In the Blog

Neoliberalism, Politics, and Youth

August 30th, 2011     by Meg Pirie     Comments

Like so many Shameless articles I write, my initial intentions and detailed plans get abandoned, only to become fluid starting points for a less-tidy set of observations. So, while I was originally going to offer some commentary after riots erupted in the London, England neighborhood of Tottenham (I still will), I am also going to talk about youth and politics, as we near closer and closer to the provincial election in Ontario.

First of all, for those who say they simply did not see the outpouring of rage we saw spread across England coming…well, that’s just willful ignorance. The riots that began in Tottenham and spread across London, England (and Birmingham and Manchester) did not magically appear, only to vaporize like some Harry Potter dementor. As far back as 2001,The Guardian reported that the British government was not doing enough to tackle issues surrounding social exclusion. The recent and aggressive erosion of benefits, post-secondary education, and spending on social services has taken a toll on the facets of the population—women, trans people, youth, people with disabilities, the underemployed, the unemployed, and many others—with the smallest room for unanticipated hardships and cutbacks.

Of paramount importance now is an acknowledgment that violence takes on many forms. Certainly, sending a small business up in flames is violence. But so is systemic racism. So are austerity measures that lead to cuts in social spending, health benefits, youth clubs, and primary education, helping to fuel a generation of disenfranchised youth, ghettoized to housing projects or estates. And guess what? The profiling police in England, Canada, and the United States engage in is incredibly violent, too.

In sum, within a neoliberal system, people are reduced to profit-generating entities. Certainly, this is dehumanizing and humiliating. When you are made to fit into a demographic bracket; when your value is generated not by all of those lived experiences and idiosyncrasies and beliefs that make you you, but rather, by your capacity to generate a profit; when relentless, malicious market-driven individualism reduces you to a tax payer or consumer, not community member…this is also alienating. From yourself, your community, your co-workers, your family.

Let me put this in a Canadian context. Last week, Prime Minister Harper was in the Arctic. He was there as part of an annual northern tour, with the intention of encouraging development—double speak for massive, long-term irreversible environmental degradation—as the answer to social woes, as well. And while he did add another $60 million to keep the Arctic health-care program going for another two years, at the core of the Prime Minister’s conservatism is a conception of economics based on unending, limitless expansion and growth. Education, health care, and labour are secondary. Collective history, shared traumas, and nuanced context are unimportant. These details are effaced, or relegated as static entities in history books, in the service of profit margins.

If there’s anything we have learned from this year’s federal elections, from the events in Tottenham, from peaceful protests against the G20, and sadly, from Jack Layton’s passing, it is that regardless of what mainstream media and government leaders might assume, youth can no longer be brushed aside as a mere demographic.

Politics, at its best, is a vehicle for good, for change, and for hope. It’s easy and understandable to brush aside the upcoming provincial elections as more of the same, but that sort of cynicism is the result of dogged neo-liberal policies. And cynicism is dangerous because it creeps into your daily lexicon, it mingles with bitterness, and you begrudgingly accept the state of affairs because “that’s just the way it is.”

It’s likely you’re not a politician. You may not even like politicians. But we are all political agents. And we will always have more power as citizens than consumers.

As the provincial election in Ontario draws nearer, I will be commenting further on events in the province, views in my hometown of London, and the ways in which the policies proposed in electoral platforms will affect the legacies we collectively inherit. I hope this is the start of a dialogue about our communities, our concerns, and of course, our dreams.

In the end, I can’t say it better than Jack: “Don’t let them tell you it can’t be done.”

Tags: activist report, in my opinion..., politics

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