UpRising Blog: We must create a truly democratic society that works for our diverse communities

UpRising Blog: We must create a truly democratic society that works for our diverse communities

September 14, 2018

Saturday 15th marks the International Day of Democracy. This year, the theme is Democracy under Strain: Solutions for a Changing World. It emphasises the need to invigorate democracy and make democracies more inclusive by bringing the youth and marginalised into the political system.

Roxy Legane, our Programme Manager in Manchester, writes about why this day is so important and how UpRising is pioneering in youth-led democratic engagement. 

 

On the International Day of Democracy, it is essential that we reflect and act on how far we still have to go to ensure we live in a truly democratic society that works for our diverse communities, including those who choose not to or are unable to participate in our democratic processes.

 

"We must break the cycle of unrepresentative leadership and build bridges to power, so as the world reflects on democracy, we can be proud of ours."

 

When we think of democracy in the UK, we can think of exclusive networks; politicians, Westminster, and all too frequently, London. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “the will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government” (article 21.3). This notion has inspired constitution-making around the world and contributed to global acceptance of democratic values and principles. But democracy in practice does not always feel led by the ‘will of the people’, and our decision makers certainly do not feel like the representative hope we need to make that a reality.  

 

In 2017, a YouGov survey presented that roughly one third of our society do not vote, with young people the least likely to, despite an increased voter turnout. It’s time to step away from demonizing those avoiding the ballot box, and consider why it is people may be less inclined, and disillusioned with participating in a system that some consider a beacon of social equality.

 

At UpRising, we believe the UK is in dire need of a radical shift in where power is held, and what power looks like; from people to process. We believe that in order to find solutions to systemic underrepresentation in governance and politics, we must work harder to ensure young people are being brought in to the political system, and their insights are valued as an answer to how we make democracy more fulfilling for a generation who could be arguably more involved in politics, but still unlikely to formally engage. UpRising works towards a leadership that is inclusive of young people from diverse backgrounds because we believe it will lead to the eradication of institutional inequalities that sustain the faults in our current democracy.

 

A wider societal belief can prevail that young people are not interested in politics or worthy of outreach, particularly those most marginalised. This leads to systemic failures. UpRising knows full well that young people are interested, what disheartens them is a politics that refuses to change. We work to make democracy more inclusive through youth led social action, and by developing new, community-minded and socially-conscious leaders; so that our future decision-makers truly represent our diverse communities.

 

"UpRising works towards a leadership that is inclusive of young people from diverse backgrounds because we believe it will lead to the eradication of institutional inequalities that sustain the faults in our current democracy."

 

We had over 9,000 young people sign up to vote through our My Voice My Vote campaign, and engaged a further 2,500 in political debates in the run up to the 2015 General Election and 2016 EU Referendum. Through our programmes, we have also watched young people lead campaigns in their communities, ensuring no voice goes unheard, from young people experiencing injustice in sentencing to the humanisation of refugees. As our society faces new and emerging challenges, we need to encourage those who will feel the consequences to become agents of change. Too often those most underrepresented are left most vulnerable. Across the globe, climate change significantly affects those who are not visible in our power structures; it is fundamental that young people from all walks of life feed into our democracy. That is what our Leadership and Environmental Leadership Programmes work to achieve.

 

As October approaches, as does a new wave of UpRisers. Over 9 months, 19-25 year olds from across the UK will embark on a journey with us that supports them to reach their full potential by developing their knowledge, skills, confidence, and networks. When they graduate, we see real results such as boosted employability, the increased likelihood of getting into leadership roles, better educational chances and strengthened communities through their social action activity. For example, one in five UpRisers have gone on to set up a social enterprise or business, one in four have taken up positions of local governance such as serving as a trustee or governor, and more than 80% regard themselves as leaders and feel they are able to have an impact on the world around them (The Power of UpRising, Demos 2016). As young people become equipped with the tools to lead change, the likelihood of a representative democracy is in sight; every one of us must support that mission.

 

The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development addresses democracy in Sustainable Development Goal 16, recognizing the indivisible links between peaceful societies and effective, accountable and inclusive institutions. We must break the cycle of unrepresentative leadership and build bridges to power, so as the world reflects on democracy, we can be proud of ours.

 

Photo source: Manchester UpRising Sky News - Register to Vote