Young people are at the forefront of change and progression in every society. On the 23rd May 2015 Ireland had affirmed to the world what it means to be a modern republic. Since the marriage referendum in Ireland, students have become aware that they can change the world through politics by becoming actively, meaningfully and substantially involved throughout political parties and beyond. Today’s youth engagement is not indifferent to politics – it is simply different to previous generations.
Today’s students don’t absorb the propaganda-influenced media. They see through the heavily-edited, scripted politicians. They reject injustice and inequality. A century ago, Ireland was going through a revolution and a unity achieved between socialism and nationalism in 1916 was being forged, while other political philosophies were endorsed and promoted, like feminism, by the likes of Maud Gonne and Countess Markievicz, and Cumann na mBan was born from it. As well as the women’s rights movement, the youth movement was rapidly growing in Ireland. Fianna na hÉireann was founded by Bulmer Hobson and Countess Markievicz to ensure the young Irish would be trained properly when they were old enough to fight for their country. What would Countess Markievicz say if she saw how far we’ve come in 100 years and how far we have yet to go?
The 1916 Easter Rising was a product of its time, conditions and beliefs. It did not come out of thin air. The United Irishmen Rebellion boiled over in 1798 but resulted in no revolution. The Robert Emmet uprising was crushed in 1803. The Easter Rising was the first major revolution in Irish history which saw ordinary Irish people do extraordinary things in revolting against foreign exploitation, domination, oppression and abuse. This revolution was led by the energy and determination of its youth. Kevin Barry was 18 when he took part in the Rising. Michael Collins was 25 in 1916. Eamonn Ceant was 34. Patrick Pearse was 36. The determination of the youth made the rising a success.
Recent independent research by Thinkhouse showed that 83% of young people planned to vote in the General Election. By midday on the 22nd May more than 27,000 tweets had been sent with the hashtag #HomeToVote. Social media was flooded with statements and photos from Ireland’s far flung youth supporting same-same marriage, and getting planes, trains and automobiles to have their vote, and their voice, heard. The power and weight of the young vote was undeniable and written into Irish history when it reformed the justice system – now, same-sex marriage is legal.
We have come so far but we still have a long way to go. The role of the youth in 1916 was primarily disruption. Today, their role is still disruption but a different kind – instead of focusing on freedom of country from foreign rule they are pursuing freedom from the chains of inequality.
In 1916, anyone wanting to reach wide audiences needed to do so through the church or traditional media. Today, Ireland’s youth are more empowered through social and digital creation and consumption with Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Whatsapp and Snapchat. They do not need a pulpit in a packed Cathedral to be heard nor do they need to be in a position of power where they’re talking to the masses through the pulpit of journalism. The rise of civil or guerrilla journalism through blogging, vlogging, Youtube and social media means anyone can voice their opinions and beliefs through an online platform.
The Irish youth have led the country in rejecting a government that has broken its promises in the accommodation, homelessness, unemployment and education sectors. The Union of Students in Ireland created the hashtag #MakeASmartVote before the General Election, which had over 3 million impressions by the 26th February. In 1916 there was a political revolution. Today we’re experiencing a political earthquake.