Kanye West, Young People, and Politics

When I decided to stop watching the VMAs last night, I thought I had seen all of the important moments. I had seen Taylor Swift and her squad walking down the red carpet; I had seen her performance with Nicki Minaj; I had seen a few awards doled out. I went to bed questioning pop culture, but satisfied that I had seen the buzzworthy moments of the show. Boy, was I wrong.

This morning, I woke up to find that I had missed perhaps the biggest event of the night (and certainly one of the most talked about): Kanye West announcing that he plans to run for President in 2020. Everything about that statement seemed strange to me – especially that, of all the platforms available in this day and age, Kanye would choose an awards show geared at teenagers to announce his presidential bid.

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Kanye at last night’s VMAs (source)

The more I thought about it, though, the more sense it made to me that Kanye would announce his political ambition to an audience teeming with young people. His actions represented the growing shift in the dynamic concerning young people and politics; comprised of, in my opinion, a change in the way adults and organizations are viewing the teen demographic, and a significant change in the way teenagers get involved in politics.

Many of the people who watched the VMAs are too young to vote. They are not, however, too young to voice their opinions. “[T]he worst thing that we, as young people, can do is to accept things [as] the way they are because of our age,” writes youth activist Rebekah Bolser in her article ‘The Key to being a Youth Activist’ on Huffington Post Teen.

She adds, “I know it’s hard to not find yourself discouraged by politics and the current system. But we cannot allow the people who pass these laws to create the world we will live in. We have to build that world ourselves.” Lately, it seems like more and more young people share Rebekah’s attitude of taking responsibility for the things that aren’t right in the world; and, in the process, breaking the barrier of age.

My interest in politics has skyrocketed in the past couple months. When I was younger I was mildly interested in poll numbers and policies, but these interests manifested themselves only in watching the news on election night.

Today, I am still too young to vote; but I consider myself more informed about politics than I used to be. I read articles in the newspaper and online about politics; I seek out more information when a subject particularly interests me; and I have debates and discussions about politics with my family and friends.

This may sound strange but I genuinely think that what jump started my interest in politics was Donald Trump’s campaign, as I am a fan of The Apprentice. Having seen his attitude in the boardroom on The Apprentice, I was interested how Trump would act in political settings when he wasn’t just in it for the ratings (he might still be in it for the ratings, in actuality – so that’s debateable).

The Trump announces his presidential run (source)
The Trump announces his presidential run (source)

In the months since he announced his plans to run for President, I have paid close, curious attention to Donald Trump’s campaign (my interest can be summed up by this article from The Onion). This has caused me to pay attention to Hillary Clinton’s campaign as well, as well as the American election as a whole (even though I’m Canadian). Politics – both American, and Canadian – have become a common dinner table discussion for my family.

Earlier in the summer, my cousins came to visit. One of them is a year younger than me, and a year older than my sister, and and she’s very interested in politics. One day we took online quizzes to see which political parties aligned with our standpoints on various issues. That night, we all had a sleepover in my basement. Having just watched a Harry Potter movie, you’d think that our late-night discussions would have focused around magic and wizardry. They did not: instead we talked about taxes, and whether the 1% should have to pay more, and which political hopefuls agreed with our viewpoints.

As I fell asleep, my head filled with unsaid questions and debate points, I wondered how many other teenagers stayed up late discussing politics. I think, honestly, the number would be significant. The fact of the matter is that even youth are affected by the issues that politicians deal with; and because we can’t vote, we need to find other ways to make our voices heard.

An example that comes to mind are the strikes that recently happened in my local education system. Students were directly affected by the strikes, and many made the news for setting up online petitions and groups to protest what was happening. This, to me, highlights the growing realization of youth that making our voices heard is a way to affect change – and that often, politics factor into this.

Caring about the issues in our lives causes young people to care about politics, and many organizations and adults are taking notice. In the last municipal election, my school held a mock election. This is an example of one of the many initiatives geared towards harnessing the interest youth hold in politics.

Even without those initiatives, though, the discussions are still happening: on social media, in schools, at dinner tables, probably even at malls. And now, thanks to Kanye West, they are happening at awards shows.