Action speaks louder to teenagers

Young people are shunning mainstream politics in favour of a more direct approach to changing the world. Julie Henry reports.

DIRECT action politics is capturing the hearts and minds of teenagers who feel establishment politics and politicians do not share their concerns.

A Joseph Rowntree Foundation study published this month found local government and Westminster does little to inspire tomorrow's voters. The young people interviewed, aged 14 to 24, viewed politicians as untrustworthy, self-interested and unrepresentative of their age group.

But organisations concerned with third-world poverty, the environment, human rights and animal rights report that interest among the young is flourishing.

A recent survey by the Department for International Development found 70 per cent of 11 to 16-year-olds were worried about world poverty.

Amnesty International says 400 schools have signed up to its human rights programme and more are in the pipeline.

Environmental campaigners Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth report growing numbers of younger activists.

The Rowntree research found it was lack of knowledge about mainstream politics that often alienated young people and led them to find the subject boring.

By contrast, many campaigning organisations are appealing directly to teenagers, using new media to give them the instant information they expect.

Annie Moreton, Greenpeace UK marketing manager, said: "Our young members might not listen to Radio 4 or read a broadsheet newspaper but they do have e-mails and mobiles and they do want to know how they can get involved.

"We have an e-mail alert service which gives instant news and up-to-the minute details about which retailer we are targeting for instance.

"Young people can feel they are having an effect by passing on a campaigning e-mail to 10 friends."

Joe Hallgarten, education researcher at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said: "Imaine how young people feel about being so far down the pecking order. Not even Labour party members feel they have an influence at the moment.

"Young people are more interested in Reclaim the Streets than in party conferences, because direct action makes you feel like you can make a difference and it's a way of meeting other like-minded people," said Mr Hallgarten.

Young Conservative meetings used to be a place to meet a potential partner; now banner-waving on a street march is the new route to love.

George Taylor from Reclaim the Streets maintains that frustration with establishment politics does not stem from a lack of interest in politics per se.

He said: "Politicians underestimate young people who can see, on a very straight-forward, intuitive level, the injustices of the present system. They do not accept complex justifications for the way things are."

The prospect of voter turn-outs plummeting further - only 50 per cent of first-time voters exercised their right at the last general election - has worried the Government enough to make citizenship lessons compulsory from September.

Teachers will have their work cut out preventing the lesson being the one children are most likely to skip.

Mr Hallgarten said: "The aim of citizenship should be to unleash something that the Government might have to worry about in the future.

"But given the current situation, I think the Government is prepared to take the risk."


Direct action to stop GM crops

Mahogany is Murder - campaign to protect UKs wildlife habitat and world's forests

Factory Watch - expose your local polluters

Disarming of child soldiers

Children's rights in the UK and their application to asylum seekers

Foxhunting and live animal transport bans

End battery hen and fur farming

Campaign against cosmetic testing

Protect the Amazon

End commercial whaling

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