Young, Wild and Politically Involved

Jana Degrott, Co-Founder of We Belong & Member of Young Elected Politicians Programme, Luxembourg

While governments struggled to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, politicians forgot about young people. We lost years of education and entered the workforce as the economic pressures of lockdowns worsened an already existing mental health crisis among young people. In France, some acknowledge us as the “sacrificed generation” or “forgotten by society,” a reflection of the consequences that this pandemic has and will have on the future of young people. 

It’s no wonder politicians forgot us — the decision-makers are more than a generation removed from our challenges and experiences. And that won’t change anytime soon, as around half of the world is under the age of 30, but to enact the change our world so desperately needs, policies must be informed by those most affected. It’s on us young people to take up spaces of influence and deliver innovative solutions to local and global challenges. We can ask for a seat at existing tables, but we also need to bring forth our own table and set out to shape our collective future.

Be the Change

I ran for public office at the age of 21, and the decision to run at such a young age was a personal one. First and foremost, I have always been a strong believer in the importance of incorporating youth perspectives in the development of a country; not just because we are the “future” leaders and decision-makers, but because I see potential for young people to bring new solutions to old problems and redefine what is considered “possible.” More than just being the leaders of tomorrow, we must also be the leaders of today.

I became politically active around the age of 16 out of frustration with the Luxembourgish educational system. I joined the Youth Parliament in Luxembourg and headed the education committee so that I could use my voice to improve upon the deficiencies in the system. Specifically, I was frustrated with the lack of emphasis on communication and debate in the classroom, and I also advocated for civic engagement classes. I then joined the European Youth Parliament in Luxembourg, where I was  an active member at sessions both abroad and at home. 

In 2016, I organized a conference that brought 150 people from all over Europe to Luxembourg to debate and exchange views on current European topics. My actions were driven by the knowledge it is never enough to be angry about the way things are; we must channel that energy into mobilizing and advocating for others, ourselves, and our values.

Political engagement is just one way to elicit change. There are many opportunities to support causes on a more grassroot and societal level. I recall my experience as a Luxembourgish youth representative at the National Youth Council, where I was regularly representing Luxembourgish youth interests internationally. During this experience, I met like-minded and passionate people who drove and motivated me to advocate for including youth-perspectives in conversations about the rights of minority groups, unpaid internships, Erasmus+, the right to vote at the age of 16, and many others issue spaces.

Tips to Get Going

We can’t just depend on legislators to solve the world’s greatest challenges — especially when they don’t represent, or understand, so many of us. We must step into our power, take up spaces of influence, and deliver innovative solutions to local and global challenges. 

Do you want to see change in society and strive to advocate  for what you believe in? Do you have doubts, nonetheless? That’s okay, I feel you. Here are some tips on how to become a fearless advocacy leader. 

  • Struggling with doubts and fear? Just do it. Really, just do it. Everything we do starts small. Change takes time, your actions are cumulative, and building a coalition for change and informing/mobilizing others means “just doing it”  and keeping it moving. We cannot expect the world to change on its own — we need to keep working for it. 
  • It’s our future and the future of our children, so no one else should get to decide our fate. Young people should run for office to close the generational divides that prevent fresh ideas from being implemented. Politicians from older generations are often not linked into current struggles in the same way young people are, since it affects their futures more directly. Having multiple generational perspectives at the decision-making table is fundamental for a high-functioning society. 
  • We are the most connected generation ever. We must take advantage of our knowledge of  social media and use it to build power, even when we are shut out of the traditional institutions. Digital tools linked to offline activism and organizing enables us to pool together and share resources, expertise, and skills that create change. Social media builds communities that can put pressure on political and state systems to advocate for change. Not everyone needs to show up offline, but those of us committed to the cause need to create online communities of supporters who can help redefine narratives and force society to listen to our demands and solutions.
  • Open doors for others and share the tools for success. As a young woman of color, I hardly felt represented by the decision-makers in my country. Now that I have entered a political  space, I see it as my duty to open doors for other underrepresented groups. These values in particular influenced me to start We Belong, an initiative meant to inspire and equip next-generation leadership for young European women of color, creating a future pool of role models. As you advocate and move up in credibility, lead by example and bring other people up with you, ensuring they also have access to tools and resources. 
  • We are not all friends here. Racism, xenophobia, ableism, and other issues will crop up, and you will face adversity from fellow advocates and the uglier parts of society. Prepare for this by practicing mental health hygiene (learn to put your phone down, have friends filter content for you if you get into a shit-storm), but also accept that there is no silver bullet to any of this. I still regularly suffer daily attacks on myself and my values, but I am getting better at managing them.
  • Stay rooted. You will eventually get attention, invitations to events and debates and interviews, but never forget that you started with the desire to represent and uplift a community and the people affected by an issue. Always bring it back to the grassroots.

This is a collaboration between GEN-ZiNE and Driving Change. 

Driving Change

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