Young Political Activists Training Programme

Thomas More Centre Bulletin, Vol.19, No.2 July 2009

There is something noble and promising about any young person who takes an interest in, and furthermore participates in political activity. Regardless of their ideology, participation in political activism shows that an individual has decided to look beyond themselves and out into society. It indicates that they appreciate “the world is bigger than just me,” and that they have a wish to learn, to engage, and most importantly, to act.

My generation, commonly dubbed ‘Generation Y,’ is often accused of being self-absorbed, materialistic with a poor work ethic. Indeed, I have been guilty of displaying all three of these traits. In early July however, I found the antithesis of this at a weeklong seminar titled Young Political Activist Training run by the Thomas More Centre. This political activist ‘boot camp,’ attended by about fifteen university students from Adelaide, Brisbane, Sydney, rural New South Wales, rural Victoria and Melbourne, provided historical, theoretical and practical formation for young people who wish to engage in social change.

The programme was held at Mannix College in Melbourne, and each day began with morning Mass to help us prepare for the day. We were privileged to hear from a number of inspiring speakers on important topics such as human rights, sovereignty, pro-life issues, economics, the family, the political system, influence of the media, feminism, the Cultural Revolution, the power structures of society, Catholic social teaching, etc. We also participated in workshops on research, letter writing, public speaking, organizing campaigns, meetings, internet activism, and government submissions.

We spent a day at Victoria’s Parliament House where we met with MPs from both sides of the political divide. We were somewhat mesmerized by the beauty and the historic grandeur of the Parliament; its majestic staircases, ornate ceilings and plush carpet which is enough to make anyone wish for a life in politics. Liberal M.P. Jan Kronberg however, reminded us that while it is only natural to be won over by the spectacle of the place, we would do well to remember that Victoria’s Parliament recently ushered in a new era of unrestricted barbarity against the unborn.

The politicians which we met had some tactical advice of their own. They advised that the methods we employ in the name of social good, for example the pro-life cause, be polite, pragmatic and practical. We were warned that our actions should not lend legitimacy to the labeling of the pro-life movement as nothing more than a gabble of crazy fundamentalists. They encouraged we employ a fresh, more tactical and marketable approach when campaigning for pro-life and other issues.

YPAT provided us with a ‘game-plan,’ a ‘plan- of-attack;’ strategies for success derived largely from our ideological enemies; non-pejoratively, our ‘opponents.’ In essence, one speaker was reminding us that the nation’s political head rests on the shoulders of public opinion and that it is in the court of public opinion that our battle lies.

Ironically, the central message of the Young Political Activist Conference was that in order to be political active, we need not be overtly and typically ‘political,’ in our manner of protest. Indeed, political activism may be and must be practiced within our own professional forums. It would seem that the key to success for any political activist, conservative or liberal, is that they should strive to be very good at whatever profession they embrace and to change the culture within that profession; whether that be in regional councils, teachers unions, medical associations, chambers of commerce, law societies or in the media .

If the radical left can be afforded any respect it is for their tactical brilliance. The power they enjoy today is a result of their systemic infiltration of society’s most powerful institutions: the media, universities, schools and the medical professions. Please excuse the repeated use of military metaphors but our ‘mission’ is to do the same. As young adults on the cusp of professional life, we must attempt to influence and invigorate those around us. All we need do is offer a different point of view; one that is coherent, well-articulated, and based on sound reason. In this way we give others the ability to choose the good.

It has been said before that we live in an era of dogmatic secularism in which a misconstrued notion of individual freedom trumps any consideration of right action. Indeed, in Victoria’s political context specifically, things are going to get worse before they get better. It is no wonder people shrug their shoulders and leave the arduous, demanding and often unrewarding task of political activism up to a select few.

However, YPAT proved to be an inspirational and educational event for all who attended, and I believe, those 15 or so young leaders will be much better witnesses to the Catholic faith because of the skills and knowledge gained at the Thomas More Centre’s Young Political Activist Training conference.

And I just think there might be some fun to be had swimming upstream!

Johanna O’Farrell