The Future of Youth Activism: How Our Votes can Uplift our Society for Generations

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me in front of the national Diet
Never too early to start young! This is me in the seventh grade when I went to the national Diet.

I am Ryo Mitsuhashi, a high school student in Tokyo, Japan and Founder of BEFORE VOTING INITIATIVE. Since I was a small child, I watched TV specials for the elections with my parents. So, it was natural for me to be interested in politics. Most of the time, the low voting rate was the most concerning issue regarding the elections in Japan. Once it went below 50%. I was wondering why they didn't go to the election. A decade or so has passed, and this year, I’m turning 18 years old. Finally, I’m getting my voting right. Unfortunately, I couldn’t vote in this year’s election because I haven’t yet turned 18, but some of my friends could and did. In comparison, some of my friends in school couldn’t vote because of their nationalities although they have lived in Japan all their life. What is the difference between me and them if we’ve been all living in Japan all our lives? That’s when I decided to act on this problem. Everyone who has a right to vote should have their distinct idea or at least think about whether they should vote and who they should vote for.

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Japanese National Diet
This is the national diet in Japan
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The change in voter turnout in Japan
The change in voter turnout for the lower house election in Japan

To challenge the current political indifference among the young, I have done several things. I have completed a UN course, “The Youth, Peace and Security Primer,” to deepen my understanding of the youth. I have also taken classes in edX called “Tools for Academic Engagement in Public Policy'' to learn how policies are decided and how we can engage with the process. Moreover, I have just started to work in the NPO called Mielka, which addresses the problem of youth political indifference. Now is the time for me to act on a more specific problem.

According to Freedom House, global democracy is eroding. Who will be affected by that? It’s us, young people. Nevertheless, we rarely have the right to run for elections, much less political power. According to the UN report(https://www.un.org/esa/socdev/documents/youth/fact-sheets/youth-political-participation.pdf), although young people aged from 15 - 25 constitute a fifth of the world’s population, eligibility for national parliament is 25 or older in third countries. Also, young people are often defined more by who they are not than by who they are. This leads to a huge misunderstanding of young people in society. This bias makes it even more difficult for young people to have political power. There is no other way than to act by ourselves for ourselves. That’s why we have to understand what democracy is and how it is changing. We have to think about what we can do to make a better version of democracy. However, this action is not possible without global cooperation. Global cooperation means diversity and relative evaluation of ourselves. In this accelerating diverse world, we need a young leader who can bring people from a variety of backgrounds together and notice inappropriate things that are taken as a tradition in society. This kind of leader can emerge only from global cooperation. 

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the age of parliametarians
Number of parliamentarians by age

My plan is called BEFORE VOTING. Why don’t young people vote? Just because they don’t feel like it, believe that one vote won’t change anything, or are content with their life. There would be many reasons that are like these. They all think that politics is not directly related to our life and is boring. Before asking people to vote, it is important in the long run to understand and appreciate politics without being misled by disinformation. An American actor, Jeff Bridges said, “The way to change the world is through individual responsibility and taking local action in your own community.” I value your action in the local community and would love to help you.  My plan is to prompt young people to think about politics and their life by applying their personal experiences to politics and discussing how we can solve problems that are central to their life. 

In order to make voting a standard in a community, we need four pillars, namely, 

- Security
- Diversity
- Encouragement, and
- Cooperation

  1. Security: It is difficult for people in weak positions to speak up in the current community. It is because they feel that they will be offended if they do so. We have to eliminate the barrier, or people in the minority will never get their full right. 
  2. Diversity: There is no arguing about the need of diversity in this globalized world. However, how many people are actually willing to make their community diverse? We have to face the change right now, and youth should take the lead.
  3. Encouragement: Young people need to show initiative in politics. Democracy is all about people showing initiative in their community. But first, we need to build a place where initiative is encouraged and recommended.
  4. Cooperation: When considering democracy, we need to think not only about the personal interest but also about the public interest. And sometimes, we need to prioritize the public interest over the personal interest. Cooperation is needed in accomplishing the public interest, or it will become mob rule as Aristotle noted.
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These four things are what we need
This is what we need in our community

They are the things needed in making the youth think about and act on the political problems. So, how can we achieve these goals in our community? 

Before Voting Initiative has developed this 6-Step UPLIFT Framework

Step 1 - Understand the Problem
Step 2 - Promote Conversations
Step 3 - Legitimate Claims with Experience and Research
Step 4 - Involve People from Other Background
Step 5 - Find Common Ground 
Step 6 - Transform Civic Engagement

We will open a website primarily for youth where no aggression is allowed and people can safely share their experience. We will also share correct, reliable information on politics.
Then, we will act on the actual problems with UPLIFT. Address the shared problems by considering the possible solutions and possibly collect signatures to appeal to the authorities that can address the problems directly.

To make our voice bigger, we will continue working on the actual problems and enlarging this community. All you have to do is to share your concern or problems that you are facing right now. The process of thinking about politics starts from that. Let’s talk about it with other youth. To enlarge the circle of this discussion group can be a lot to us. Then, let’s talk about whether we should vote. I think there is pressure to vote in society even though we don’t learn what voting means or why democracy is the right system. The absence of this kind of knowledge and belief causes indifference among young people. This is the place to solve that problem. Let’s act on it!

My goal is to launch the movement of discussing what politics do and why democracy is used and appealing what you think is wrong to representatives in each country. The famous American cultural anthropologist, Margaret Mead, said “A small group of thoughtful people could change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” And that is what we are trying to do. BEFORE VOTING INITIATIVE is the place where we, the youth, can be this small group changing the world. Let's do this together.

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