Over the weekend I was thinking a lot about my trip to Texas three months ago.The very last question put to me was ” What do young people in Norn Iron think? The question was put as we were all packing up and I was relieved that the previous ninety minutes had gone so well.
I replied …far too glibly ….that I am 60 years old and I dont understand anyone under 40 years old. The young man who put the question laughed but actually it deserves a better answer.
Frankly, I dont think that young people are a single homogenous group. At the weekend, speakers at the SDLP Youth Conference highlighted that many young people are disenfranchised without jobs and without hope. And there are young people at university …even Politics students…who feel alienated.
At heart people become interested in Politics when they cannot escape Responsibilty and want to hold politicians accountable….benefits, tuition fees, retirement homes, mortgages, childrens education etc. And of course within Norn Iron, those who develop an “early” interest in politics might support parties across the spectrum…Sinn Fein, SDLP, UUP, DUP, Alliance.
I tend to hear two things from younger people in relation to the Troubles. One is….that the Troubles are ancient history, an irrelevance to their lives and they dont want to hear about it. They believe that it is a new world. And I hear others say that “nothing has changed”.Both attitudes sadden me.
The attitude that disrespects what parents and grandparents went thru….well of course they are entitled to think it was all irrelevant to them. But it is equally disrespectful to think that the very real changes accomplished over forty years did not happen at all. The Young Person who witnesses a lapse in PSNI (Police Service of Norn Iron) standards of policing and says “nothing has changed” will not realise that the abuse of people in Norn Iron by the old Royal Ulster Constabulary was pretty routine.
Where possible in Texas, I tried to point up similarities in the Civil Rights movement or Womens movement in USA with Norn Iron. Without seeing these as entirely apt comparisons.
But I am a 60 year old Catholic who lived thru the Troubles.
I suspect there is a slightly older black man in Selma, Alabama who lived thru Segregation. He might hear two attitudes from younger people there.One attitude is that the whole Struggle is irrelevant to their lives and the other attitude is that nothing has changed.
And I suspect there is a slightly younger feminist who hears two attitudes from younger women. One is that early 1970s Feminism is irrelevant. Or they will hear that nothing has really changed for young women today.
Who is right? Either way any kinda RIGHTS is an ongoing thing. Use it or lose it.
People like me dont really “get” the 21st century. Maybe the 70 year old black man in Selma, Alabama does not really “get” gangsta rap. He probably prefers Tamla Motown. And the 55 year old feminist who listens to Helen Reddy sing ” I Am Woman Hear Me Roar” on YouTube might smile at Cyndi Lauper sing ” Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. But does the 55 year old Feminist even know who sings “Dont You Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me?”.
Perhaps the most obvious thing about Rights issues is that those who fought for them cannot bind new generations. Does a younger generation owe something to the 60 year old Norn Iron Catholic, the 70 year old black man in Selma! Alabama or the 55 year old Feminist?