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SEALDs member hopes young people's participation in politics will take root

People raise their voices in opposition to security bills in a demonstration arranged by SEALDs in front of the National Diet Building in Tokyo, on July 16, 2015. (Mainichi)

The group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy-s (SEALDs), which held rallies against Japan's new security legislation, appealing to voters with rap-like calls while standing as a symbol of the participation of young people in politics, will disband after next month's House of Councillors election.

Central member Aki Okuda, 23, gave SEALDs a 50 percent score, on the grounds that it was unable to achieve its goal of having the security legislation scrapped. But he adds, "We've achieved a trend of having citizens raising their voices."

SEALDs lowered the bar for people to participate in demonstrations, where it would call out "What is democracy?" and people would respond, "This is." The group came about from a desire to change protests so that ordinary people could participate while remaining themselves.

At the same time, there were many things the group couldn't achieve.

SEALSs member Aki Okuda speaks to the Mainichi Shimbun in an interview in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

"The security laws haven't been abolished. That's why we get only 50 points," Okuda says.

After SEALDs was formed, Okuda kept himself busy taking part in demonstrations in various areas.

"Change is still underway and elections are still for a limited number of people, such as those in political parties and labor unions. Last year, the scene at demonstrations changed, and so this year we want to change the election scene. We want to have a culture marked by participation take firmer root among young people.

Okuda at times felt stifled by the attention he received. He says he was never really good at talking in front of people. He grew up in Kitakyushu and, following a period of truancy at junior high school, he moved to an island in Okinawa Prefecture and went to school there. He says that he faced isolation, and that he is still embarrassed when he gives speeches. He hopes to see more groups like is own.

"At most, we're a student organization, and the things we can do and the time we have are limited. We need help from many people, and it would be better if everyone became more independent-minded. It would be good if there were many groups like SEALDs," he says."

When SEALDs was founded in May last year, members decided that their activities would continue until the upper house election this summer.

"If people think it's a waste that we're disbanding, then I'd like those people to start something new," Okuda says, expressing hope for future activities by other students.

After the election, Okuda will specialize in politics at a university graduate school, but he will continue to participate in political activities as an individual.

"We talk about young people participating in politics, but the right to hold political office starts at 25 for the House of Representatives and 30 for the House of Councillors. It wouldn't be anything out of the ordinary for these ages to be lowered. I'd like to see more politicians from younger generations," he says.

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