By Jeremy Lau Wei Han (YES 2018-2019, Malaysia, placed with PAX in Onsted, MI)
It has always been my ultimate goal to seek justice and equality. My collective experience as the Interact Club President, Perak State Youth Council Representative, and 2019 YES student has equipped me with the audacity to start my journey.
During my YES exchange in the U.S., I took American Government and Current Events in Onsted High School. I was amazed that we could openly discuss politics and media bias in school. In Malaysia, generally politics are not meant to be a topic of discussion in secondary education, and I realized we could benefit from some changes. I still remember vividly the conversations I had with my American teachers Mr. Draper and Mr. Merrill about politics. My time on the YES exchange stirred up my courage to initiate change and to step out of my comfort zone.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, our government in Malaysia declared that the parliament sitting will be a one-day affair, despite receiving criticism from many parties. I applied for Parliament Digital, a youth-led, virtual parliament convened to propose recommendations addressing the economic and health crisis in Malaysia. I hoped that I would be selected as one of the youths who speak up for justice in our education system. However, when the organizer announced that there were approximately 6,000 applicants for only 222 spots, I did not expect to be one of the finalists. Thank God, I was selected to represent my beloved hometown, Taiping.
The initiative gathered the selected representatives onto a virtual platform to engage in parliamentary debate on policy recommendations for COVID-19. The proceedings were all screened live, thus also showcasing the feasibility of a virtual parliamentary democracy.
Before the actual Parliament Digital sitting, representatives of different races, backgrounds, ethnicities and even different political views gathered through the Telegram platform with the hope of having a successful Parliament Digital sitting. We discussed national issues from various perspectives. It worked perfectly! We even had Zoom meetings with actual Members of Parliament and Speakers of Dewan Rakyat (House of Representatives). The Zoom meetings covered topics such as youth engagement in Malaysia and tips for youth seeking a career in politics.
The 2-day Parliament Digital sitting was held via Microsoft Teams with more than 80,000 views on the first day. The whole Parliament Digital sitting was held professionally without any interruption. The two motions, “There Needs to be a Special Economic Stimulus Package for The Youth” and “There Needs to be a Plan Prepared for Our Education System Post-COVID-19 Crisis”, were passed by a simple majority. The highlights were issues regarding sex education, mental health, and legalizing medical marijuana. This Parliament Digital sitting had caught the attention of the current government, the opposition party, and even our past Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir.
Youth voices matter and the younger generation should not be afraid of speaking up for our own nation. I will continue my journey to seek justice and equality. Many people have asked me why I want to get involved now. If not now, when?