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How can we shield democracy? These younger Canadians are heading in the right direction

Democracy faces rising threats at house and overseas, however a bunch of Black highschool college students from throughout Toronto is refusing to surrender—at the same time as they develop up.

They have been studying about management, but in addition about taking possession of democracy. Getting engaged, but in addition 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 up social media? Will social media overtake mass media?

Good questions. Now they need solutions.

A few a whole lot 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 show one of the best 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 in addition trying underneath the hood to see why it appears stalled. Earlier this month, they studied the worldwide political setting, but in addition the politics of world warming (and an environmental motion that strikes awfully slowly).

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

The scholars heard from a pioneering position 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 College of World Affairs & Public Coverage at U of T (disclosure: I am 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 additionally they wanted to know what they did not know.

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

That is the place the media matches 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 at all times 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’re going to not often decide 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 reasonably than curating knowledge, dividing reasonably than uniting.

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

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

Younger individuals are carving out their very own savvy areas on-line, however they’re principally simply speaking to themselves. In the present day’s youth need to change the world, nevertheless 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 distinct channel or echo chamber, then we’re not speaking to one another. And once 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 is a skinny line from democracy to dictatorship, from nationalism to racism, homophobia, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. However in immediately’s period of identification politics — the place you might be your origins — it is price remembering that bitter battle can come up even with out ethnic, spiritual or racial variations.

At root, democracy is about power-sharing. It isn’t at all times about conflicts over color, class or creed, as evidenced by the limitless 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 College, to lift a recurring conundrum: “In a democracy, it is energy to the bulk, so how can we make sure the rights of the minority inside a democracy?”

Powerful query. Democracy is not 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 need to hear, not what they should hear. That is why minority rights are so vital in a really pluralist democracy the place variations are tolerated and even celebrated.

That requires management. Fortuitously, Canadian politicians of late have largely resisted the temptation to pit individuals in opposition to one another alongside strains of race, faith or orientation — tolerating and celebrating variations by guaranteeing there are authorized checks and balances, minority rights to guard in opposition to majority wrongs. I’ve coated individuals abroad who’re prepared to die for democracy, however we should additionally guard in opposition to Canadian democracy dying a sluggish loss of life if individuals are bored stiff and cannot be bothered to tell themselves — and resolve for themselves on the poll field .

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

As I instructed the scholars, a vote is a horrible factor to waste. After watching them in motion, I am 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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