The politics of youth

 The big talking point during the last US presidential election was the involvement of the youth in politics. More so than in any previous election, young voters took it upon themselves to carry their candidate’s message to the masses, using tools that appeal to the youth – YouTube, Facebook and Twitter.

Whether it had an appreciable impact on the outcome of the election or not, it highlighted the importance of young people in modern politics. With a greater capacity to be energised by a message that speaks to their concerns, it was inevitable that local politics would follow suit.

Youth in action
The Young United Democratic Party was re-launched with great fanfare in September 2009, surfing a wave of optimism in the wake of the UDP’s election victory.

Speaking at the re-launch of the organisation, Premier McKeeva Bush highlighted the importance of involving the youth in politics.

“Any political organisation must have continuity… so there will be young people well associated with the political process and sufficiently educated to the issues to take up the mantle of leadership in these islands.”

Richard Christian, the president of the YUDP, became involved in politics through working on the campaign team for the UDP’s Bodden Town candidates during the last election.

“I did not have that much interest in politics. However, while getting involved and being informed about the issues that our country was facing at that time, I quickly became interested and saw the need for new blood to get involved and make a positive impact within the political realm. I loved the idea of getting involved within politics, but bringing a new approach which differed from past politics and a more appealing style to a new generation,” he says.

The organisation is open to people between the ages of 16 and 35 and although UDP membership is not necessary to become a member of the YUDP, it is a requirement for anyone wishing to serve on the organisation’s executive council.

Unique concerns
The youth wing has an important role to play when it comes to bringing the youth’s specific concerns to the attention of the UDP.

“It’s natural for the youth to have concerns that may be different from our elders, so it’s imperative that we have young people of all age groups to represent their peers and speak up about the things that may be overlooked by our elder leaders,” says Glenn Duran, a member of the YUDP.

According to David Gordon, vice president of the organisation, the issues of specific concern to them include improved education and training for young people, protection of the environment, rehabilitation opportunities for troubled youth, crime, preservation of the Cayman Islands’ heritage and prudent financial management.

“We all have expressed great concern about the below standard living that’s here in Cayman. It tends to get overlooked because we are a well-off country relative to most of the world. However, we should not turn a blind eye to those who are in need, regardless of what the statistics reveal,” says Duran.

An own voice
Of course, there are many who view the youth wing of a political party as little more than a fresh young face being used to carry the same old message to a younger audience.

Chanda Glidden, legal counsel for the YUDP, believes the YUDP can do a lot more than merely echo the UDP’s message.

“As the youth arm it is not subjected to many of the political pressures that the main party endures which allows it to focus its efforts on the concerns of young people and bring those concerns to the UDP and subsequently to the government through the proper channels,” she says.

Reaching young voters

Getting through to young voters is about more than merely bringing their political concerns to the table. Modern technology has changed the way people communicate, with social networks like Facebook and Twitter allowing instant communication between large groups of people.

“To effectively reach today’s young voters we must adapt to their norms which would include the use of social media networks. These various forms of networks have been proven to reach more youngsters at a larger rate and promote greater levels of honest and reliable responses,” says YUDP member Andrel Harris.

The YUDP uses its Facebook page to provide information on the organisation, links to the pages of the executive committee members as well as links to news stories mentioning the organisation and its activities.

Making their voice heard
Although modern technology makes it easy for the YUDP to reach the youth, getting the concerns of the youth heard at government level is another matter. Does the organisation really have a voice, or can their suggestions and concerns be easily swept aside?

In the case of the YUDP, it is a party general council member, which means that it has a vote on party-related matters. Although it might not be the loudest voice, it is a voice none the less.

“One of the most important things for any young person is a sense of acceptance. And this is something the party continues to show amid their busy schedules,” says Christian.

The president of the YUDP also attends caucus meetings with the party’s elected officials, providing insight into the important matters being discussed and also creating a forum for concerns to be brought to the fore.

“The YUDP definitely has an independent voice and the party has shown their reception to the youth voice by their openness to our suggestions and concerns,” says Christian.

Community involvement
Apart from giving the youth a voice within the party structures, the organisation also aims to have a strong community presence, providing members with the opportunity to have a direct impact on the communities they live in.

“Although the YUDP is no doubt politically affiliated its aim is to appeal to young persons by inviting them to become involved in the everyday issues that affect them first and foremost as young Caymanians not just young voters,” says Glidden.

According to Christian, the organisation will assist the party, the district councils and its elected officials with various projects, helping to carry out initiatives encouraging community responsibility.

The organisation recently demonstrated its intent when it emerged that the Purple Ribbon b us service on New Year’s Eve, usually funded by the National Drug Council, would not have taken place due to budget constraints.

“The YUDP quickly interceded and came up with the funds to save the programme. This action showed the power of what a group of dedicated individuals can do and is something we plan to continue promoting,” says Christian.

Through regular meetings, the organisation hopes to keep its members inspired and involved in community projects.

“Since its launch in September 2009 the YUDP has held monthly information meetings on current topics and been involved in several community based projects including the Peace Rally March, Meals on Wheels Fundraising Drive, Kirk’s Supermarket Christmas food packing for needy families,” says Glidden.

It is such instances of community involvement the YUDP hopes will not only keep the organisation foremost in the minds of young voters, but will also make a difference to the community.