Mon | Feb 24, 2020

Kai Bridgewater | Have the Caribbean youth lost their activism voice?

Published:Sunday | September 2, 2018 | 11:12 PM

When discussing whether the Caribbean youth have lost their activism voice, one ought to compare the approach of past and present Caribbean youth to advocacy.

In my opinion, while the present youth have retained their voice, it has been reduced to a whisper from the bellows of the past. We, the present youth, often discuss issues among our peers via social media and other platforms, however we fail to speak out as a collective and, as a result, the problems remain unaddressed and our voices unheard.

This subdued approach to youth activism is in stark contrast to the generations which preceded us. A prime example of this is the laudable stance taken by the students of The University of the West Indies in 1968 against the Government's decision to ban Dr Walter Rodney from returning to Jamaica.

The demonstration, organised by the Guild of Undergraduates, received a great deal of traction and raised awareness and support for the fight of Rastafarians and Pan-Africanists for a life free from discrimination and persecution.

This zeal for standing up for what we believe in, despite the consequences must be rediscovered. However, for this to happen, there must be increased organisation amongst youth, as well as a restored confidence in the representative systems and the representatives themselves. Many Caribbean youth are disheartened by the current state of affairs of regional politics where corruption and a lack of accountability seem to be the order of the day. Unfortunately, most persons equate advocacy to politics and, as a result, the negative connotations associated with politics is one of the greatest deterrents to youth advocacy.

Furthermore, many youths feel silenced by the system. Despite there being a number of youth advisory boards and committees aimed at engaging youth, the submissions of these groups are rarely implemented. Additionally, youth representatives on high level committees tend to feel their place is merely a formality as their contributions are infrequently taken into serious consideration.

Despite these challenges, the voice of the youth is still present and can effect positive change once done through deliberate and coordinated efforts. During my tenure as guild president, we advocated for social issues such as tertiary education funding and other matters which were affecting students' safety and welfare, the quality of their education and financial assistance. This was done by firstly engaging students in both general meetings and smaller working groups. Once the issues were identified and the students' support garnered, we lobbied in a variety of ways which included negotiations, petitions and peaceful demonstrations, and successfully impacted meaningful change.

Based on my experience, I strongly believe that the youth have not lost their voice, but rather need to unify and intensify our message. This is of paramount importance as we are the present and future of our regional societies and the inheritors of the benefits and consequences of the decisions being made today.

Kai Bridgewater is ...