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Nexus, Interface, and Democratic Renewal

By Miriam Lyons - posted Thursday, 28 February 2002

O-week is a very strange time on campus. Hordes of first years (identifiable by a certain openness of expression), descend on the university to be herded around on tours by overenthusiastic volunteers, deluged with freebies, and attacked on all sides by people recruiting for clubs and societies ranging from Campus Bible Study to Resistance to the Chocolate club.

As I write this I am entering my fifth o-week, and my fourth o-week spent recruiting new members for Nexus – Australian Youth Network. As a member of those recruiting hosts, I have always found my organisation a challenging one to sell. Nexus is quite hard to pin down into a slogan, and the people it attracts aren’t readily identifiable as members of a particular interest group or demographic. The phrase ‘we were set up to facilitate the evolution of a diverse, open, politicised youth culture’ doesn’t go down too well with the free cup of Lipton Ice Tea.

Yet each year I’m surprised by the number of people who decide that Nexus is exactly what they’ve been looking for. I always know I’m starting to get through when the phrase ‘ohhhh, so you’re political, but you’re not actually pushing a political agenda’ turns up in conversation. The success of Nexus over the last couple of years is one of the many factors that have convinced me that young people are not apathetic. We are, however, desperate for creative opportunities to participate in the political processes that affect our lives, the media that represents our culture, and the universities that shape our future.


We are living in a shadow of a democracy. For various reasons the majority of people in the world have forgotten that they have agency, that they are powerful. Given our relative lack of economic and political influence, the forces of forgetfulness are especially strong with relation to young people. Nexus is one of the strange new breeds that carries the seeds of democratic renewal. Instead of putting young people in a box and trying to dissect and define them ('goth-homie-feral-gangsta-grunge...' 'apathetic' 'generation x'), or taking a random young person & making them speak as the voice of 'yoof', we have placed them at the centre, and invited them to take up a microscope, look at the world, and tell everyone who will listen what they think in the confidence that they will be heard. Wakeful people who know that they are powerful are hard to manipulate. They do dangerous things, like think for themselves. They create dangerous things, like new ideas.

A lot of people out there are looking for dynamic organisations that facilitate change without trying to make their unique points of view fit into square ideological boxes. Nexus does this by providing forums where old ideas and traditional ideologies, and the people who subscribe to them, are able to participate, but are treated on equal terms with each other, and are also treated on equal terms with perspectives so new they haven’t yet had been labelled, dissected, and assigned to their proper place in the political colour-wheel. We have taken the very brave step of refusing to divide the world into left and right and pick a side. By doing this ourselves, we have provided hundreds of young people with the opportunity and encouragement to think outside the square.

When I and a bunch of other ridiculously idealistic students set up Nexus four years ago, I approached my local MP to ask for support. He was less than helpful (no indictment on parliamentarians in general, many of whom we have found encouraging and supportive). His words "encouraging political discussion? I don’t get it", and "what are you – are you religious? No? It’s not going to work. You need to stand for something" have stayed with me ever since. Being somewhat inexperienced & tongue-tied at the time, I didn’t get the chance to vindicate myself with an eloquent reply. Four years later, I think my comeback would sound a little like this:

What we stand for is the diversity, creativity and power of youth. We stand for unceasing questioning and constant awareness of the forces that control our lives. We stand for the willingness of individuals to act on what they believe in while also remaining open to the possibility that they might be wrong.

He may not have ‘got it’, but dozens of events, projects, and enthusiastic first-years later, I’m pretty certain that it’s working. Even if it’s still just as hard to turn into a slogan.

At this point you are probably starting to wonder what we’ve actually done to make the rhetoric real. A brief look at our activities would include speakers panels, arts festivals, policy forums, discussion groups, workshops on anything from lobbying to media skills to how to get films funded, political comedy events, and film screenings. We also act as an incubator for youth projects with similar aims – including Vibewire Youth Services, a media-based version of Nexus.


Our next big project is called Interface. Here’s the spiel:



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About the Author

Miriam Lyons is Director of the Centre for Policy Development

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