeunes by Andr Thibault, Patrice Albertus and Julie Fortier

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La culture des jeunes renouvelle la dmocratie, un clic la fois


Les jeunes du Canada ne sont pas coups de la politique et de la vie des citoyens ce sont nos institutions politiques qui sont coupes de nos jeunes Le 10 septembre 2009 Les conjectures concernant les lections ont commenc, et il est presque autant la mode dans les mdias de rflchir au dsengagement des jeunes du processus dmocratique que de faire des hypothses sur la date des prochaines lections fdrales. Rien nest plus loign de la vrit. Les Rseaux canadiens de recherche en politiques publiques (RCRPP) ont command une srie darticles sur lengagement politique et civique des jeunes au Canada afin de dpasser linterprtation de surface de la culture des jeunes. Les chercheurs et chercheuses ont constat que les jeunes sont non seulement trs engags dans les causes, les organisations et les initiatives civiques locales et internationales, mais quils sont des communicateurs aviss et des rseauteurs avertis, solidement et manifestement attachs au principe de la dmocratie.

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Les jeunes du Canada ont exprim clairement leur mcontentement lgard de la politique officielle dans nos dialogues et nos ateliers dlibrants, et ce sentiment mrite notre attention. Toutefois, ce seul fait en dit autant sur nos institutions politiques que sur nos jeunes. La srie darticles du RCRPP met en lumire le fait que lengagement des jeunes dans la vie politique est souvent mal compris et dnatur. Les jeunes dfinissent lengagement politique dans des termes nettement diffrents de ceux des gnrations prcdentes, en mettant davantage laccent sur laction individuelle que sur la participation institutionnelle. Les jeunes rejettent fortement la politicaillerie partisane et sont intolrants lgard de lappareil lent et hirarchique des institutions politiques traditionnelles. Ils sont plus actifs dans les manifestations politiques que leurs ans, font plus de bnvolat dans des organismes dont la cause leur tient cur, mobilisent en ligne et hors ligne des rseaux sociaux et politiques impressionnants et efficaces, et sont plus susceptibles de sengager dans la consommation citoyenne le boycottage de ce qui est achet et du lieu o il est achet en tant que forme dexpression politique. Les jeunes du Canada sont nombreux viter la politique traditionnelle pour influer sur les changements, mais cela ne signifie pas quils ne travaillent pas amliorer le monde. Dans nos consultations avec les jeunes, nous avons constat quils dfinissent lengagement politique selon leurs propres termes et non ceux des partis politiques. Ils sont nombreux se sentir alins des partis politiques traditionnels, quils trouvent gocentriques et ddaigneux des opinions des jeunes; il ne sagit pas dapathie mais dune comprhension claire dun foss gnrationnel. Les jeunes nignorent pas ce qui se passe relativement la vie civique, comme il est souvent affirm, mais ils se renseignent et partagent de linformation dans des communauts trs spcialises et circonscrites et tire ces donnes dautres sources que les journaux grand format traditionnels. bien des gards, les jeunes daujourdhui sont plus informs et plus aviss en matire de mdias que leurs parents ou grands-parents ne ltaient au mme ge, et ils ont accs des sources dinformation plus spcialises et plus diversifies. Nos institutions politiques traditionnelles peuvent apprendre beaucoup de choses des jeunes Canadiennes et Canadiens. Les gouvernements ont t lents comprendre et utiliser le pouvoir des technologies de linformation et des communications pour transformer les relations entre les citoyens et les dcisionnaires, ainsi qu embrasser les pratiques participatives que les jeunes utilisent et exigent. Favoriser la participation des citoyens, surtout de nos jeunes, ne peut que rendre nos institutions plus solides, plus efficaces et plus rceptives aux valeurs et aux besoins de toute la population canadienne. Il est temps que le paysage politique accueille les jeunes en tant que partenaires du renouveau civique et dmocratique de ce pays. Il ne sagit pas uniquement de faire voter les jeunes mais de traiter des questions qui les touchent profondment, de les faire participer directement de faon respectueuse, de trouver des mthodes participatives, y compris en ligne et dans les mdias sociaux, daller vers eux, de communiquer avec eux et de leur rendre des comptes. Comme la dit un jeune participant dans le cadre de nos dialogues avec les jeunes : Nous voulons que notre gouvernement ne soit pas quelque chose dintouchable

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mais plutt une communaut dans laquelle chacun peut sexprimer, o on coute et on se penche vraiment sur les questions souleves. Les jeunes veulent savoir que leurs voix sont entendues et que leur participation est importante. Pourquoi devrait-il en tre autrement? Apprenons des jeunes Canadiennes et Canadiens et travaillons ensemble revigorer nos institutions dmocratiques.

Lisez la srie darticles des RCRPP sur lengagement politique et civique des jeunes :
Lost in Translation: (Mis)Understanding Youth Engagement Synthesis Report par Mary Pat MacKinnon, Sonia Pitre et Judy Watling Indifferent or Just Different? The Political and Civic Engagement of Young People in Canada par Brenda ONeill The Meaning of Political Participation for Indigenous Youth par Taiaiake Alfred, Brock Pitawanakwat et Jackie Price A Group Apart: Young Party Members in Canada par Lisa Young et William Cross What Do You Mean I Cant Have a Say? Young Canadians and Their Government par Andr Turcotte The State and Potential of Civic Learning in Canada par Kristina R. Llewellyn, Sharon Cook, Joel Westheimer, Luz Alison Molina Girn et Karen Suurtamm Connecting Young People, Policy and Active Citizenship par Mary Pat MacKinnon et Judy Watling Vers un plan d'action pour le Canada : Notre vision, nos valeurs et nos actions (Dialogue et Sommet national des RCRPP Faire participer les jeunes Canadiens) Rendre compte et soutenir laction bnvole des jeunes par Andr Thibault, Patrice Albertus et Julie Fortier

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