Students of Dongguk are urging for investigation in terms of Sewol ferry incident at a memorial service that cherished the third anniversary in Paljeongdo held by the “Progressive University Students Network.”
/Photograph by Lee Min-jeong
On March 10th, the former President Park Geun-hye was impeached over a corruption scandal. Until the impeachment was achieved, a lot of effort was made by the citizens. Among them, the youth including university students played a significant role. It started from the protest of students of Ewha Womans University against the backdoor-admissions scandal of Chung Yoo-ra, the daughter of Choi Soon-sil. Then, numerous candlelight vigils and political movements from both individuals and youth groups followed, and they were sturdy enough to show their power.
In this regard, the political circles have begun to see young men as important voters, not to mention the current presidential candidates who are suggesting various policies and programs that target them. Considering the growing youth power, people should not only expect for better politics but put more effort to realize it.
The political movement of the youth arose with the candlelights
The youth’s political participation has become larger with the candlelight vigils than it was before. First, the reveal of the backdoor-admissions scandal of Chung Yoo-ra to Ewha Womans University has become a stimulus for the political movement of the youth. The students of Ewha held several candlelight vigils against it, further leading to more than 145 university students to form rallies urging the impeachment of the former President Park Geun-hye on October 26th while the number is strongly expected to be much more than that considering the ones made after then. Even after the impeachment, university students are still holding protests and press conferences.
On March 13th, “The Resignation of Park Geun-hye Administration, the Political Conference of University Students Nationwide” opened a press conference in Gwanghwamun Plaza. They said, “Park’s impeachment was a mirror of public sentiment which no one could go against. To us, this impeachment is the beginning, not the end.”
In addition, a memorial service that cherished the third anniversary of Sewol ferry incident was held in Paljeongdo on 6th April. It was held by the “Progressive University Students Network” which is a political organization for university students. In the event, students made strong quotes that call on the government to work on its investigation.
Not only university students but many young members of the political parties are making political movements. On February 24th, the Youth Party held a Promoter’s meeting with a subtitle “Youth Political-Festival.” They put up banners saying, “Born in the candlelight, the Youth Party begins direct democracy.” During the meeting, they discussed about political parties and policies and announced a roadmap to make inroads into the parliament until 2020 as well as enjoying music and performances that argued for the impeachment.
Also, on March 4th at 4:00 P.M., the Youth Party organized a signature campaign in front of the Seoul Central District Prosecutor’s Office collecting signatures against the “Baseball Bat Assembly.” It was an assembly held by pro-Park groups holding baseball bats in front of the independent counsel Park Young-soo’s house who is the special prosecutor in a special congressional enquiry for the monopoly of government affairs.
Youth political participation has become a natural phenomenon
Compared to the past, youth political participation has become more natural while it was easily considered as not only something that is too difficult and complex to make an approach but even something to hide and conceal. However, youth political participation has become more active rather than being passive. Hyeon Da-eun, the chairman of Dongguk University branch of the “Progressive University Students Network,” said, “The first candlelight vigil was on October 19th, in 2016. Until then, students did not talk about or participate in the political situation naturally and easily other than hanging yellow ribbons on their bags that stand for Sewol ferry disaster. However, after the candlelight had begun, I could see a lot of flags from many universities in Gwanghwamun Plaza.”
It was noted by Hyeon Da-eun that many students started to consider political participation a natural phenomenon as a number of posts asking the student councils to participate in rallies on the Facebook page “Dongguk University Bamboo Forest” shows. She said, “The youth has been suffering from a suffocating reality. They have been put in a reality where they had to do part-time jobs and study at the same time. Then, they observed the Sewol ferry disaster and the death of an activist farmer Baek Nam-gi. As a consquence, the candlelight vigils have served as a strong momentum to show their anger.”
Moreover, Kim Young-min, the chief of policy department of the Youth Union, noted that the increase of the youth’s political participation is the result of their aggravated agony in terms of worsening economy and other socio-economic problems. “Not to mention the filibuster, general election, candlelight vigil, and impeachment during the last 2016, a series of political events became a crucial opportunity for the youth to feel political efficacy that we can make change if we participate in it,” Kim said.
Sim Sang-jeong (Leader of Justice Party) and Kim Jae-dong (Comedian) is debating over justice in front of youths trying to participate in the politics.
/Photography from Ourfuture
The change is made in political circles with more youth participation
In the past, the political environment and youth policies did not properly include young generation’s real demands. The youth administration in each party was mainly constituted with people in their 40s and 50s and did not have a well-organized structure, culture, and atmosphere which could embrace the young generation. Lee Dong-hak, the director of Dajunda youth politics research institute, said, “In order for the young men to participate in the politics, they need a party; although there are some independent candidates, it is difficult to raise one’s voice alone. However, regarding the high average age of the people in the parties, youngsters are often considered as objects rather than the main agents.” He added, “This reduces chances for them to raise their voices in a prominent way. Definitely, the current atmosphere of the parties is too lukewarm for young men.”
As a result, the politicians not only kept on concentrating on policies such as the creation of 100 workplaces and start-up nation, which are not what the youth had asked for, but also suggested the same policies that appeared in the past elections. Also, Kim Young-min, the chief of policy department of the Youth Union, said that current policies are not speaking for the youth but just putting effort on its appearance; the index. This means that the delivery system of policies is staying still. “Using the employment rate as an index of evaluation can be one example. We need to stop making approaches to the policies in the past authoritarian and patriarchal policies that have their base on a family model of four members but in the view of the current youth,” Kim explained.
Still, following this trend of more young men participating in political events, the political circles are giving more attention to them. First, the current presidential candidates are promoting pledges targeting the young generation. For example, Moon Jae-in, the former head of the Democratic Party, said that he will supply public rental houses for newly married couples, create more jobs in public sectors, and decrease the term of military service with An Hee-jung, the governor of South Chungcheong Province, saying that he will expand workplace nurseries. Moreover, the Seongnam City Mayor, Lee Jae-myeong said that he will include the youth in the subjects to receive basic incomes, providing young men between 19 and 29 with monthly local vouchers of one million won. Also, Ahn Cheol-soo, the former chairman of the People’s Party, highlighted his image as a youth mentor saying that he had joined the political circle in order to solve the youth problem while one out of three young men is unemployed.
Other than focusing on making youth policies, many politicians are taking actions targeting young men as well. On March 10th, in “The Debate for the Political Reform Youth Desires” held in the National Assembly Member’s Office, Jung Byeong-guk, the former leader of the Bareun Party, collected signature statements demanding to lower the standard age to enter the party. Furthermore, Moon Jae-in met the young examinees in an examination institute in Noryangjin on February 6th and emphasized that the government can increase the job places in political sectors regarding the fire-fighting officers, police officers, and welfare officials. Additionally, the former candidate Lee Jae-myeong participated in a talk concert in Konkuk University to discuss about the problems university students are facing. Still, regarding such phenomenon, He further mentioned, “Although there are some perspectives that see young men as important voters, a lot of the pledges for them disappear or fade away after the election is over. This is the reason why more young men must vote to protect the youth policies the candidates suggested.”
Such phenomenon of more politicians paying greater attention to the young generation shows that there have not been proper youth policies so far in Korean Society. Plus, this is a reflection of the increasing political participation of young people. “The young generation used to be skeptical about Korean politics, which ultimately led to the absence of proper youth policies. Even though a lot of people gathered around to push ahead the half-price university tuition fee policy in the past, it just stopped at state scholarship. Yet, the rise of the youth political movement these days is showing our power once again,” said Hyeon Da-eun.
More youths are involved in social and political activities
The increased attention to the youth in return encouraged the political movements of the youth in Korea, establishing the circulation of a virtuous circle. The Network for Korean Universities is a network made of 24 universities’ general student councils for delivering Korean youth’s messages to the candidates of the 19th president election. They are planning to make a survey of youth’s demands and give youths an opportunity to interview the candidates. Lee Seung-jun, the chairperson of the GSC of Korea University, explained, “We will try to show the society that youths are interested in political and social issues and demand the government what we need. However, it is difficult for the 20’s to make influential statements. That is why we gather as a group and let the older generation know how powerful we are.”
In Dongguk University, the Progressive University Students Network (PUSN) is one of the active organizations trying to solve social issues and deliver messages of the university students. They are organizing events to encourage students to participate in solving social issues, including the 4.16 Sewol ferry incident and the “comfort women.” Hyeon Da-eun, the chairperson of PUSN in Dongguk commented, “I have been participating in these social movements since I was a freshman, so I could feel how much students have changed. The number of students joining our events has enormously increased compared to 2014 and the frequency of the events as well.”
Furthermore, the youths who got tired of the current political situation started to directly involve in the politics, trying to change the stagnant political circle. “Ourfuture” is a political party in which the mean age of the members is below 30. Lee Sung-yoon, the co-founder of “Ourfuture” explained, “In the last presidential-election, the youth voting rate was nearly 90 percent. However, among 300 senators, only very few of them are below 30 years old. Even they do not care for the youths. Increasing jobs and ‘Hell Chosun’ is not what we asked for. ‘Ourfuture’ is a political party for the youth who wants to change the current situation on their own.”
The changes have been made, more progress needs to be accomplished
Nevertheless, many experts and students say youths are still not considered as one of the mainstream voters in the society. Lee Seung-jun made a comment regarding the previous candidates, “I believe the political parties still lack interest in youths. They still think that we are just votes. Since president candidate Moon has a number of strong supporters, he does not seem to care about youth voters. Only president candidate An and Lee whose supporters are not that many try to earn the votes of the youth. However, even An and Lee’s policies for youths are not clear.” Director Lee explained that it is quite natural since politicians are people who need votes so they consequently focus on where the most number of votes come. “Through previous elections, we were able to see the turnout of youth voters being far less than the older generation. Plus, the population of youths is constantly decreasing.” As a solution Hyeon Da-eun suggested active participation of the youth. “It is true that we are still considered as decorations around the election. I believe we could only show more and more activities to change their perspective. To do so, we need to live our life with focus. We should not let even the slightest problem slip away and gather them to send our messages to the society.”
Some people say the environment must be guaranteed for the youths’ political movement to be active. “Systematically, the voting age should be lowered, eligibility for election should be guaranteed, and so on. Plus, the older generation needs to accept the fact that the youths are the same voters just like adults and political actors,” said Kim Young-min, the chief of policy department of the Youth Union.
Others even step further asking for more than participation. Lee Sung-yoon claimed, “Efforts have been made enough. Efforts have already done everything they could. I ask for the youths to act now. Voting is just one of them. We need to do more than that. It does not matter which party they go into. The important thing is that they act, they show what we need.”
Lim Ji-soo, Khang Seok-jun firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com
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