Too young to know?
Last Saturday I was out protesting against the Government’s Workfare program. It was, all in all, a good protest, though I have plenty of thoughts on strategy for the campaign in future. One incident stuck out to me – a scene of about five seconds that massively wound me up, in which a mother demanded I not give her daughter a flier. I responded as best I could, but her final words on the matter were “can’t you see she’s only 14?”.
Suppose, for a moment, that the last General Election had taken place in 2011 and not 2010. A person who is 14 by March 2012 would therefore be 18 in March 2016, just in time for the end of the 5 year Parliament. They would, in other words, be eligible to vote at the next General Election. And if their birthday is within 2 months of last Saturday, they will be.
I suppose in one way this shows how sheltered I’ve become – in activism, 14 is basically the age by which you stop going on protests with your parents and start doing it by yourself. When its a fairly chilled sort of protest, I’m quite used to seeing folks with pushchairs. Whilst out leafleting, its often the youngest who are the most enthusiastic recipients (though they can also be the most enthusiastic detractors too). So to hear that a 14 year old is too young to receive a flier seems very “out of the ordinary”.
This is hardly the worst case of someone telling me that another person can’t have a flier – on more than one occasion, with a couple approaching woman near-side, man far-side, I’ve had the man demand that his partner not take the flier. I’ve successfully challenged men on this before. I realise that “man enforces woman’s right to receive lefty literature” breaks some feminist good practice rules, but I also happen to take offence to men deciding what women can read or not read when they get discover the flier in their coat pocket a few days later.
On the issue of under 18’s, I checked in with a friend who has worked in youth work, and they couldn’t think of a single piece of legislation against me. The issue in hand being workfare, it was particularly galling to think that we have the best chance to defeat the project right now, and yet if we don’t, the young person in question might arrive in a world of work where 3-4 years unpaid ‘experience’ is the norm, and those whose families can’t afford it find themselves on the streets.
Young people aren’t just the future, they’re very much the present. They have a right to find out what is going on in the world they are a part of, and for parents to be shielding their children from the harsh reality of today’s Britain is, in many ways, a contravention of their rights. Policies like Workfare will have their largest damage on those who are still in school, as the slide to the bottom on pay roles on for years ahead.
I can understand why many parents are uncomfortable with letting their kids take part in protests these days. But engagement is a right no parent should deny their child. I worry about children who aren’t encouraged to watch the news. How can they possibly hope to live in a world that reflects their aspirations if they don’t see what is already going on?