Political participation post-Pandemic
13 June 2020
I have not lived through any other time when people are eagerly awaiting a daily announcement from the Government. And not just any announcement. An announcement on how many people have died that day and what permission they have from the Government to go about their ‘normal’ daily routine. The direct link between people and politics has never been so evident and now more than ever citizens need to be able to understand and scrutinise the Government’s decisions. It has become quite literally a matter of life or death.
During the pandemic I have been delivering online sessions with young people, aged 13 to 25, about political participation. As a professional ‘lobbyist’ I’ve been sharing my experience of how the political system works and drawing their attention to the complexities of policymaking. The aim of the sessions has been to educate, enthuse and empower young people to participate in political life. I am far from the only one - The Oak National Academy is delivering a series of Citizenship lessons in partnership with the Association of Citizenship Teachers.
This is in my view important because young people are uniquely impacted by the Pandemic. For many their human right to an education has been put on pause. And the closure of schools is expected to exacerbate existing inequalities between students from higher and lower socioeconomic households. The young people I have been working with live in households that span the socioeconomic spectrum, but they have all been thoughtful and nuanced in their understanding of the political environment we find ourselves in. They have all also been working on a range of other political issues that matter to them - from climate change, to knife crime and homelessness, period poverty, obesity and freedom of speech. They are already thinking about how they can effect change post-Pandemic on long-standing societal issues.
During the Pandemic, youth political participation has been maintained. Unicef has conducted a review of online global youth activism during the Coronavirus Pandemic. It found that many adolescents and young people use digital spaces to develop their civic identities and express political stances, and that online activism may provide more equitable access than traditional means of political engagement.  There has been criticism that online ‘clicktivism’ is not ‘real’ activism. But after a year marked by youth-led protests on climate, and their participation in the Black Lives Matter protests, it is hard to deny that online and some traditional forms of political participation on major global issues may go hand-in-hand.
The Pandemic has also given rise to local activism - with the rise of Mutual Aid Groups, clapping for neighbours who are frontline staff or key workers, changing consumption habits to support local shops and becoming reacquainted with local parks and communal outdoor spaces. This presents a real opportunity to engage people with their community and local politics, which suffers from an even lower voter turnout than national politics. 
It strikes me (and no doubt others) that we have an opportunity to ensure that the recent increase in political engagement is not short-term, and extends beyond the immediate impacts of the Pandemic, ‘clicktivism’ and protests, to getting young people voting and in regular dialogue with politicians. Embracing technology to democratise access to politics (don’t get me started on the Government’s watering down of virtual participation in parliament for MPs up and down the country…) and political education will open up opportunities for more inclusive democracies when the Pandemic is over.
I for one am hopeful that political participation post-Pandemic will proliferate.
 Unicef (2020) Digital civic engagement by young people [Available online: https://www.unicef.org/globalinsight/reports/digital-civic-engagement-young-people Published: March 2020]
 House of Commons Library (2019) Briefing Paper: Turnout at elections [Available online: https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/insights/general-election-2019-turnout/ Published: 5 July 2020]