According to the National Election Commission, the last 18th presidential election’s highest turnout was voters in their 50s and the lowest was those in their 20s. With the growing power of SNS, it was predicted that the younger generation would participate more, but it turned out to be wrong. What is blocking the way for young people to vote? Why do these young people view politics the way they do? The person who answered the interviewer’s numerous questions was Byung-Min Kim, a member of Seocho District Council. He was elected as the youngest member of the district council at the age of 28. He became passionate about politics when he was in his 20s----which is our age. Let’s delve into the story of the brave man who became a politician at this young age.
Kim, Byung-Min (Seocho District Council Member)
Current) Member of the 6th Council of Seocho District, Seoul
Current) Korea Youth Leader Association, Secretary general
Current) DreamFarmers Corp., Director
Previous) Kyung-Hee University, President of Student Council
1) According to the profile, you were not involved in any kind of student councils in your high school years. Is there a special reason that you decided to run for president of the student council in university? Moreover, how did this experience affect your candidacy of the district council?
I was not involved in any kind of student councils in both high school and university before my senior year. The major reason was that when I was attending school, both the main student council and councils in each major were the groups which reflected their particular politics. I didn’t believe these student councils were intended for the students. Thus, instead of being involved in the councils, I was involved in the Library Committees, as well as the overseas volunteering team, and as the leader of the long march of the country. As I was doing all these activities, I thought that only a small percentage of students participated in the student council, and they were not doing their best to reflect the opinions of the majority. I thought that they needed to speak for the majority of the students. I felt I could reflect the ordinary students’ opinions better with the experiences from my activities in the past. I gained a lot of experience while I was in the student council, thus, I thought it would be meaningful to go into politics.
My experience as the president of the student council did not entirely influence my decision to be a politician. While I was the president of the student council in our university, I met a lawyer Seung-duk Koh through a lecture. Later, we got in touch, and I was a part of the general election planning team when he ran to be a member of Congress. After that, I was offered the chance to run as a local council member, and I decided to do it because I thought this could be a great experience for me. My student council experience might have directly and indirectly affected my career, but I think I could do it even without the experience of the student council.
2) You are currently working as the director at DreamFarmers* which helps teenagers’ dreams. Is there a special reason for you to work there? (*DreamFarmers: an organization which helps teenagers to achieve their dreams and goals. It also provides mentors for young adults.)
The lawyer Seung-duk Koh and I are operating the Dream Farmers organization together. The reason I started the project is for the future teenagers. Let me bring up the story of my life before I get to my point. I’ve always walked on different paths from those of others. Most of the students get busy by the time they graduate studying for TOEIC, preparing for contests, and applying for internships. They write resumes and enter the company which hires them. The same logic applies to college entrance. I thought this was like a bitter set rule for people in our country. I also thought it would be much better if things changed.
When I set my own life to the path I wanted, people around me disagreed with me at the time. Somebody told me that living the life I wanted to live could not lead to a successful life, and a successful life includes a decent school, a decent set of skills, and a decent career. However, I disagree. I believe there will be a brighter future for teenagers only if this equation changes. If people live within the current set of rules, what would be the meaning of life? I wanted to see the right process for young students finding what their true dreams are before they enter college. We gather 200 students per semester and give them lectures by professionals from various fields. We also provide opportunities for them to find their true dreams. I believe these opportunities could help them to have more diversity in their lives. Moreover, we also try to help the young adults. I try to give lectures to these young people who are interested in social change and working in the government.
3) Are there any pros or cons being the youngest member of Seocho district?
Politicians and celebrities share a lot of similarities. We need to make our names known to the public. It is very difficult to be famous, but falling off a cliff happens in a blink. The advantage of being a young politician is that I get more recognition from people. Currently, a majority of politicians are in their 40s to 70s. Thus, because of the fact that I’m young compared to the majority, the public recognizes me better. Also, it is not surprising that young people these days are not aware of who the members of their districts are. But there are quite a lot of people who know me because I’m different. Thus, there are some advantages when I try to appeal to the public. On the other hand, the difficult aspect of being a young politician is that it was very hard to break the fixed minds of the people. In the past, some people have questioned me about what could such young man do. But over time, I made an extra effort, and I believe I got over this stereotype. What I did might have an affect on other young politicians in the future. Thus I did my best not to hear any more of these comments.
4) You are making a lot of effort for the development of Seocho district. Among all the ordinances you have accomplished, what is the one you feel great about and what is the one that the people of Seocho district have been most satisfied with?
The one ordinance I feel very great about among others was the ordinance of the part-time jobs for college students. Every year, many students head to government offices as part-time workers, and are given work of a very basic level. This is not productive at all; just to make one line on the students’ resume. I wanted to change this. The ordinance of the part-time jobs for college students is matching the right work for each student according to their aptitudes. For instance, a student majoring English Literature could translate English emails at foreign cooperation firms. If there is a student studying broadcasting, he or she could shoot a video and edit it at the department of public relations. This would influence the productivity of the district office, and it would also benefit the students because they would learn while they work. Aside from this, I once found out our district office’s tax deduction problem, and got back the budget of 1.9 billion won.
5) During the campaigns for elections, you must have encountered a lot of young citizens. Were there any memorable moments?
One interesting moment was when one student followed me during the whole campaign and took pictures of me. He thought it was interesting to see such a young man trying to be a politician. With the pictures of me, he said one day he wanted to have an exhibition. I thought this student was very impressive. Other than him, the people I have encountered were a lot older. They would come up to me with numerous requests. Then we, including other members consider taking action on those requests. Instead of complaining about our country for not doing the politics that they want, people should think about what they want and raise their voices to do something about the situation.
6) It was predicted that the participation of the people in their 20s would be much higher. However, it turned out to be the opposite, even though the social atmosphere for participation was prevalent because of all the celebrities and public figures’ election photos and campaigns. What do you think the fundamental reason for this was? Moreover, what can be the possible solution?
I think the main reason is that people think politics is not directly related to them. I will take the matter of apartment reconstruction for an example. If people were told that their apartments were getting reconstructed, and were told to gather at around 11 at night to discuss the matter, it is very likely that they would gather around even if it’s quite late at night. Because this is a matter of their property and possessions, and they know by choosing which company is doing the construction, their houses will turn out totally different. These days, people only participate if they think their decision will directly affect their lives. The reason that the nation is not interested in politics is that they have been deceived by the sweet talk of past politicians, and the people think that what they choose would not affect their lives.
I think this is the problem of both ruling and opposition parties, but I wonder if that was the possible cause of loss on the part of the Democratic United Party with the 18th presidential election. What else was the cause of losing votes from the 20s? They could not bring up the attention and the participation of the young people. There were not enough memorable pledges except for the ‘Half tuition fee’. I am currently attending a graduate school, and I wonder if there are any considerations for the graduate students. After all, they only campaigned about ‘The half tuition fee’ for the young adults, and I suspect that was the main cause of their failure. Thus unfortunately, they had lost the votes of the young people.
The problems could be resolved if the politicians talk about real policies and pledges that arouse the interest of the young people. Moreover, they should interact more with young adults in our country. Neither the Democratic United party nor Saenuri party have the ultimate solution for the young people’s unemployment crisis. If they both do not have the solution, they at least need to know what is torturing the young people and what their problems are. If I were asked to write about young people’s problems, I could write a hundred things from unemployment to the problem of writing resumes, and among these hundred things, I would change things if possible. I cannot give them the certainty of creating more jobs, but I can assure that changing a hundred or thousand problems is possible.
7) There are a large number of young people who are interested in politics and want to participate, but do not know how. Are there any small political activities that we can be a part of?
I think it all starts with ‘attention’. It can be a small step to know who the district delegates are or who the members of the city councils are. Creating policies and changing the society with it could be a little professional and difficult. Nevertheless, compliments from people could certainly change the members of the local councils and those of Congress. If there are many citizens looking at them, most politicians would never behave or talk carelessly when deciding on important matters. What I want to suggest to young people, to college students, and to people who are not interested in politics, is to keep an eye on these politicians to make them work harder. For me, once in a while some people leave sympathizing or appreciative messages on my blog, and whenever I see them, I feel very blessed and thankful. I think to myself that in the future, after the four years of my term, whether I should keep working for our local community or work for my own good, and which is more beneficial. However, the more I feel rewarded and the more recognition I get from people, I want to work more for the community than for myself. I do not know until then I can continue to work, but while I’m working, I want to work without any regret, and I think people’s attention and interest have made me the person who I am right now.
8) It seems like there are some different political views and directions of support between the older generation and the younger one. In order to have citizens’ consolidation, these generational conflicts should be resolved amicably. What should we do to get rid of this gap?
I think the older and the younger generations should mingle together, but there are not such harmonies between them. Even in schools, we can hardly ever see the connection between the students and the professors. There is no such culture which brings out the connection. In order to solve this problem, we should leave the mind that young people must respect the older people no matter what. If it is not deviating from the etiquette of “the country of courteous people in the East,” young people should share talk and thoughts with the older people. With these efforts both from the older and the young people, I think the conflict can be resolved. Recently regional conflict seems to have been mitigated a lot. However, generational conflict surfaces as a more serious problem, and the struggle between the rich and the poor is the biggest problem in our society. At least, the older and younger generations should interact with each other more and more to solve out such problems mentioned above.
9) What’s your definition of the ‘right politics’?
What matters is not my view of ‘the right politics,’ but the consumer’s view of the ‘right politics.’ From the era of Plato (Rule of philosophers*), most people believed and still believe that politics is what selected people do. Also, as people who have high pride are gathered for politics, the politics within the circle tends to be interpreted as a difficult matter for ordinary people. I believe that the ‘right politics’ is politics which involves ordinary citizens and which can function as a connection between different peoples. This may seem like a mobocracy** or populism***, but the public is smart enough to understand. True politics reflects the public’s opinion.
*Rule of philosophers – an ideal politics stated by Plato; From Plato’s book <The Republic>, Plato stated that for an ideal nation to be realized, ordered cities should be unified according to the philosophy. < Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >
**mobocracy – mob rule; a government by mob or a mass of people, or the intimidation of legitimate authorities.; tyranny of the majority.
***populism – A political philosophy supporting the rights and powers of the common people in their struggle with the privileged elite.
10) Lastly, please give a word of advice to college students
I still want to go back to my college days. However, I would not behave like most of other students did in those days. When I was in college, I once prepared for a civil service exam because that was what most of people around me did at the time---though I gave up a month later because it just was just not my area. Like this, I wish students do not delve into something because all the other people around them are doing it. To find something that you truly like, you must experience it, and when in college you can experience a lot of things. I wish you all would go abroad through school programs which give out scholarships, and experience a lot. Do not have biased opinions when searching for a job. I advise you to work various jobs. It may sound obvious, but young people these days are too afraid of failure. I, too, was once very afraid when I ran for the president of the school council position. However, I thought that if I lost, I would think of it as fate, and then I would go to another country and have fun for as long as I wanted. So I thought it could be okay to lose.
My current life is no different from the past. My career as a politician is a temporary position with a 4 year term, and my term ends next year. I sometimes feel very afraid of the future. However, when a person gets afraid, he or she becomes dishonest. That person only wants to keep a stable job, not telling the truth, for fear of losing their position. I do not want to become that person. Sometimes good things happen when you think positively. A phrase from the book ‘The Alchemist’ touched my heart. “When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Like this, if you have a strong will, you can achieve it. I hope you all find what you truly desire.
Through the interview, Byung-Min Kim gave his political opinions as well as his advice towards people in their 20s. I also hope everyone finds what they truly desire. Furthermore, do not consider politics something that is not related to you. Dealing with political matters professionally can seem to be a little difficult, but try to show a small interest towards it. Our attention may be small, but it has the power of creating a meaningful change. That change is the way towards the society we hope for. Lastly, what we should be aware of is that the owner of the country is neither the president, nor the politicians, it is the citizens---us. I hope for more active participation from young adults from now on.