‘Young people have to have a seat at the table’

Michael Jobbins knows about political tension between generations. Sometimes, he says, older citizens view youthful political protesters as “a problem to be solved.” They tell young people to wait their turn and perhaps become “the leaders of tomorrow.”

Jobbins is director of global affairs and partnerships at Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based organization that focuses on conflict resolution around the world.

“In fact, young people are the leaders of today,” Jobbins says, and in many countries they represent the majority of voters. It’s important to channel youthful energy away from violent action by “encouraging [their] participation in the elections process itself in a constructive way.”

Jobbins cites Nigeria’s Vote Not Fight campaign. Keyed to that nation’s 2015 election, it helped young people join artists, members of the media, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations to demonstrate “the will of the people to see the elections go peacefully.”

“From the most elite to the ordinary people, there was a recognition that the elections risked being contentious and everyone needed to do their part to prevent that and to accept the result,” Jobbins said. The campaign’s success surprised observers who had feared a violent response to contentious election results.

Sometimes, Jobbins adds, cynical politicians use youthful protesters to disrupt elections and suppress voter turnout. Some even pay young people to protest.

But the international community has recently coalesced behind young people through U.N. Security Council Resolution 2250. It encourages countries to make young people partners in promoting peace and security and to give them a real say in how they are governed.

A toolkit offers ideas on using 2250 as a resource. “It’s an opportunity for rising young leaders,” Jobbins says. “There is a growing international awareness that young people have to have a seat at the table.”