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 reas