THIS COUNTRY has a long and cherished history of youth advocacy which worked to promote significant social change.
The youth have lent their voices to many issues, whether as arms of the major political parties, the once formidable Barbados Youth Council or in the tertiary level students’ organisations.
These young people want to change the world, and because of their actions, they have. Full of energy, they are driven by idealism and a vision of a world where injustices are addressed.
They have lent their voices to the fight against racial discrimination and exploitation of immigrant workers, as well as the defence of the rights of the LBGT community. They are genuine change agents.
This is why the flashback to the late Prime Minister David Thompson is so important. While still a student at Combermere School, he exhibited a skill at debate and the ability to articulate many public issues that had many Barbadians in awe. No wonder there was little surprise when he rose to prominence – he was indeed properly prepared.
There have been many others who have also attained national relevance because of their outspokenness as teenagers, whether via the political pathway, in the service clubs or in various public fora. They have been good agents for social change.
This is why the public outcry, primarily by members of the Democratic Labour Party, about the involvement of 13-year-old Khaleel Kothdiwala in the recent Barbados Labour Party-organised public rally is so puzzling.
This teen was doing nothing less than what we should expect from our youth: to demonstrate; to share their knowledge; create awareness, whether by using social media or face to face; writing and speaking to the political and civic leaders, and advocacy on issues of national importance.
We cannot have a nation of intelligent and articulate young people and expect them to be divorced from the issues affecting them, their families and the wider society. Being connected to the political process is important and as such, we must encourage rather than dissuade. Hopefully, the comments would not have left a bad taste in Kothdiwala’s mouth or fear in his heart.
We do not need in Barbados a situation where people under 25 have little interest in its public and civic affairs since such lack of interest in politics will present a challenge to the entire society, including all the political parties. Any unwillingness of younger people to turn out to vote threatens the basis of our democracy. What we must certainly not do is issue useless threats.
All those students who have the tenacity of Khaleel Kothdiwala, rather than be silenced – and also turned off – must be encouraged to come forward and speak frankly.
After all, Barbados is a democracy and it must nurture all opinions, and that minority who are prepared to take a stand for a cause should be embraced. It is important that all our citizens participate in governing our nation. The voice of the people must be heard.