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Analysts examine why more youth turning backs on politics


ASHLEY…youth have realised that they have not only to think about themselves, but act accordingly.

Seemingly, an increasing number of young Jamaicans are shutting their doors in the face of the annoying neighbour that is politics.

And so, analysts underscore an ever-present need for the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) and the Opposition, People’s National Party (PNP), to quickly do more to breathe hope and interest into the youth.

Dr Paul Ashley told the Jamaica Observer that young people, however defined, will always have a role to play in local politics.

“They constitute the majority of registered voters, registered at the behest of the political parties. However, they are quickly disillusioned as outside of elections, they are scarcely utilised by political parties. Political parties are financed by moneyed donors. Very few young persons have access to such funding that would command the respect and listening ears of politicians. Unless they possess the capacity to raise significant funding, their future in local politics is dark,” the veteran attorney-at-law said last Tuesday.

Ashley added that the youth arms of both the JLP and PNP are “basically recruitment mechanisms” to garner foot soldiers.

“…For demonstrations, Internet crews, propagandists and those who have some political ambitions fuelled and funded by family connections. The Internet has been an attractive alternative for the youth. Politics is not thinking about you. That indeed is mere wishful thinking. Youth have realised that they have not only to think about themselves, but act accordingly. Politics is never a worthwhile financial endeavour, unless one is corrupt. It is national service demanding much sacrifice, even if one is corrupt.”

Dr Nadeen Spence disagreed. She believes whether or not youngsters think about politics, politics thinks about them.

“It essentially says whether or not you as an individual choose to be involved in politics, it will impact you,” she reasoned.

However, she agreed that young people have a role to play in politics. She told the Sunday Observer that if they are not involved, then politics will surely die.

“Of course,” she said.

“And the implications of that are downright scary. The matter is not if there is a role for them. It’s how do we win them over, convince them or get them to understand that they are absolutely critical to the survival of our democratic process.”

Spence argued that it shouldn’t be that the country gets to a point where it is being asked ‘how do we get young people back in politics’.

“They should be properly socialised into becoming full and effective members of our society. The fact that they aren’t, means that the tools of socialisation have failed to pass on this value. The family, school, church, the community,” she told the Sunday Observer.

“If you check the young people in the youth arms, more than likely those are young people who were still being engaged in their homes and families. They were hearing conversations about politics in ways that they could talk back, could engage the conversations and put their spin on it. Unfortunately, the youth arms won’t be able to do better until the wider society embraces that political participation is a good thing.”

Andrew Tucker, who has not lived in Jamaica for over 20 years, said even on the outside looking in, judging from the low voter turnout Jamaica has been experiencing over the past decade or two, young Jamaicans are no longer interested in Jamaican politics.

“Another fact that corroborates my impression is the high levels of migration among Jamaican young people. Eighty per cent of UWI’s graduates, according to a World Bank 2013 report, leave the country for greener pastures. Many are also leaving through illegal channels. These stark and alarming realities indicate that young Jamaicans do not see any viable future in Jamaica and thus, are not willing to invest their physical and mental capacities in the politics of Jamaica,” he told the Sunday Observer.

“To capture the interest of the youth in politics, Jamaica would need a constitutional overhaul to reflect the modern times in which we live. Our politics still reminds me of the decades of the 70s and 80s. Some people would argue that the politics of the 70s was violent, and that is true. But, while democratic elections might be less violent today, the violence has transferred to the day-to-day life of Jamaicans. Corrupt, partisan politics has divided us so much so that young people are, more than the old, victims of that violent political history.”

Tucker contended that the JLP and PNP represent the same political ideologies, with few exceptions with regard to the implementation of said ideologies.

“I would argue, therefore, that the politics of Jamaica is unattractive. It fails to capture the imagination of the young. I am not sure what the young people of Jamaica think in terms of the call for political participation in politics. However, if the best and brightest of Jamaica’s youth are leaving the country, I do not see any hope for the future of Jamaican politics. Perhaps, young people need to challenge their energies into a third party, in which they can assist in crafting a new path for Jamaicans.

Kenyatta Powell said politics at its core is about two things — gaining power and then using that power to shape society. He also noted that politics is about attaining power for the purpose of shaping society and as such, it is always thinking about everybody — young, old, and all the “in-betweens”.

“Young people have a vested interest in politics because they will have to live with the consequences of how society is shaped long after the people who currently hold power are gone. I don’t think most young people appreciate how important it is for them to take power and use that power to build a better society. This is lack of appreciation is not exactly their fault, because the system in which we all operate breeds apathy,” he told the Sunday Observer.

Powell said the system discourages the kind of organisation young people would need to engage in if they are to gain and use power.

“Simply put, young people, like most others, are simply struggling to survive. I don’t think our major political parties are overly interested in engaging young people. Frankly speaking, I am not sure that they are interested in seriously engaging the large mass of the Jamaican people, young people included. The two main parties are content with how they have organised themselves. I am not sure that they trouble themselves with the fact that an increasing number of young people are disengaged from the political process.

“The JLP and the PNP are focused on attaining power in order to enact the will of the interests they serve. As such, they have organised themselves toward those ends and to the extent that they see that they can gain without having young people deeply engaged in politics. They have no incentive to change course.”

Powell, however, argued that Jamaica’s youth will have to come to the realisation themselves that politics affects their future, what they want their future to look like, and then organise themselves to pursue the power required to make the future they want.

“That organisation may include participation in the JLP or PNP in order to transform them from the inside, or it may include organising against both the JLP and PNP. The youth arms of both parties have been organised to pursue the same goal as the wider parties themselves; the maintenance of the system already in place. If the system is what is causing apathy, the very work of these youth arms can only serve to increase apathy. The answer might be for young people and people in general to organise themselves to effectively oppose both JLP and PNP,” he said.

Businessman Kevin O’Brien Chang told the Sunday Observer that young people are rarely fully engaged in politics anywhere.

“Most young people, and we were all young once, are full of hormones telling them to focus on finding a mate. It’s not ’til people hit about about 25 to 30 and get married and have children and begin to pay taxes that they start paying attention to who runs the country and spends the taxes they pay. The JLP has shown the way to do it. Get a youngish leader who empowers politically inclined young people, who in turn can connect with young voters.

The JLP is giving the vibe that talented people don’t have to wait their turn, especially the young females. Look at all the young women MPs they have. Where are the PNP equivalents? The PNP needs to take a page out of the JLP’s book — promote people like Gabriela Morris. The JLP’s G2K seems to be doing this well. Seems a lot of its members progress into representational politics. Again, the PNP needs to study its opponent. Why does G2K seem more active and substantial than PNP’s youth arms? I am not sure myself of the specific reasons. But that is the public perception.”

Chang added: “Love them or hate them, our politicians are the ones who decide how our tax money is spent or stolen. They create our justice and health and education systems et cetera. Those who ignore politics are essentially saying we don’t care who rules over us.”

POWELL…I don’t think most young people appreciate how important it is for them to take power.

SPENCE…it’s how do we win them over, convince them or get them to understand that they are absolutely critical to the survival of our democratic process.

CHANG… it’s not ’til people hit about 25 to 30 and get married and have children and begin to pay taxes that they start paying attention to who runs the country.

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