“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together.” — Lilla Watson
I believe this quote is perfectly adequate to initiate the conversation about how we can alleviate the systemic problem of political apathy amongst the youth in Jamaica. Political apathy can be simply defined as the indifference on the part of any citizen of any country with regard to their attitude towards political activities. The youth in Jamaica are heavily affected by this unfortunate sociopolitical issue, that could be significantly inhibiting progress in our island. It is not very difficult to find empirical evidence to substantiate the true cause of political apathy amongst youth but there are a number of assertions I would make as to why this problem exists.
Prior to making these assertions as to why political apathy exists, it is first important to highlight that this is an issue for many countries including the United States of America. The Huffington Post describes political apathy as a nefarious disease plaguing our nation with devastating efficiency. It is rooted in the lack of awareness young people have on pertinent political issues. As a result of this lack of awareness, politicians exclude young people from the political process because not only are they lacking interest but also lacking in nuanced political perspectives. This lack of nuanced political perspectives disables them from making informed political decisions. American author Martin Wattenberg investigates this with an indelible sense of intricacy and detail in his book “Is Voting For Young People?” Wattenberg provides statistical evidence to prove that young people are indeed not informed enough on political issues and the evidence he presents shows that this has been an issue for quite some time. On July 2, 1964 the civil rights bill was passed. This bill outlawed any form of discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex or nationality. Just by the nature of the law, it is beyond reasonable to predicate that this was a very important day in American history. Despite the fact that this law affected the entire society; only 77% of young people heard about the bill as opposed to 80% of people between ages 30-44.
In more recent times like the year 2004, young persons were asked if they heard a lot about the U.S planning to hand over civilian authority to Iraqi leaders and only 23% of young persons were aware of this political issue. Based on the statistical evidence presented, it is noticeable that the percentage figures decrease significantly between the years 1964 and 2004. This statistical observation leads me to my next reason young people are not voting based on the content of Wattenberg’s book and that is the transformation of communications technology. He believes that the paradigm shift in communication from traditional forms such as print media to social media is one of the major factors inhibiting young people from voting.
Millennials are often disenchanted with politics in Jamaica because of the perpetual disappointments and continuous string of unmet expectations they have witnessed or have heard of. As a result of this , many of our youth see politics as an ineffective and irrelevant construct. Additionally, millennials are motivated to action or suppressed to inaction based on perception. If the perception of any institution or societal construct is negative , the youth tend to show a significant lack of interest and politics is no different.
The beauty of perception is that it always has the power to change. It would be remiss of me to postulate the potential causes of political apathy without making assertions about the potential solutions. The unending love our youth have for the arts and more specifically music is the solution to any perception oriented challenge we face as a society. For many years, members of the upper echelons of the Jamaican society and even politicians themselves have placed unfair and uninformed indictments on dancehall and reggae music. In the face of dire political apathy, it is time to evolve and in some ways restore our demented view of dancehall and reggae music. We must now embrace that this often criticized and ostracized music might be a major part of the solution. The Electoral Office of Jamaica needs to use local celebrities to do advertisements influencing persons to get enumerated and to educate people about the positive reasons they should vote.
History has also proven that our culture and music is suitable for helping to fix pertinent social issues. If we think back to the 1990’s when HIV/AIDS was one of the most poignant social issues in the country, it was the words of Buju Banton that warned Jamaicans to be cautious while they engaged in their activities of passion. The timeless cliche that; history repeats itself could prove to be true if we aim to use our music and culture to help address the issue of political apathy among our youth in Jamaica.
Written by : Stefan Bowes
Contact : Danishka Williams
Opposition Youth Spokesperson on Entertainment & Culture