Our member My Life My Say, the youth-led, non-partisan charity, brought the Common Futures Forum to Plexal to engage young people under the age of 30 in the big topics of our day. Never mind that it was a Saturday morning: Plexal was packed from 9am with passionate youth…plus some older activists who were definitely young at heart.
The event featured top-notch speakers like Mete Coban, chief executive of My Life My Say and Labour councillor for Stoke Newington, Gina Martin (who successfully campaigned to make upskirting illegal), BADU Sports founder Nana Badu, Juergen Maier, the chief executive at Siemens UK, barrister Gina Miller and Lord Simon Woolley, the founder of Operation Black Vote.
We spoke to attendees from across the generations to get their views on the upcoming election, climate change and the way the media represents – or rather misrepresents – young people.
“I definitely think the voting age should be lowered” – Shaan, 16
Shaan, 16, on engaging in politics
“I definitely think the voting age should be lowered. There are so many informed young people at the moment – some more informed than the older generation.
But it’s really the 650 people in parliament who decide what will happen for the rest of our lives. Just look at the Brexit process – if they’d voted for a deal we would have been out of the European Union by now. I have to watch from the side. I can go out and campaign and go to protests, but I can’t vote.
There are also some young people who don’t realise the impact politics has on their lives, and so aren’t interested. I got into politics from personal experience: I spend quite a lot of time in hospital (around 50 nights a year) because of a medical condition. Since 2010 I’ve seen doctors and nurses work harder than ever, I’ve seen the funding cuts and I’ve seen hospital waiting times getting worse and worse.”
“Giving someone a hard time about what lightbulb they use isn’t going to solve our climate challenges – we need radical green policies.” – Emily, 24
Emily, 24, on climate change and individual responsibility
“Climate change is a pressing issue: if we don’t do something now it will be too late and we won’t be able to lead the lives we lead now in the future.
But while I think doing things like bringing keep cups around with you is really useful, the responsibility lies with companies and the government rather than the individual. It’s our system that’s to blame.
I do know that all the progress we’ve made to date wouldn’t have been possible without industry taking from the environment, but it’s time for change. Giving someone a hard time about what lightbulb they use isn’t going to solve our climate challenges – we need radical green policies. And I think any party is capable of doing that if they chose to. I’d like to see some cross-party collaboration.”
“But we’re all doing it as individuals – we need the system to change.” – Martin, 70
Martin, 70, on food waste and systems change
“I hate food waste, so at every event I go to I always ask permission to take away the food (which I then give to the homeless and the vulnerable). I’m also on the committee of the Haringey Irish Cultural & Community Centre, which looks after 40-50 people every Wednesday.
There are so many people like me who are spending their time and even their own money to save food waste and share it with the local community. But we’re all doing it as individuals – we need the system to change. Sometimes there are also too many rules and regulations. I was really inspired by Gina Miller, one of the speakers, who challenged the system.”
Philip Glanville, Mayor of Hackney, on youth activism
“I’ve seen two really interesting discussions today: one led by Gina Miller on how we need young people’s voices and we need them to be activists. I think that’s a really powerful message. The other was the role of youth leadership when it comes to climate justice. It’s clear that the things young people care about today, in comparison to when I was a teenager, aren’t just typically young people’s issue. They’re interested in societal challenges that affect everyone.
But we’ve got to make sure that the debates on issues like diversity and the climate don’t fracture another generation. We need to take the conversations happening here today outside of these walls to workplaces and schools.”
“I’ve always looked for mentors who look like me, but I don’t always find them in traditional media.” – Chauntelle
Chauntelle, 26, on young people and the media
“Young people are either influenced by their peers or the media. But without more young people working in the media and creating the content, it’s not going to represent their voice. And as a black woman, I think the media plays a big role on what you think you can achieve. I’ve always looked for mentors who look like me, but I don’t always find them in traditional media.
That’s why I turn to social media. In fact, one of the first people to employ me was an influencer who I reached out to on Instagram. Social gives young people more opportunities.
How do we fix things? Well for starters we can get more young people working in the sector by telling them their voice is important and educating them about the different career paths available to them.”