The column Millennial Voices provides a platform for young people (past and current students at the Cave Hill Campus) to express their views on issues related to national, as well as regional developments. Effective citizenship requires that all members of society are able to contribute to constructive dialogue on areas that impact political life and social well- being. Democracy requires that liberty be actualised in various ways, inclusive of freedom of speech.
by Shadeisha George-Mattis
Earlier this year, one of my colleagues contributed to this column by writing an article titled The Power of the Youth Vote. In that article, my final year friend proposed a rather viable and sound argument, defending why the youth of our generation have become uninterested in exercising the democratic right of voting. Pertinent issues that bedevil electoral democracies in the Caribbean were brought to the fore and were ultimately buttressed on the central argument that we (millennials) “are not lazy, ignorant, and narcissistic as the current narrative suggests. We are, however, frustrated with the current brand of politics.” Without question, such an argument presents itself as vastly defensive and, to a very large extent, emotional. However, I agree with, and applaud the efforts of the writer to act as a sounding board where our democratic involvement is concerned. I also agree that matters pertaining to patron clientelism must be curbed or eliminated, but I hold dear to the belief that these arguments are not enough to counter the perspective that the youth of this generation should be uninterested in voting, owing to their “frustration”. Here’s why:
It is often said that emotion powers intellect. Therefore, it is at this juncture that I will admit that the ensuing discussion was fueled after looking at Selma– a film that ultimately highlights the struggle for adult suffrage in the desegregated South in 1965. It was then, in that moment, that I became one with my fore parents. It was while looking at this poignantly moving film that I was, once again, reminded of how close each of us is to our own history; that voting is as much about my great-grandmother as it is about me, and that we forget too easily. Thus, although we are not “lazy and ignorant”, we are indeed narcissistic.
Consider the following: My great-grandmother is ninety years old. Simple mathematics allows us to know that she was born in 1927. I am in 1927, are you? At the time, there was no Unity Labour Party, no Barbados Labour Party or United Workers Party. No! Instead, the governmental system of the day in the British West Indies was Crown Colony Government which essentially means that the independent states that we were born into once served as overseas territories which underwent colonial administration by Britain. If that does not do enough to pique your interest, be reminded that the labour riots had not yet occurred. Be reminded that the Moyne Commission was non-existent. More importantly, be reminded that adult suffrage did not constitute the realm of possibilities to be captured by my great- grandmother who is still alive.
Millennials, do you understand what it means to be alive at a time when you had to prove that you were worthy of casting a vote? This is no fable, just ask your grandmother. The experiences they endured were real. However, it is difficult for us as millennials to come face-to-face with the struggles endured by those who have gone before us because we have become so self-absorbed and entangled in a web of distractions that cause us to feel entitled to these privileges. As a result, we now take voting for granted. Moreover, the fact that we are often unable to identify with the needs and wants of preceding generations tremendously hinders us from being a truly radical bunch. What is more, is the sad reality that we have now adopted a decontextualized approach to history that hinders us from making voting sustainable and also from being intellectually receptive and invested. Thus, it is this lack of awareness of and respect for history that have thrust us into an abyss whereby we have become both emotionally and historically disconnected. Sad indeed!
Therefore, in light of the Barbados General Elections, VOTE! On Thursday 24th May, vote because your life depends on it. Vote, because politics is at the epicentre of all of your interactions and the things you love. Vote, because your grandparents didn’t have the opportunity to. Vote because, contrary to popular belief, it counts. Are you dejected? Vote! Do it “fuh de culture!”
(Shadeisha George-Mattis (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a final year undergraduate student at the Cave Hill Campus pursuing political science with international relations).