Who Is Going to Vote?

In a movement called Demo, young people have joined together to convince their generation that democracy requires commitment and dedication. A workshop demonstrates that politics can be fun and that participation is worth the effort.

Eva Wolfangel | July 2017
Photo: Jens Küsters

This hits the mark: "If we mess up Europe, then we will be the dumbest generation that ever lived." TV host Klaas Heufer-Umlauf became a social media phenomenon when he made this declaration in April 2017. His statement aptly describes the attitude toward life shared by Elsa, Hanna, Anna, Oliver, Flavia, and Xifan. This is why they are also presenting the footage of Heufer-Umlauf’s remarks on the screen of a seminar room at the Munich School of Nursing. Here, these six young people are leading a democracy workshop - assuming the roles of teachers for the first time in their lives, even though they are not much older than their audience on this particular day: approximately 60 young people in their first year of nursing training.

The workshop’s six leaders met on a Facebook group called Demo, which set itself the task of putting an end to disinterest, reigniting young people’s enthusiasm for politics, and in short, rescuing Europe. "Politics are designed for older people; we young people are in the minority," Xifan declares to the assembled group. "If we don’t even bother to go to the polls, we are throwing away our future."

Photo: Jens Küsters

The uniting conviction is: democracy needs to be nurtured. It can only continue to exist if enough people stand up for it.

Democracy as a collaborative project

But how do we convince young people that they should vote; that they should stand up for their own interests, and that politics can even be fun? The Demo youth movement wants to communicate exactly this - and motivate the younger generation to cast their votes. All across Germany, young people are connecting with one another in regional groups and organizing local events that are not only fun, but also make a statement: against racism, sexism, nationalism, and right-wing populism.

The Demo project is one of many initiatives that the Robert Bosch Stiftung supports as part of its Campaigns for an Open Society program. The multiple projects that fall under the program’s umbrella are united by one conviction: democracy needs to be nurtured. It can only continue to exist if enough people stand up for it.

"If it weren’t for Demo, we never would have met," says Oliver. Now the six are a committed team who might never have taken on this role if one thing had not been clear to them: young people need to act. They need to step outside of Facebook and into real life. It is young people’s responsibility to address their own generation. The Munich Demo group spent a long time brainstorming and ultimately developed the workshop for the Munich School of Nursing.

Photo: Jens Küsters

Divided into six groups, participants were tasked to form a political party and agree on a few agenda items.

Discuss – argue – laugh

A question appears on the screen: "What changes would you make in Germany?" The aspiring nurses have plenty of ideas: affordable rents, higher salaries for social professions, no prejudice against refugees, greater tolerance, less expensive public transport, free childcare facilities, better data protection, and much more.

Then the negotiations begin: The participants are randomly divided into six groups; each group is tasked to form a political party and agree on a few agenda items. "Women should earn the same pay as men," suggests a young woman from Group 6. Her male classmate thinks wages should be based on performance: A person who contributes more should earn more, regardless of gender. The new party delegates argue back and forth. What is fair here? "Equal pay for equal work" is the statement that finally appears on their platform. On the subject of immigration: "People who integrate should be allowed to stay." Around the six tables there are discussions, arguments, and above all laughter. Politics can be fun!

Photo: Jens Küsters

Politics can be fun for young people.

Later on, there is a quiz in which the groups have to match statements from election platforms with the correct party. "What does the FDP actually want?" asks a student, "I don’t really know much about that." Which party wants to abolish the secret service? Which one wants to privatize the autobahns? Who favors referendums, and who is against environmental protection? Not all the slips of paper end up in the right place, as the results reveal - but many of them do. "It’s much clearer to me now which party stands for what, and who I could vote for," a student remarks thoughtfully.

At the end of the session, Xifan dares to ask the all-important question: "How many of you are going to vote in September?" About half of the students raise their hands, and there is disappointment at the front of the room. "What about the rest of you?" Xifan asks, her voice shaking slightly. "We’re only 17!" someone shouts. The students grin and applaud. Relieved, Xifan asks: "Who would go vote if they were allowed to?" All the hands go up. Xifan and her friends have moved a little bit closer to their ultimate goal.