People say many things. Opinions are shared everywhere and, in today’s digital world, everybody with a phone and internet connection can share their thoughts, as raw or cleanly polished as they may be, including on politics.
We hear much talk about freedom of expression, and in a democratic country such as ours, this must be the foundation on which constructive and fruitful political engagement is based. It was the notion of sharing my opinions with others and being a source of good in society that drew me into politics.
Taking my first steps on the political scene, I kept asking myself a question that I still ask now: “Why am I here?”. As a 16-year-old just starting life in a political party, that question made me think about what I expected to take from this experience, about my goals and ambitions of being a part of a political team. My beliefs were the main factor that informed the answer to my question: believing that I was in a place where my voice could be heard and that I could help shape this nation’s future. That response remains my drive and determination every time I step foot in the doors of the branch’s office.
A strong, young voice
Labour Youths (Żgħażagħ Laburisti – ŻL) is undoubtedly the most progressive youth organisation on the island. From its birth, the youth branch of the Labour Party has always been a strong voice within Maltese society. As far back as when it was still called ‘Għaqda Żgħażagħ Soċjalisti’, it has been an influential group that spurred change and called for discussion when the country needed it. It was ĠħŻS that pushed for the celebration of Worker’s Day in Malta, long before the party itself, of which it is a branch, did. More recently, ŻL pushed for more civil rights, championing the idea that minorities in this country deserve to be heard. What can we say about the right for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote and stand as a candidate in elections? Where do you think the discussion on that one started?
Most notable remains the limited decriminalisation of certain cannabis-related activities for the purpose of establishing a balance between individual rights in the limited and responsible personal use of cannabis and other social considerations. This was an issue that I can proudly say I had a part in placing on the agenda. I still remember when the then HR team of the branch invited me and my fellow members to discuss our thoughts on the issue. At the time, I was an ordinary member of the branch, and a relatively new member, at that. However, for the first time, I felt that I had a platform where my ideas could have a meaningful impact on what happens in this country. I was being listened to rather than just heard, a mutual feeling among my peers. Hence, when the bill was passed through Parliament, it didn’t come across as a win for the Government or the party, but a win for the country and for those who had a say in the matter.
A safe space and political platform
What about today? Currently, I serve as a member of the branch’s executive team and assist in human resources. This allows me to be aware of what reach we have among the young people out there. Proudly, I can say that the branch is thriving. Each day, I feel increasingly encouraged as I enter through the door of our office at the party’s headquarters in Ħamrun. Seeing the place packed with youths of different ages and backgrounds gives us that drive and determination to keep working. We listen to each other’s ideas, discuss them, and act on them. We are, indeed, a wing of the Labour Party, but the secret to our success is the fact that we welcome everyone with open arms. No idea is deemed dumb or irrelevant. We strive to be a safe space and a credible political platform for all youths in Malta and Gozo.
All of us in the ŻL contribute voluntarily. There are moments when the going gets tough, and I can imagine why some onlookers might speculate that there must be a catch somewhere. However, each setback makes us more determined to keep going forward and provide a voice to young people wanting continued change in the country. Labour Youths has given me something I hold dear: a second family; a family of friends comprised of member colleagues with the same motivation in mind. They are people who have changed my life and who keep me grounded. We are an example of unity. It is fair to say that this attitude does make some people envious.
The motto, ‘United we stand, divided we fall’ has been invoked countless times by many all around the globe. It has special meaning for us at ŻL too, as we stand together to accomplish our objectives, inspired by our core values and guiding principles.