“The Future Is Ours!”

What’s important to young people today? Answers to this question include anything from a European community service to improved students’ rights and the portrayal of young people in the media. But across all these topics, young people’s top priority is to take an active part in shaping our society. At a festival for digital youth culture, they showed how this is done.

Franziska Hein | July 2018
Gregor Fischer

Young people work together on the topics that concern them.

“I discuss anything with anybody,” the sign around 18-year-old Thilo Buchholz’s neck reads. Above the statement, he shares his Twitter handle. Thilo is not only open to discussion, he also has a vision: “I am here because I want to meet lots of highly motivated young people and inspire them to support my idea of a European community service.” Thilo is at TINCON, the first festival for digital youth culture. On the premises of the Columbia Theater in Berlin, organizers have set up a ball pit, decorated trees with brightly colored bunting, and installed a pavilion for workshops in the yard. The theater itself offers video consoles and VR goggles as well as two stages for panel discussions on social and political topics. In the different formats, it’s all about listening, connecting, and learning from one another. The festival shows that, even in the age of Snapchat, Instagram and the like, young people rally for their generation, ideals, and self-determination.

How are young people getting involved in the political debate?

Most of the visitors and presenters are about the same age: They are digital natives between 13 and 21 who don’t know a world before the internet and use it as a tool for political participation. Just like Thilo does. He came up with the idea of a European community service at a conference at the European Parliament in Strasbourg and has pursued it ever since. His reasoning is that a European community service would give young people the opportunity to live in another European country for up to a year after graduating from high school. “So they could take another year to live life to the full and learn to see society from a different perspective,” Thilo explains. He wants to contribute to a united Europe, in which people feel a sense of belonging and social justice is established across borders.

Gregor Fischer

Max and Jules of the General Student Council Bremen want to “give a voice to people who can’t make themselves heard for a variety of reasons.”

Social justice is also what motivates Max and Jules. As members of the General Student Council Bremen (GSV), they fight for a fair and self-determined education system on the state level. A good education is education that reaches and is accessible to everybody, Max explains. “We mustn’t forget the role that social background still plays in access to education. If you are from a privileged background, you can afford tutoring; a poorer family can’t. That’s unacceptable.” Their goal is a dialog at eye level with teachers to make schools more interactive.

We go to school every day and know best what we need. So we should have a right to participate in decision-making.

The GSV is the representative body to make their voices heard. More specifically, students discuss in GSV board meetings, exchange information with other student councils and the education authorities, organize demonstrations, and host orientation events to recruit the next generation of activists and sensitize the general student body to their issues.

Political debates can also be held online

The festival brings together participants with different opinions of and approaches to social media. But there’s one thing many of them have in common: They live their activism online. “We are rethinking politics in a new way. Unlike with earlier generations who joined political parties, today this may take the form of a thumbs up or down,” comments Thilo. This new approach is confirmed by Roman Möseneder, whose talk focuses on the misrepresentation of young people in the media. His sense is that a lot of coverage negates the seriousness and thus the potential of young politicians. In a personal conversation, he talks about youth bashing and what he does about it: “I often contact people on Twitter to ask them to stop it.” Roman considers online discrimination a key challenge of his generation. But he is convinced that today’s young people are supportive of each other, providing help to those receiving stupid comments.