I just finished moderating a panel on how to engage youth in political parties at the Alberta Progressive Conservative Association AGM in Edmonton this afternoon. There was about 165 individuals in the room so the interest in the topic was encouraging.
The major themes I grasped coming out of the event that were generative enough to move forward were the need for mentoring, the adoption of technology, inclusiveness, and meaningful participation and building stronger and lasting relationships.
It became obvious that the most common way people get involved in the political process at the party level is because someone asked them and invited them. I expect this is true of all political parties. How utterly simple and obvious but yet we do not do it very well. People need to be asked to participate in civil society, including political parties, or so it seems. So we better start asking them.
The other interesting observation was the nature of youth involvement in a political party. It is about apprenticeship or it is about being fully active from day one, regardless of age and experience? The answers there seemed to be both but the determining factor ought to be the wishes of the individual and not some cultural party norm that ends up being a barrier to any real and meaningful participation.
Mentoring needs to work both ways too. Older more experienced party activitist can teach young people the ropes of how the political policy making processes works in our democracy. This needs to be taught at the grassroots level in practical term and be focused on political parties and also in government terms. We need people to become empowered and to see how they can make a difference using politics as a vehicle for change.
Equally as important is younger people teaching and mentoring more senior party members about the uses and advantages of technology, including building social relationship opportunities. The technophobia of so many older people has to be overcome. They have to be introduced to technology, taught how to use and become comfortable with applications like Facebook and even Blogs, so they come to see how it helps for political outreach, even on a personal basis.
The current state of wide spread indifference to down right cynicism over political parties and politics in general cannot be healthy for our democracy. We citizens have to take back the power of politics and put it into the hands of ordinary people who will hopefully choose to re-engage and who can see the value in doing so. It was a wonderful session to be involved with and I look forward to some actual follow up happening to get some of the suggestions we heard into practical action plans.