Battle of Ideas 2018
Counter Cultural Concerns
Garden Room, Barbican Centre
Saturday 13th October 2018
The extraordinary turnout, reportedly up to 700,000 in Central London for the pro-remain #NeverAgain anti-Brexit ‘People’s March’ on 20th October 2018 made it the second largest march in the country this century. It was a symbolic, clear demonstration of the depth of anti-Brexit feeling amongst many people in the country. What was also self-evident were the unusually large number of young people protesting, particularly for a non-student specific issue. This is explained by the fact that the march was part organised by the National Union of Students (NUS) who mobilised so many young people to attend. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, 21st October 2018, the President of the NUS, Shakira Martin, said that the march was organised and led by students and requested that the Prime Minister Theresa May take note of the 1,000’s of young voices amongst the 700,000 who marched as a demonstration of intent to have a second vote on Brexit.
Aside from the on-going debate about whether or not there should be a second referendum, which as one for another article altogether, this protest shone a spotlight on youth participation in the political process. Under 18’s, too young to vote had no say in the EU referendum vote yet by the time of the next big march, 29th March 2019, aka Brexit Day, many more who just two years ago were too young to vote would now be eligible. Can children change the future? Many would argue a decision had been made with long-term ramifications affecting the youths of today and tomorrow that they have had no say in and that they should have a say in.
Across the pond there is an issue that has far more serious consequences, one that is literally a matter life and death. I refer to the battle for gun control that has touched far too many American youths and encouraged more and more young people to become more politicised and active in raising their voices and profiles for the cause.
We are sadly all too familiar with mass shootings at US schools and elsewhere. Clearly the problem hasn’t been solved by the grown up’s, the elected politicians tasked with making America safer for students and wider American society, so young people directly affected are getting involved.
Following the mass shooting on Valentine’s Day this year at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 people were shot dead, a group of students from the school met and formed the #NeverAgainMSD #EnoughIsEnough movement to try and bring an end to these horrific massacres of innocent school children. Their appeal for stricter gun control was passionate, energetic, personal and above all youth inspired. Student David Hogg became one of the group’s most high profile spokespeople following his March for our Lives speech at a Washington DC rally on 24th March 2018 where he said “Adult politics is not helping us. Ideas without action remain ideas and children die.”
I feel there are pros and cons for more active youth participation in the political process aimed at finding a solution to this and any other long standing political and societal problems. Youths argue that they have personal “skin in the game” so to speak as there are a disproportionate number of mass school shootings in America compared to anywhere else in the world. Many involved are well educated, articulate and have mobilised their fellow pupils to action, arguably in a way adults would struggle to. Karin Robinson, of Democrats Abroad, former Vice–Chair of Democrats Abroad UK, has recent experience of the capability of young people. Speaking at the recent Battle of Ideas 2018 Festival she recalled how she tried to help a group of young Londoners with a campaign they were working on, thinking that her experience as an older person would help. Little did she know that they were doing fine all by themselves and therefore she was pleasantly surprised to find that they didn’t need her support. “They were more than capable. There view was that, ‘our parents don’t know how to handle a democracy so let us do it.’ ”
Some would argue that there are limits to how far young people can develop a campaign. Nancy McDermott, Writer and adviser to Park Slope Parents, does not believe that children were capable of organising rallies in some schools that they were said to have done, saying that, “whilst they mean well, it was inconceivable that they could organise a bus trip for hundreds of students to far away cities. Such trips were organised and promoted by schools not the students.”
Journalist and podcaster James Delingpole, 53, caused uproar amongst the students in the audience by saying that “We shouldn’t listen to youths. There frontal lobes aren’t developed until they’re at least 25 years old. By definition, as young people, they are not wise. There is a danger in weaponising the youths.” This drew a very witty riposte that brought the house down at the Barbican Centre from an 18 year old female who said, “My frontal lobes may not be fully developed but can I tell you that by the age of 30 your frontal lobe is deteriorating.” That amusing put down drew laughter and a huge round of applause from the packed audience.
Dr Kevin Yuill, Senior Lecturer in American history at Southampton University, considered that “mass shootings are a massive cry for help.” To me, this speaks to the on-going mental health crisis that underpins many of these shootings. Many massacres are quite simply senseless and often turn out to be the actions of someone without a sound and rational mind. He felt that “there was something noble about kids becoming activists. It opens up a dialogue and opportunity for them to learn about the business of changing the world.” That on the face of it is entirely logical, especially when you consider that he said that young Americans biggest fear is gun crime. He said there is a 1:11,125 chance of dying from a gun versus, for instance, a 1:471 chance of dying in a car crash. It’s understandable but almost illogical to be more afraid of something that’s 24 less likely to happen than being involved in a car crash. I guess its fear of the one being out of your control and likely to be fatal and one where you feel you can manage the risks and possibly have a greater chance of surviving.
The complex and messy politics of this is well summed up by Dr Richard Johnson, Lecturer in US politics at Lancaster University, who explained that “First of all, legislatively it is very, very difficult to change due to how the senate is comprised e.g. the 39 million citizens of California have the same 2 votes i.e. 2 elected representatives as a state of 750 people! This effectively means that the states, like California, most in favour of gun control have little say commensurate with their size.”
There ought to be boundary reviews just as we do in the UK to more accurately reflect populations. Dr Johnson further argued that “Secondly, it’s not a matter of moving public opinion, it’s the structure. The Supreme Court has consistently ruled that gun control bans are unconstitutional.”
Nancy McDermott, said “Canada is armed to the teeth with guns but there is no gun control problem. It’s very much a cultural issue. The Police have a problem with African-Americans resulting in escalating problems. We need to address the culture wars here. We don’t talk to one another. Instead we talk past one another. That’s why children are being weaponised in this debate.”
Delingpole said “Let youths enjoy life. Enjoy their academic subjects. We don’t need young people being politicised, becoming Activists.” McDermott responded that “the problem is not the youths. It’s the adult’s not providing appropriate leadership.”
Dr Richard Johnson, Lecturer in US Politics
The Australian Model
When considering solutions Dr Johnson quoted the Australian model that resulted in taking strong action against guns. There was a successful 3 point solution:
1. People needed to be licensed to own a gun.
2. People needed to prove they had a specific reason for owning a gun e.g. for sport.
3. Review of licenses issued every 3 years.
The hugely positive result of this was a massive 77% decline in gun assisted suicides.
Putting this into perspective he added that self-inflicted gun deaths add up to the vast majority of gun deaths in the USA.
Despite his strong position on the subject, James Delingpole believes there is a place for youth engagement and that is by voting and encouraging their peers to vote. He sees that young people can be quick to show their anger but in his view real change comes from the ballot box not verbal displays of anger. He said that the problem isn’t the adults, “but the youths who don’t vote, don’t protest and don’t stand up.” One youth said, “Young people don’t vote because the political discourse on campus is very toxic.” Trying to bring calm to a debate he helped inflame, Delingpole said, “There is a need to focus on arguments not identity. Otherwise it becomes polarised into the young versus old, black versus white and men versus women etc…”
Soweto Uprising in 1976
The Soweto, South Africa, youth uprising against apartheid in June 2016 is a strong example of the effectiveness of youth engagement in politics. This was a very significant moment that sped up the demise of apartheid. It was a great starting point but not the end of the struggle. It was an example of young people acting out of great courage. We need to unite this courage with effective politics.
I think the solution to this is not a binary one. The major problems of today, be they gun control, knife crime, Brexit or climate change, require all of us, young and older, black or white, male or female to work together to find solutions. No one group necessarily has the monopoly on the best ideas. Even within the UK there are solutions to be found within the different nations.
For example, for some years now London has had a serious knife crime problem. Just north of the border they had an awful problem with this too, but the city of Glasgow in Scotland turned it around and appears to have won the battle by adopting a public health approach to the problem. That strategy worked so successfully there were no knife related murders in the city between 2006-2011.
I would say that that youths can’t do it alone and the experience of the older generation who are arguably more politically attuned, needs tapping into in order to effect change via the existing political and governmental machinery, both local and national.
© Tiemo Talk of the Town
- Politicians Should Have Dealt with School Shootings Centuries Ago – Free Beacon 23rd October 2018
- Shakira Martin, President National Union of Students – Andrew Marr Show, BBC1 – 21st October 2018
- Five Days to go until the People’s Vote March – Shakira Martin, President, National Union of Students NUS article – 15th October 2018
- March for our Lives: Are Young People Leading America’s War on Guns? – Battle of Ideas -13th October 2018
- How Scotland Reduced Knife Deaths Among Young People – The Guardian – 3rd December 2017
- The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education – Battle of Ideas 2018 Tiemo Review – 28th October 2018