They are our present.
That’s a phrase that I heard several times back when Justin Trudeau made school presentations in Manitoba, before he was an MP. It struck me as inspiring then, but as I’ve grown up I see its relevance even more.
Today I spent the afternoon with Jim as he spoke with a grade 9 class. I was amazed at some of the questions these students posed. In lieu of the usual “Why did you run?” or “What does an MP do?” there were hard-hitting, substantive questions surrounding issues that affect all Canadians. There were questions on the red dress project (for murdered and missing indigenous women), keystone pipeline, legalization of marijuana, controversy about the niqab, Syrian refugees and ISIS, and minimum sentencing. These students were well-informed and engaged.
In perhaps one of the more interesting exchanges of the day, a young man asked why Jim was wasting his time with a bunch of grade 9 students who couldn’t vote, when he could be out talking to people who could actually do something. I love that Jim talked about how they would go home and have conversations with their parents. It sparks a dialogue that is needed in a country where, in the last election, over 60% of young people aged 18-25 did not vote. These students may not be able to vote in Election 42, but they will be able to vote in Election 43 (here’s hoping there’s not another federal election for 4 years!) We want to spark that interest in giving back, in being involved in community, now.
I saw this video from Craig Kielburger the other day where he talked about how students need to be encouraged in their early teens, because if you’re just starting to have the “get out and vote” conversation with them at 18 or 19, it’s already too late. I think it’s worth watching.
One of my first political memories was grade 5; there was a provincial election going on and our class ran a mock election. We had the MLA candidates come in to talk to us and I ended up volunteering on a campaign. That’s all it took to get me hooked – and look where I am today. This is why it’s so important to speak with students.