News America, LONDON, England, Thurs. June 9, 2011: In the very centre of Madrid hundreds of young people continue to protest peacefully.
For the most part they are not of the left or the right. They eschew political philosophy and like many young people across the world, they believe passionately in a range of social issues that they feel the state should address within economies that they accept will be market driven and consumer oriented.
Unlike protesters before, the majority are recent graduates who have been unable to find employment. They contrast with earlier generations whose voices and actions were either those of a working class wanting greater equity, or others who came later seeking some form of revolutionary change. In Madrid, many posters symbolically feature Ghandi while others offer as a cartoon a subversive female version of Alberto Korda’s famous revolutionary photograph of Che Guevara, beneath a slogan that calls for true democracy.
What is striking is that across the world so many young people are determined to have their voices heard on a wide range of issues that they feel are no longer adequately represented by any political party.
Their views embrace practical concerns about the environment, their need for employment and a return to free education. They want greater corporate morality, an end to the excesses of banks and speculators and they share the view that Government and the financial sector act together to retain power.
Although the protests In Europe may seem light years away from the Caribbean, the views expressed reflect a malaise that so far no political party of economic system has been able to address. This is because many young people are politicised, but apolitical in any sense of Party. They are for the most part cynical about established politics and largely beyond the appeal of the traditional left-right divide that has been enshrined and organised by elites across the world since the early twentieth century
They are the new face of globalisation and are a signal and a challenge to politicians across the world as they represent large numbers of young adults who have been happy to aspire to a post cold war consensus that education will bring employment, enable an escape from poverty, provide satisfaction and an upwardly mobile place within society.
Economists suggest that this new wave of youth protest is simply a reflection of changing demographics.
They argue that as life expectancy improves, changing national population profiles are bringing disappointment, destabilising societies, and creating angry young adults. This process may, they suggest, be more acute in developing countries in the early stages of the demographic transition than in older developed nations. However, while in the former young adults are desperately seeking jobs to enable a normal family life, the suggestion in developed nations is that a successful ageing population has skewed policies on housing, finance and education to protect their interests against those of the young.
Irrespective, the challenge in states at both ends of the ageing and development spectrum is how to create dynamic economies and the hope of gainful employment to harness the creativity and energy of the young while somehow ensuring government revenues are enough to pay for the social need.
In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to discuss these issues with a number of individuals in different Caribbean political parties and to ask what they believe they have to offer younger generations. The more thoughtful among them harbour a deep concern. They speak in a Caribbean context about economic recovery and the dangers of jobless growth, the difficulties of youth unemployment and the pull of better opportunities outside of the region. They worry, albeit in private, that the tribalism of Caribbean party politics holds less and less appeal to newer generations accustomed though satellite television to observing other ways of conducting their lives. They recognise that a more fundamental change is taking place in what the region’s youth can expect when Brazil, Russia, China, India and South Africa are eroding what little competitive advantage small high cost economies like those e Caribbean may still have.
Their concern is how to remove the sense of alienation that exists among many under the age of thirty, and about how to find new ways to include them in society, while creating an awareness that it may no longer be possible to finance Caribbean mixed economies cast in the mould of Britain in the 1960s.
In recent years the most popular way to try to achieve a new societal consensus has been to try to engage with civil society by introducing fora which enable the views of groups within the community to be taken into account in public decision making. This is an approach beloved by international institutions which suggest that by so doing the process becomes cohesive and the people that such bodies represent come to own policy.
Recently Grenada’s Prime Minister, Tillman Thomas, went further, suggesting in a paper for Caricom Heads of Government meeting in retreat in Guyana that there should be a permanent forum for non-state actors that built upon ideas such as the consultative committee envisaged as one of the institutions of the EU Cariforum Economic Partnership agreement (EPA). In order to achieve this Grenada’s Prime Minister suggested that there should be a recognised permanent regional forum of non-state actors.
While the idea of genuinely involving civil society in a Caribbean dialogue that leads to policy change is to be welcomed, the reality is that the views of such bodies are for the most part set aside if inconvenient and do not represent the views of those who feel dispossessed.
To address the problems now emerging with youth in almost every nation of the world will require much more. There are no easy answers but it would seem to involve finding new ways to involve individuals in collectivism in a manner that does not diminish their individuality; requires finding new ways to develop a sense that more than the wealthy and successful can participate in the market; requires the media to be more professional and less compliant; and for politicians to be honest about the world, more committed personally and less seduced by power.
David Jessop is the Director of the Caribbean Council and can be contacted at [email protected] Previous columns can be found at www.caribbean-council.org.