Mark Donne: A new generation needs new ways to communicate

They care about issues but distrust the arenas set up to accommodate them

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During the recent upheaval in Iran, I sleepily opened my email inbox to the delivery of a flurry of messages from young senders, imploring me to set my "Twitter" location to Tehran and time zone to GMT +3.30. Iranian security forces, they explained, were hunting for bloggers using location/time-zone searches. The greater the number of tweeters at this newly set location, the greater the log jam it would create for forces trying to shut down access to the internet. Redundantly, I contemplated not yet having a Twitter account, and no petitions or sit-ins were, it seems, required.

This experience recalled to mind a particularly heart-charging passage of his victory speech in Grant Park, Chicago last November, when President Obama explained to spellbound supporters that his campaign "grew strength from the young people who rejected the myth of their generation's apathy". Yet we in the West are informed with monotonous regularity that young people are apathetic and disinterested in politics.

In fairness, now more than ever, the 16-25 generation could easily be forgiven assuming the inherited sensation of plus ça change: With the ink on the charge sheet of financial institutions barely dry, the new head of the Royal Bank of Scotland is set to coin in £10m a year from a bank that is 70 per cent state owned; the Government continues to overlook the importance to younger voters of climate change, with Heathrow expansion and Kingsnorth coal-fire development looking like done deals; and the Chilcot inquiry into the most unpopular policy decision of a generation – the very act that galvanised many young people into political activity in the first place – is to be conducted largely in private by an establishment fiefdom.

But notwithstanding these factors, evidence suggests that it is not the disinclination and disinterest of youth that leaves such a gaping hole in our democratic process; it is the almost total absence of the leadership of age. Vast numbers of young people remain interested in issues and the world they live in, yet profoundly distrust the prevailing arenas which have been constructed to accommodate them.

Many who came of age to Radiohead's OK Computer and were inspired to pick up economic texts such as No Logo, who watched Fahrenheit 9/11 and observed the tissue of lies around Western foreign policy unravelling, who were saddled with student debt or trapped by petrified social mobility, and who now contemplate low-paid work or unemployment and rising levels of domestic debt, see little or no hope in what can appear to be an identikit political system.

Statistics demonstrate that while membership of the three main political parties haemorrhages and local parties become moribund, membership and activism within Amnesty International, Greenpeace and other NGO's maintain healthy growth. And a smaller, more freely formed organisation that I co-founded with a collective of musicians to stimulate political interest – Instigate Debate – has been overwhelmed with interest from young people all over the UK; with many entering into political dialogue for the very first time.

The two most instructive lessons from this fascinating process for all political parties (Green included) would be: firstly, disregard the repeated assertions of stale, studio-based media voices that claim this generation is apathetic and selfish; secondly, do not believe that because much existing participation is online it will not eventually take the form of physical activity including serious voter influence.

These committed, informed and increasingly organised young people now form an unpredictable, but articulate vanguard against the folly of their powerful elders in Fleet Street and Whitehall. From Heathrow expansion, to violations of international law and the suppression of human rights, this generation is growing into decent national guardians, understanding the power of online technology and the importance to multi-national companies of voting with their wallets.

It is not youthful folly to predict that at some point, just as the Americans did, the generation that has most to lose will find or produce a candidate of its own who can consolidate their convictions and find the emotional language to fully unlock their energies.

Read Mark Donne's politics blog at independent.co.uk/the-agitator

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