From a completely uninformed, non-critical perspective it could be said that Emmanuel Macron is Europe’s Barack Obama. I say this because he both symbolises a coming change and restores faith in a humanity opposed to separatist ideologies. He embodies hope but, beyond this, there is something else he could represent for young people across Europe: the power of their voice, and the value of determination.
Over the last decade, a panic has taken over the world. Tragedies and atrocities have unfolded before our very eyes at alarming rates, and the development of a culture hooked on immediacy and fed by self-congratulation has worsened their effects. The digital realm has irrevocably transformed human relations but, more than that, it has changed where we place agency and responsibility in our lives. The impact this has on our political practice and engagement could not be more dangerous. It is easy to feel defeated by the state of the world around us without locating ourselves within the matrix that causes such predicaments in the first place; however, the example of Emmanuel Macron could trigger a fundamental shift for young people and make them active participants in global leadership.
Season by season, businesses and corporations target their sales more and more to young demographics, who lap it up and propel their profits. It is the nature of youth to want something new and exciting; however, the strategy of keeping young voices from political activity by saturating their consciousnesses with likes, celebrity gossip, and left-right swipes, is working quite well. The hunt for financial and romantic stability has regressed to its primal form as generations seek comfort in a world where real-life connections are slowly decomposing. Anyone who has ever been comfortable will tell you that you must resist change, for fear that you might ruin a good thing; but what happens when your comfort comes at the cost of communal, national and global stability? Do you simply shut yourself off, and say ‘that’s not my problem’? We have played the game this way for a long time, but our passivity has lost us control of the world. However, with the recent politicization of the state of womanhood and the drive towards inclusive civility the youth of today can change strategy and break the rules. That is what Macron did.
Patrick Marnham’s statement that: ‘at 39, (Macron) would normally be considered at least 15 years too young to mount a serious presidential challenge in France’ is true not only in Europe but also throughout the world as a whole. We have entertained ageist restrictions on young people’s aspirations. Becoming an #InstaCeleb, going viral on YouTube or founding a tech start-up have gained momentum exponentially through their marketing as ‘appropriate’ areas for young people to ‘compete.’ However, even in a time where garnering interest, organising masses and collecting co-signatories to movements has never been easier, we seem to avoid challenging the very systems which have fuelled youth political apathy for decades. Where are the independent fashion campaigns aimed at mobilising interest in politics? Where are the online projects centred on poverty eradication? How can Emma Watson use her celebrity to straddle feminism, activism, and performance; yet grassroots and organisational activists within our own neighbourhoods, communities, and countries receive no attention when they tackle issues which confront us on a daily basis? Could it be that political awareness just not sexy enough?
As Professor Abhinay Muthoo’s research has illustrated, youth political apathy, both globally and in the UK, is nothing new but, now, we have ever-smarter tools to limit where our apathetic peers can hide. It is about time we used them. In June 2016, the Youth Initiative for Advocacy, Growth & Advancement in Nigeria set up the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign to support a Bill that challenged the ageist restrictions of the country’s constitution. In an effort to promote independent candidates in Nigeria’s electoral process, the Bill aimed to:
‘reduce the age qualification for the office of the President from 40 years to 30 years; Governor 35 to 30, Senate 35 to 30, House of Representatives 30 to 25 and State House of Assembly 30 to 25.’
This Bill has garnered support from the UN Youth Envoy and young leaders across the world who view leadership as an ability independent of age. This is where Emmanuel Macron should come into the new youth strategy. In the same way that Barack Obama shattered misconceptions that the USA could ‘never have a black president,’ Macron has shown that it is possible to depart from comfortable situations and challenge inadequate systems that regularly let young people down. Of course, he did not achieve this alone, and this is why we need to transform the tools that preoccupy our attention into instruments of change.
As with any path we take, we forfeit many others; but, if we engaged in the political health of our countries with the same urgency as we grab festival tickets, upgrade to the latest iPhone, or find a Tinder/Grindr/Her date, we would always gain a lot more than we lose. To elect someone we believe in is one thing, but to believe in our own ability to effect change, and to lead the charge forward, is something else altogether. By the time we become the ‘older generation’ we could have changed the world completely. We must not judge Emmanual Macron purely on the basis that he is not his opponents. Rather, if his ascension to the highest office in France teaches us anything, it is that young people must not shy away from aspiring to political leadership.
We have seen that: ‘yes, we can!’ so, now, ‘Let’s Go!’
Words: Katlego K Kolanyane-Kesupile