SOMETIMES I feel, as young people, we are a self-defeating rhetoric. While we continue to demand the voice of youth at the decision-making table in advancing the Caribbean youth agenda, we have to be careful not to create a division among the youth voice by throwing up barriers where we should be tearing them down.
This blog is not an attack on the Come Alive Network (CANI) or the exceptional work that organisation has done since its conception, but it is a tale of caution on what I see as a growing anomaly in advocacy that must be nipped in the bud before it spirals out of control. There is an invisible class structure that divides youth and the youth voice, and CANI managed to institutionalise that structure yesterday.
During the snack break for the early morning session, persons from the “Special Invitees”, “delegates”, and “complementary” groups, respectively, were required to assemble in different places for their snacks. Sounds like small potatoes, but here’s a breakdown of how the organisation’s processes were designed (unintentionally,I hope) as a mechanism of exclusion.
Firstly, the process of registering for the organisation was done via google docs- barrier number one. I say this is a barrier because even though we live in a technology age, we have to be cognisant that not everyone has access to information technology. This is called the digital divide.
It is understandable that the rationale behind the online registration process had to do with the manageability of the event, and ensuring that the organisers had an idea of how many youth would have to be accommodated in the 300-seat Theatre Guild. Considering this, I’m wondering when we will be ready to take the conversation to the communities.
Therein lies another problem. We continue to limit our conversations to the traditional meeting places which attract the usual crowd, with the exception of a few extras now and again. The other problem with those meeting places is that they have dress codes. Dress codes serve a nefarious purpose of barring young people from certain places. Consider the youth who can’t afford a pair of decent shoes to attend events held in these places. Then consider youth who don’t quite understand what “business casual” means.
The second barrier was the ‘paywall’. An admission fee to attend a conversation with youth is as much a barrier as any. Consider the average youth in a depressed community who is having trouble to convince their mother, father, guardian, to give them $2000 to attend a Youth Conference.
The thing about the modus operandi in these socioeconomic groups is that they live in the ‘here and now’. Not because they want to, but because there is no other option. When the mantra is “tomorrow will provide for itself”, what is the likelihood of getting an at-risk youth who is an orphan, a youth in trouble with the law, or generally a youth from the lower income bracket to attend an event that costs $2000?
After having conversation with some of the organisers, I was told that there were some persons who showed up at the spur of the moment. Those persons just walked in off of the street. And rightly so. Young people, regardless of their economic reality, must be facilitated in these conversations. These are youth forgotten by the grandeur policy sessions on youth.
We sometimes assume that it is only politicians who are guilty of denying the voice of youth. But we ourselves have become so divided that our definition of youth is not holistic and is limited to those persons in our immediate environment- the middle to upper-middle class who are CAPE students, University students, and young professionals.
I don’t want to make this blog a petty rant about snacks. But let me just draw some light on what I see as the importance of snacks. There are those who believe snacks should not be used as an incentive for attending events.
Consider this, an at-risk youth walks in off of the street. That youth is offered a snack. That snack could be the first stable meal that youth has eaten in a day or even two days. These are the realities we fail to consider when we are merely considering the cost of our programme. I pray that in being cost-effective, we do not become inconsiderate as to how far our charity goes- even when the act, as giving a hungry person a meal, was unintentional.
Outside of my disastifaction with the event starting one hour late and the fact that the Guyanese anthem was played after the US anthem and Trinbago anthem, imagine my disillusionment when I was placed in the ‘Women Empowerment’ break-out session.
Let me explain the parameters of my disillusionment, I expected to hear how the young women present could take the message of women empowerment into their communities. I also expected to hear, as one of the two men only in the session, what is the role of men in women empowerment. These things weren’t brought to the front but I feel the organisation will improve on these things for next year’s event.
Whenever I document my attendance at civil society events, it is not to be “belligerent” as I have been accused in the past, but for us in civil society to learn from shared knowledge and experience so that in moving forward, we are better equipped in our advocacy to push the youth agenda.
And if there is one unintended consequence that demands immediate redress, it’s the looming ‘class structure’ and the ‘group within the group’ mentality that exists among excluded groups still clamouring for their own space in the governance structure. On this point I recall the words of Teocah Dove, one of the speakers from Trinbago, who said that in pushing the Caribbean youth agenda, we have to remember “Together we bargain; divided we beg.”
I usually end my blog saying, “In this and more, I could be wrong.”
I say that because I don’t see my perception as final because it is only my perception, for which, I could be wrong.