This past weekend, a popular talk-show host, in response to the alarming reports of a rapidly increasing murder rate in our Second City, Montego Bay, shared her thoughts of frustration and alarm in a series of tweets. She suggested some crime-fighting strategies the State could adopt and she called upon students in our tertiary institutions to protest and march, as a stand, I suppose, against what was happening and as a call to change: “Where are the students of University of the West Indies, University of Technology Jamaica, University College of the Caribbean, etc, … you should be staging islandwide demonstration to force the government to act NOW on crime.”
The millennials on my timeline responded. And they appeared, for the most part, to reject in full the talk-show host’s rallying cry.
Others on my timeline, closer to my age (not millennials), bemoaned the apparent apathy of the younger generation and were quick to call them self-absorbed, shallow and apathetic.
I think it is important, though, to go beyond mere labels and seek to understand why this younger generation appears to have no fire in their bellies.
First of all, our millennials are products of Jamaica. What they are today is informed by what they have seen around them for several years now.
One millennial rejected the call to march, stating very definitively that she is not interested in “empty symbolism”. Why empty? Why merely symbolic?
LACK OF LEGITIMACY
The State lacks legitimacy. Our young people see chaos and loss of life when the State, when it suits it, reneges on international agreements on extradition. They see the State failing to fill the void created with the extraction of the don from the community and the resulting upswing in crime. Justice looks different depending on who you are, who you know and where you come from. They see this. They see laws being passed in record time when pressure is applied from alien nations to which we are beholden.
They see governments applying fiscal discipline only when a foreign third-party holds the handle. They hear about kickbacks on national capital projects and then hear nothing more about investigations and repercussions. Coupled with this, they see a reluctance on the part of the powerful and those who want to be powerful to speedily enact campaign-financing legislation.
Our millennials face high unemployment. They see a glorious picture of their country in the document that is Vision 2030, and no further reference to the vision going forward. They hear talk, talk and more talk, but see preservation of the status quo, which excludes them and excludes real improvement unless those with power stand to benefit.
Their apparent apathy is possibly simply a rejection of our preoccupation as a nation with form and appearance at the expense of real substance.
Jamaica reached where we are under our watch. Why do we, therefore, expect our young people to rise up and push back now? They are simply modelling our own behaviour.
Do all Jamaican citizens have an equal voice? Is enforcement of the law predictable? Are our authorities seen to be fair? To answer any of these questions in the negative is to support the argument that the State lacks legitimacy.
Our young people will continue to demonstrate this so-called apathy, being true to our own example in allowing governance lacking legitimacy.