Youth politicians the new big thing


As schools prepare for the start of a new term, teachers and students alike will be looking at the calendar and wondering when the next climate strike is going to fall. The protests which have been a rallying point for young people, too young to vote, have drawn both criticism and praise for what they are trying to achieve. And as their confidence at protesting grows, so it appears are the number of people who think that they should still be in school (despite the last two weeks being official holidays).

Youth politics and youth politicians are not new. Since about when I started voting there has been a Christchurch City Councillor named Yani Johanson. Cr. Johanson first started as a youth board member advocating for things like a new skateboarding rink for youths to take their wheels after complaints about their behaviour in public places. Another one who turned to politics early on was young Auckland lady Chloe Swarbrick who came into the public eye for trying to moderate an argument between a pair of fellow Mayoral candidates. A year later in 2017 she entered Parliament as one of New Zealand’s youngest ever Members of Parliament on the Green Party list.

New Zealand has a healthy – I will not say proud – reputation of having a Youth Parliament every two years, which debates issues important to them. They are school students with an interest in history, politics and current affairs who are selected by their local Member of Parliament to represent them in the Youth Parliament.

Thanks to social media, and politicians in Parliament and increasingly the large city councils recognizing the need to champion youth issues, youth politics and politicians are on the rise. At the up coming local government elections a 26 year old lady named Louise Hutt is standing for Mayor of Hamilton. A few years ago a young man named Sam Broughton took over the Mayoralty of Selwyn District in Canterbury.

Knowing that this is just the beginning it is time for society to acknowledge the following things:

  • The generation currently in high school and the generations that follow will have to deal with the effects of our hugely unsustainable appetite for resources and climate change
  • They understand that simply declaring emergencies will in itself not solve the problem – the idea is to raise awareness
  • Thanks to the social media we accuse them of being addicted to they are substantially more clued up to as to what is happening than we are willing to give them credit for

But some seem slow to get the message as those who challenged South Waikato District Council earlier this week found out. S.W.D.C., which has responsibility for an overwhelmingly rural part of Waikato, where the major industry is dairy farming, objected to the challenge lodged a climate change activist group dominantly populated by students and young people that it should declare a climate emergency. They were reacting to a challenge by Extinction Rebellion. One of the councillors even went so far as to call them terrorists.

Perhaps S.W.D.C. was more concerned about the elections looming large in a few months time and did not want to be seen to be turning against their rural mandate. Perhaps they have never considered climate change to be an issue that they need to deal with. Whatever their answer to the question of why they were so negative, it struck a jarring note when numerous other councils have been wanting to appear environmentally responsible and – even if they did not declare an emergency – acknowledge the concerns of young people.

It is time to acknowledge the rise of the youth politician because young people as politicians is a phenomena that is only going to grow in strength and popularity.