In Brazil, the younger generations are often criticized for keeping a distance from politics. However, ahead of the country’s next election in October for president, governors, deputies and senators, some young people are questioning those who call them politically inactive.
The youth states that its relations with public issues simply deviated from traditional paths. In the young people’s view, in spite of a feeling of disappointment at political parties and formal structures of power, they are still politically engaged.
Student Mariana Serra dos Santos, 17, believes there is room for activism even when no political party is involved. She calls for small changes in people’s attitude in their everyday lives and deems independent measures a global trend.
“In my opinion, a lot of people do not find representation in the parties. The youth has awakened, it wants changes, but it’s unable to identify what it wants changed. Politics is a lot more than what happens in the Esplanade of Ministries,” she said, referring to the area where the nation’s executive power as well as the National Congress are located.
Likewise, student João Felipe Amaral Bobroff, 17, president of a students’ association, believes that political involvement goes way beyond parties and going to the polls. “The youth is politically involved, but nonpartisan. Politics is not just about parties. We’ve got an electoral system that only makes room for those who come in with a lot of money.
“It’s not donation, it’s funding for campaigns,” he argues. According to João Felipe, the demonstrations staged in June gathered people who were interested in fighting for their beliefs. “That’s what’s missing, and also bringing those beliefs to day-to-day life,” he says.
Isabela Albuquerque, 16, regards the right-left polarization in politics as a problem. She also thinks there is a gaping distance between today’s generations and the Brazilian political parties, many of which have lost their original composition.
“We didn’t see it when these parties were born, and today there are so many of them we have trouble telling what side they’re taking. That’s exactly why several members of our generation feel skeptical: the number of parties and alliances created,” she notes.
In spite of the disappointment at institutional politics and the fact that voting is not mandatory for them (from 16 to 18 years old), Marina, João Felipe and Isabela have showed their intention to participate in the upcoming elections.
“I want to have a voice and express myself,” says Marina, who does not agree that voting should be mandatory. “People are forced to vote even though they’re not prepared for it,” she argues.
For João Felipe, the voter’s card was a birthday gift. “I’ve always told my mom I wanted to have one. To criticize the government, if you don’t go to the polls and make a change, doesn’t make any sense,” he adds.
Isabela also made sure she had the document issued. “I’ve always been interested in politics, and I’ve paid close attention and done some research, so I could choose the politicians I could vote for,” she says.
Political scientist Antônio Flávio Testa, from the University of Brasília, maintains that the dynamics in the political activism of young people like Marina, Isabela and João Felipe with public affairs is a recent phenomenon that should be analyzed.
He explains that most protesters on the streets in June were young and not connected with the interests of political parties. Testa believes the youth is very critical but lacks an affiliation.
Young people, the scientist says, still need to find their focus. “They do not propose; rather, they just criticize. They want changes, but don’t know how to look for it, because they don’t want resort to the structure of parties. But, unless there’s a structural reform in the political system, there’s no way of implementing changes other than affiliating themselves with parties,” he remarks.
In July, the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) announced that 1.638 million electors are between 16 and 17 of age, accounting for 23.8 percent of the population in this age group. The figure was the lowest among the rates reported for the three last general elections. In 2002, this figure stood at 28.7 percent. The 2006 counterpart reached 36.9 percent. In 2010, 34.8 percent.
According to the court, the fall can be partly put down to a change in methodology and counting. In 2014, the age considered was how old the young people would be in October. In previous years, the calculation was based on data collected up to June 30.
The TSE also associates the drop in the number of young electors with a general reduction in the size of this section of the population. According to statistics from the Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (“IBGE”), the number of people aging 16 and 17 has decreased from the 2002 polls onwards.