Building Political Power in the Caribbean Youth

We need to encourage young political leaders to fight hegemonic, ageist powers within the state while not marginalizing non-political youth groups.

Youth membership in nongovernmental organizations is unfathomably low and throughout the English-speaking Caribbean, there is no vibrant youth “movement” as seen during the 1960s and 1990s. There is a general lack of confidence of youth in the National Youth Councils in advancing their cause. Most significantly, the critical distance among wide sections of young people have from the political process – a mix of disenfranchisement and downplaying the significance of the state – undermines their citizenship and agency in the development process. More than ever, as one of the most organized youth institutions in the region, political youth arms need to challenge the party leadership internally to empower youth in the decision-making process and build consultative and caucusing mechanisms with activist youth organizations in order to translate the voices of youth into state policy.

As part of political decolonization, the emergence of mass political parties was best placed to usher independence in the period of nationalism during the 1940s and 1960s. While scholars have noted the role of political unionism in the nation-building process, where the middle and intellectual classes made a coalition with the union-organised working classes and poor majority peoples, in most English-speaking territories, what is less noted is the mobilisation of the new political leadership and youth movements of the time whose nationalist visions and aspirations matched the energy of the youth with independence on the horizon. By the 1960s, with the expansion of access to secondary school education and the population growth of the youth demographic, youth unemployment and a political mood of revolutionary and social change brought about new progressive youth movements in the region. The Black Power student leadership and the National Joint Action Committee in Trinidad and Tobago, the political Marxist group, the New Jewel Movement in Grenada or the New World Group intellectual organization in Jamaica and Guyana are examples of this development. Political youth arms need to see themselves as allies with youth movement building while the youth movement must convert its membership and resources into political strength.

Today, many leaders of the political youth arms within the major political parties suffer from marginalization within the party structure. This neglect and wider feeling of not being taken seriously contributes to the ghettoization of youth politics. Some youth political leaders feel that they are relegated to the role of raising funds and assisting in election walkabouts to mobilize other youth. They are very aware of the failures of the party to translate the youth arm’s politics to the power of decision-making. Very soon, they come to the realization that the political party relies on the youth arm as a means to acquire political power but it is not the vehicle through which it is maintained. Read more