Hear from Alaa Fawaz before her TedxWarwick talk on the issue of political disillusionment within our generation.
Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Alaa’s views are still fully represented.
What was the inspiration behind your talk?
I’d say it was my own internal frustration with current politics and what was happening around me. I would have these types of conversations with a lot of people around me, especially my close friends, and I could see this frustration where I felt very much engaged with politics, but also not at the same time. I was engaged out of frustration and the feeling that I had to engage because it concerned me. It was my own personal journey, which started off with me even wanting to be an MP at one point and being really involved with politicians and youth work. I had faith and thought young people would finally have a valued place in our political system.
And then slowly, I've reached a point where I feel lost and that I don’t fit into one political party. It made me think about how times are changing now and whether I even have to be a member of a political party to have a say in the system. I feel that a lot of young people also feel the same way, and so I’d like to think that maybe my talk will help to make them feel a bit more comfortable and show them that there are other ways to engage, and hopefully the system will try and reflect this at some point.
In your talk, you mention the platforms Twitter and TikTok as ways of sharing political issues. How important is the role of social media in sharing social movements and spreading ideas amongst young people?
I think it's very powerful, but at the same time, you do have to be careful because often when you’re using these platforms, their algorithms cater to what you like or what you already believe. Therefore you can end up in this echo chamber where your own beliefs are just being reinforced or strengthened. So there is that danger, but at the same time, I would say personally it has given me an opportunity to look at things differently and see things that are happening across the world that I wouldn't have been able to see through
mainstream media. In this way, it's very beneficial and completely relatable. I feel like it's created a community of young people that care about things and is changing the nature of participation. So there's a danger to it, but at the same time, it's so powerful if we utilise it correctly.
Your talk also explores various ways in which young people can become more engaged with politics. How influential do you think these individual efforts are in creating change?
When you look at it individually, it doesn't seem like there's a lot of transformation that you can do. However, I always think about how you are literally contributing to things on a miniscule level and how you speak to people.
It's all based on these small attitudes and behaviours that you're conditioned to and not even aware of. So I think start having a conversation with people around you about different topics and you'll be surprised at some of the things that they think and the opinions that they hold. But try and challenge that and be open to discussion, as I think this can have the power to do a lot. Linking back to the political system and those who vote, challenging opinions and opening discussions could change so much – such as who our representatives are and what we can demand from politicians.
Do you think that our political system creates narrow boxes, and if so, how?
I feel like there's definitely a lack of options and alternatives. I think there's a lack of imagination within the political system and even a lack of creativity to try and imagine something beyond what we already have. Because it’s clear that something is somewhat not working through what we're seeing now and despite various different processes, political accountability is still not being achieved.
I’d also argue our political system does because we have a two party system which we feel like we have to be a part of, but it's just not that simple and I think it really limits us. It really limits what we can do and how we can improve and tackle various issues. This sense of limitation comes from both main parties, as they arguably present ideas that are sometimes solely for electoral gain and are not actually thinking about how we can tackle different issues. It’s more a case of – who can do it first? Who can do it better? What would our voters vote for and what appeals to them?
Can you expand on what you mean by saying the personal is political?
In relation to my talk, I’m trying to say that everything from peoples’ characteristics to their different identities are politically charged, and whether you like it or not, the system is going to look at you a certain way or treat you a certain way based on those identities. So it's about being aware and using this to your advantage to try and change the things around you. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that you have to engage and do this through party politics, which is often against what you're trying to achieve. Just because you’re not a member of a party and directly involved with political affairs, you are still a political and social being that is impacted by these policies.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected young people’s engagement with politics?
I think generally we're slightly more disillusioned with party politics and this has been strengthened through things like social media, which has really become a platform for our ideas to surface and for us to express our concerns. There is really a frustration; sometimes half of me is thinking there is absolutely nothing that we can do right now, but then the other half of me is hopeful that political is personal and there are other means of engaging. In a way, you have to engage with party politics because that's essentially what puts people in power, but at the same time, you don't want to engage because sometimes it seems a little cynical.
What does the future of political engagement look like to you? What ‘Horizon’ are you hoping to see?
I hope to see more young people working together, whether that be between communities or on different issues. A lot of the issues that are being complained about intersect so I think people coming together to create this big network and putting more pressure on politicians is something that I would like to see. Hopefully this would move the conversation away from questions such as how can young people be involved in a party or party politics, and into those such as how can we bring about change and force the system to adapt to our needs? Rather than us going and engaging in spaces where politicians are politicians, our representatives should be engaging with us in our spaces. I’d say that’s the biggest shift that I would like to see.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’d say to think about how you can bring about change on a personal level, and that you've got more power than you think. You can change your community and the people around you, so don't lose sight of that.
Transcribed and edited by Lauren Walker.
The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Alaa Fawaz — not Lauren Walker, nor TEDxWarwick.
If you have any questions concerning the interview, or opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.