Director of Fundamental Freedoms Program
In these days of heavy-handed rhetoric from our leaders and political infighting, it is easy to become cynical about the future. But last week we saw young people stand up for what they believe in and make their voices heard. It was powerful and inspiring and gives us hope for the future of the country – maybe even a little hope for the present.
On Wednesday, in the temporary House of Commons, several dozen Daughters of the Vote delegates turned their backs on Prime Minister Trudeau to express their displeasure about the decision to expel two prominent female MPs from the Liberal caucus. Some delegates walked out when Opposition leader Andrew Scheer took the podium. These silent protests were a means of exercising a right foundational to our democratic system of government – freedom of expression – and it showed the power of that expression when it takes a collective form. Daughters of the Vote delegates are chosen based on their engagement with their community, so it is not surprising that some of these young women decided that their trip to Ottawa was about more than networking or sitting politely while the country’s leaders addressed them.
On Thursday, students across the province walked out of their classrooms to protest proposed cuts to the education system. CBC reported that over 100,000 students participated and that it is believed to be the largest student protest in our country’s history. Many students also rallied alongside parents and teachers at Queen’s Park on Saturday, sporting signs and buttons opposing cuts they see as harmful to their futures.
There are those who have been dismissive of these young people. Some say their activism mostly takes place online, where they don’t have to get their hands dirty. The events of this week suggest otherwise. Ontario’s Premier and Minister of Education have said that the students participating in the walkout are being used as pawns, and others argue they just want to skip class. But interviews with many of the young participants show this is not the case. And anyone who has tried to convince a teenager to do something they don’t want to do should recognize these characterizations as false. These are young people who are knowledgeable, passionate, and engaged. Most of them aren’t old enough to use the ballot box to express their views, so they have found other tactics. Those in power should be encouraging them and expressing pride in a generation that knows its rights and chooses to exercise them. “The people” don’t only speak once every four years.
We dismiss and belittle these young voices at our own peril. They have powerful tools at their disposal that were not available to previous generations, and they will no doubt learn from the successes and failures of the past. In a few short years, they will also have the power to exercise their democratic right to vote – and the politicians who mocked and undermined them may face a reckoning. I, for one, am looking forward to it.