Martin Regg Cohn: How can we shield democracy? These younger Canadians are heading in the right direction

Democracy faces growing threats at home and abroad, but a group of Black high school students from across Toronto is refusing to give up — even as they grow up.

They’ve been studying about management, but additionally about taking possession of democracy. Getting engaged, but additionally getting enlightened.

Which means not simply having their say, however first asking questions:

If the core of democracy is majority rule, what protects racialized minorities from misrule by majority authorities?

Is extremism taking on social media? Will social media overtake mass media?

Good questions. Now they need solutions.

A few hundred Black college students have been coming collectively on latest Saturdays for the Management by Design symposium on the U of T campus. The thought is to reveal the most effective and brightest youth to the intricacy of democracy — what all of it means, and what it means for all of them.

They’re mastering the nuts and bolts of democratic engagement, but additionally trying underneath the hood to see why it appears stalled. Earlier this month, they studied the worldwide political atmosphere, but additionally the politics of worldwide warming (and an environmental motion that strikes awfully slowly).

Speaking with college students final weekend, I discovered extra about what they’re nonetheless attempting to find — how huge majorities, the mass media, and outnumbered minorities match into the equation. And whether or not there’s a extra egalitarian equation.

The scholars heard from a pioneering function mannequin, Alvin Curling, the primary Black cupboard minister and speaker of the legislature in Ontario historical past, about representing the individuals. They listened to a presentation on democracy from Akaash Maharaj, a senior fellow on the Munk Faculty of World Affairs & Public Coverage at U of T (disclosure: I’m additionally a senior fellow at Munk).

My task was to speak concerning the energy of media and democracy. The scholars, drawn from Grades 10 by way of 12, had their very own lived experiences and knew their stuff — however my argument was that in addition they wanted to know what they didn’t know.

In any political system, info is energy. In a democracy, info is the good equalizer, and it empowers those that know its significance.

That’s the place the media suits in: Newspapers give everybody a heads up on the information, and a head begin on democratic choice making.

However it may be an ungainly match. I all the time ask college students for a present of fingers — who reads the newspapers? — and the reply is inevitably discouraging, however I refuse to surrender.

College students would possibly click on on digital media, however they’ll not often choose up the printed product. They’re extra prone to be on TikTok than Twitter, or every other algorithmic feed that panders to non-public tastes — catering to whims fairly than curating knowledge, dividing fairly than uniting.

Grade 10 pupil Edna Nortey, of William Lyon Mackenzie Collegiate, needed to know extra about how social media, together with Twitter, is “affecting the political panorama in North America.”

It’s trendy to hail social media and reduce the affect of “mainstream media,” however I hold calling it the “mass media” — as a result of it nonetheless speaks to the lots. If social media is supposedly innovative, that’s as a result of it may be so slicing — slicing individuals down, slicing and dicing them into smaller sub-demographic teams and communities of curiosity (self-interest) that discuss solely to one another.

Younger persons are carving out their very own savvy areas on-line, however they’re principally simply speaking to themselves. At present’s youth wish to change the world, however it’s principally older people who vote in elections after tuning in to the mass media to be taught concerning the world round them.

If everyone seems to be on a unique channel or echo chamber, then we’re not speaking to one another. And after we’re not listening to one another, we usually tend to demonize and dehumanize the “different” in a cesspool of snark or a whirlwind of hate.

It’s a skinny line from democracy to dictatorship, from nationalism to racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. However in at this time’s period of id politics — the place you might be your origins — it’s price remembering that bitter battle can come up even with out ethnic, spiritual or racial variations.

At root, democracy is about power-sharing. It’s not all the time about conflicts over color, class or creed, as evidenced by the infinite clashes between political tribes in America’s more and more dysfunctional democracy.

All of which prompted Grade 11 pupil Rachel Wright, an aspiring journalist at Pickering Excessive Faculty, to boost a recurring conundrum: “In a democracy, it’s energy to the bulk, so how can we make sure the rights of the minority inside a democracy?”

Robust query. Democracy isn’t a one-size-fits-all panacea, although the rise of populism has turned it right into a recognition contest for politicians who inform individuals what they wish to hear, not what they should hear. That’s why minority rights are so necessary in a very pluralist democracy the place variations are tolerated and even celebrated.

That requires management. Luckily, Canadian politicians of late have largely resisted the temptation to pit individuals in opposition to one another alongside traces of race, faith or orientation — tolerating and celebrating variations by making certain there are authorized checks and balances, minority rights to guard in opposition to majority wrongs. I’ve lined individuals abroad who’re prepared to die for democracy, however we should additionally guard in opposition to Canadian democracy dying a gradual dying if persons are fed up and may’t be bothered to tell themselves — and determine for themselves on the poll field.

Complacency is the enemy of democracy. Training is the antidote to apathy.

As I advised the scholars, a vote is a terrible thing to waste. After watching them in motion, I’m not about to surrender.

Martin Regg Cohn is a Toronto-based columnist specializing in Ontario politics and worldwide affairs for the Star. Comply with him on Twitter: @reggcohn

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