With voter registration having resumed last September 1, the EDGE2019 Batch Government, in partnership with Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) and Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat), held an online forum titled Find Your EDGE: The Role of the Youth in Nation Building with DLSU Student Leaders last August 28 via Facebook Live.
University Student Government (USG) President Lance Dela Cruz, USG Vice President for External Affairs Ronin Leviste, Santugon President Marga Dela Cruz, and Tapat President Ken Azcarraga shared their insights on how student voices and votes can create an impact on the nation, as well as possible hurdles the youth sector might face.
Voting for the future of the nation
Although the youth compose 31 percent of the country’s voting population, mobilizing them to vote remains a challenge , according to L. Dela Cruz. “We weren’t able to actualize that in the 2019 [midterm] elections,” he said. “We weren’t able to enact a block vote that really upholds our interests.”
Despite this past setback, Azcarraga remained optimistic, as he believes that “the youth are getting smarter…the youth sector gets to study the platform [of candidates] really critically.” Although they may hold “different political ideologies”, the youth can still vote “for the people we align [with] best”, he argued.
For the Tapat President, the youth must be reminded that their votes matter since it is a civic duty that “sets [the] course for the nation” and offers them a chance to choose the best leaders.
M. Dela Cruz echoed Azcarraga’s sentiments, calling voting as “one of the few things” that offers citizens a say in the country’s government, especially as the 2022 national elections draws near. “Even if some of us (youth) don’t really feel directly affected by our government, there are a lot of people who are, and this is very evident during the [COVID-19] pandemic,” she expressed.
For Leviste, informing the youth about candidates’ platforms and the electoral process is vital for the youth vote. Voting information, he pointed out, must ultimately help people understand “what they need from the government”.
“A lot of us want change, new policies, better activities in our localities, but I think the very beginning of all that [is] voting,” said Leviste, adding that student organizations must take an “active effort” in voter education.
But apart from simply focusing on educating voters, students must also have “proper avenues” for voting, said Azcarraga. He likened these avenues to efforts within the University to have the USG elections held online.
Initiating conversations to foster political engagement in the youth sector is just as important for M. Dela Cruz. “You can get to start to know your people, what problems the people face in their lives,” she told the audience. Engagement may take place anywhere, from attending webinars, commenting on online posts online, to participating in online conversations, the Santugon President explained.
At the same time, labeling people as “apathetic” on politics, Azcarraga said, should not be used as a means to improve voter turnout. Instead, it must center on placing politics away from a “negative light” and into “something we can relate to ourselves”, he reasoned.
For the student leaders, the realities of “woke” culture—a consciousness toward socio-political issues—and bandwagon activism pose another set of challenges for youth participation.
“I believe that there’s nothing wrong with being ‘woke’,” Azcarraga said. However, he raised concern with “blind conformity” within the culture, pointing to individuals who join movements “just because it’s a trend” as opposed to genuine understanding.
Comparing blind conformity to bandwagon activism, M. Dela Cruz argued that the youth must ensure that their social movements are aligned with their mission and principles. “How can you contribute to a conversation or a movement if you don’t believe or understand what it is you’re fighting for?” she declared.
Leviste noted, however, that it remains difficult to determine if a person is only joining because of a bandwagon effect, but pointed out that bandwagon activism also serves as evidence for the increased reach of social media.
“We have to get further…how to sustain the importance of this certain advocacy, and to really turn our thoughts, our feelings, our engagements into concrete actions and hopefully into policies and programs,” he noted.
Agreeing with Leviste’s statements, L. Dela Cruz emphasized that the possibility of activists joining a bandwagon because “they want to contribute” is also something to consider.
Youth in nation-building
Further into the forum, the student leaders had mixed opinions on youth partnerships with the government to encourage societal progress.
Leviste expressed that collaboration between the youth and government is crucial. Coordinating efforts with government officials, according to him, will allow the youth sector to realize its ideas and policies.
L. Dela Cruz, on the other hand, offered a more guarded response, warning the youth to be wary of partnering with the government “especially when the government has been doing things wrong”.
“It is not necessary for us to partner with [the] government to [achieve] progress, but it is always important for us to engage the government—to ensure that we have a role in the happenings of our country,” he said, elaborating that engaging the youth and citizenry is key to lobbying for policies that align with the youth’s agenda.
“There are so many injustices happening that we all have this common feeling that we should contribute…to course that energy to educate people on how they could use it the right way…[and] one [way] is to go out and vote,” L. Dela Cruz stressed.