YOUTH VOICE: Forum gives youth a voice

A recent youth summit hosted by Simon Fraser University drew students as young as 14 years old.

While most high school and university students might be sleeping in on a Saturday morning, this was not the case for youth attending SFU Public Square’s Our Future Our Voice youth forum last month.

These are people for whom economic issues were simply too important to ignore.

The Sept. 28 forum kicked off the Public Square’s 2013 Community Summit and allowed students to contribute to the discussion on B.C.’s economic future.

Students as young as 14 and from as far as Salt Spring Island were eager to express their opinions.

It is often said that youth are apathetic about politics. Certainly, concerns like low youth-voter turnout are valid. Nevertheless, the forum proves we need to facilitate conversations with Generation Y in a manner that combines technology, interactivity and actual conversation in a unique manner – to imbue in youth the importance of civic engagement.

Using solely traditional ways of communicating important issues do not truly engage students. Experimentation of communication methods is vital if important community issues are to remain relevant to students in a fast-paced world where technology abounds.

The youth forum allowed for a combination of social-media elements, political guests from all levels of government and a chance for students to express their voice.

What was truly remarkable to see was the intensity of tough questions that students asked of the invited elected officials. Topics included the liquefied natural gas (LNG) proposal and its effects on the environment and economy. Other questions discussed by the invited politicians related to child poverty, employment, teaching and trades.

Behind the panelist of decision makers ran a live Twitter feed, which allowed students to comment on and discuss the topics in real time.

As we move into a world where we will inevitably become even more connected through the continued growth of technology, it is important for us to realize the power of live forums cannot be underestimated in serving as models for community engagement.

The basis of a healthy and vibrant democracy rests in the participation of its citizens.

To ensure the next generation of Canadians are able to carry on our democracy, it is important to not just express our viewpoints in online comments, but also meet with likeminded individuals who want to see reforms on pressing issues.

Furthermore, in order to tackle larger concerns related to low voter turnout and general political disconnect, we must build the gateway that will allow for these goals to be met.

Public discourse is at the heart of any successful democracy. Community forums are a starting point for youth to engage or re-engage with issues related to the economy, healthcare and education.

Japreet Lehal writes monthly for Peace Arch News on youth issues.