Green Youth Organisations

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By Sabine Van Belle and Jonas De Meyer

A youth wing can prove to be an important asset for a Green Party when campaigning looms. As multiple election studies have shown, younger voters are more likely than older people to consider a vote for a Green Party. In this respect, a youth wing can be viewed as the perfect ‘tool’ to connect with younger voters. However, the mother party must not forget that a youth wing can never be a mere ‘tool’ and that a necessary amount of independence must be respected. It is important to stress that the message to the voter can only get through when both entities follow the same strategies. Most of the time, both the mother party and its youth wing are too small to work next to one other. So cooperation between a Green Party and its youth wing before and during elections is essential to the success of a coherent campaign. Such cooperation relies on mutual understanding, for which the sharing of information, mutual consultation and a clear and detailed agreement are key.

Preparation of the campaign
A thorough preparation is the precondition for a successful campaign.

First of all, the youth wing should draw up its own programme and make clear which points it wants to put forward during the campaign. This can be a deepening or an extension of the mother party’s election programme. It goes without saying that a youth wing approaches the existing programme from the perspective of a young voter and thus can point out what concerns younger voters in particular and how the mother party’s programme can best be ‘translated’ towards the young. The youth wing builds further on the mother party’s existing programme, adding its own content aimed at the young. It is understandable that you consider your whole programme worth communicating; however, choose and prioritise the main points you want to stress, and build your campaign around these focal points. Obviously, these decisions are taken after consultation with the mother party.

Youth wings rarely have enough financial resources to conduct a proper campaign that can generate any impact. Therefore, apart from any own budgetary means that are deployed for the campaign, draw up a list of the financial and logistical needs that are deemed necessary for the campaign and present it to the mother party. Rely on experienced people to assess which needs have priority for the youth wing.

Campaign material for younger voters should give a clear overview of the main points (e.g. a 6-point priority plan) and should present the young candidates on the list. A distinctive ‘look and feel’ for all the publications reinforces the singularity of the youth wing and appeals more to younger voters. Don’t hesitate to outsource the development of a specific graphic style to a professional lay-outer. It is a worthwhile investment if you use it afterwards for all your publications. However, a link with the mother party in the publication is recommended. Try to conceive diverse material for different occasions. A flyer to distribute on a market place, personal flyers or even a small newspaper to distribute at train stations. (See also the best practice on Sharing Your Message.)

Make an internal campaign calendar which gives an overview of when to do what, from the preparation of the campaign (e.g. deadline for publication & printing) up to election day. Choose what kind of actions you want to do at strategic places and times. Once again, attune your campaign calendar with the one of your mother party but don’t forget to specifically target those places and events where younger voters go.

Look for young candidates and lobby for their places on the list with the mother party. Promising candidates should be placed on visible places on the list. Support of the youth wing can prove essential to appearing on a list or not.

Inform the young candidates of your campaign strategy and calendar, preferably during a group event where all the young candidates can share expectations and experiences. It is the perfect place to get to know each other better, take campaign pictures and already fix moments to go campaigning together. If possible, provide them with personalised posters, cards, flyers, etc.

For a lot of young candidates it will be their first time ever on a list. Guide them as much as possible by providing basic training in campaigning, debating, addressing voters, etc. Regional/provincial focal points are a good intermediate level between candidates and the national coordinator/youth wing. Invest in their training and formation, so that they will be able to act as mentor for a group of young candidates from one region during the campaign.

During the campaign
An updated information flow between the youth wing and the mother party enables each side to:

– stay informed about the timing of the other’s initiatives (actions, street rallies, focus on campaign points, and so on) and the campaign calendar.
– reinforce the other on important events or rallies (do not organise separate events at the same time as your mother party!)

Don’t get trapped in a hesitant attitude. Approach the mother party pro-actively to stay informed on a daily basis.

Stay in contact with the young candidates and provide support for actions. Campaigning can be very hard and tiring, so motivating the young candidates is crucial if you want them to pass on a positive and appealing image to the voters.

Finally, hold enough in reserve for the last week before polling day because it is only then that a very large number of voters decide. A last-week campaign offensive should therefore be considered crucial.

The seriousness with which a mother party treats its youth wing depends, of course, not only on its actions during elections. Building up credibility is a constant point of attention for a youth wing. Making yourself visible as the youth wing within the mother party is therefore highly recommended, year in, year out. This can be done by participating in various activities, congresses, parties or by constructing an own identity as a youth wing by being politically active.

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