I once told my publisher, in the midst of a discussion about the day’s latest scandal, that I simply was not into politics. Naturally, he let me know my haughty confession was just about the stupidest thing he’d ever heard, especially coming from a journalist. (I had not yet risen to the position of STAR editor). He advised that as a young citizen I needed to pay more attention to what was happening in Saint Lucia, particularly what passed for good governance. I, on the other hand, wanted to write about what interested me.
What I failed to realize at the time was that politics was not about prancing people at public rallies and grandiose promises delivered by others who seemed not to realize the lives of thousands depended on their seemingly off-the-cuff promises—most of them designed for just one purpose: getting the speakers elected to office.
I heard the apparently unexpected latest election announcement before some of my friends and family in Saint Lucia. Like so many other Saint Lucians living overseas, I depend on Facebook for news from home. And surprise, surprise, what most interested me were the comments immediately following the announcement by the prime minister that Polling Day would be on June 6, 2016. There seemed no end to the back and forth about the possible implications: from the impact on students due to sit a regional examination that very day to the possibility that the prime minister’s motives were devilish.
Later I read a STAR article by 30-year-old Nikita Cherubin. Despite what others might say, she had decided never to vote again, at any rate, not until there had been some drastic changes in Saint Lucia. Most of the online comments—including from the majority on my friends list—echoed Ms Cherubin’s sentiments.
The STAR article underscored the several injustices that have long plagued our country, regardless of political affiliation. Ms Cherubin had been voting all her adult life and had grown, as she put it, tired of voting for people who did not care about her or her friends and relatives; who were interested only in themselves.
Though I had not decided what my own stance was in terms of what was happening politically on my island and whether I myself would have voted had I been there, Ms Cherubin’s article struck a nerve. Her expressed undeniable truth put me in a state of fury. I recalled the times I, or people close to me, had been victimized over and over by the poor state of health care in Saint Lucia; by the rampant crime; by the murders of at least two close friends still unresolved two or three years later; by the justice system that over and over failed to deliver. I recalled my desperation, the feeling of helplessness that so often overwhelmed my friends and I, to the extent we just stopped expecting any change in our lifetime and tuned out the politicians responsible.
Even as I write my heart grows heavier with my recollection of senseless police brutality, our grossly over-crowded prison, of regular people getting caught in the crossfire of desperation, and the lack of opportunity for our hopeless youth. I could go on with the nightmare flashbacks . . . I think about my own brothers—one nearly 30, the other just 15— still in Saint Lucia, where the first thought upon getting out of bed centres on whether one will make it through that day; whether one will be hit by a stray bullet from a policeman’s gun or from some other’s person’s illegal weapon. Few young Saint Lucians dream of success. Their energies are devoted to surviving on a day to day basis. Surviving the day without being a rape victim; or the victim of a robbery in broad daylight.
Most of the people I hung out with at home lived in fear. My brothers come to mind yet again. Will the older one vote in this year’s snap election? Will voting mean a positive change in their lives?
I voted in the last election and I remember how excited I was doing so. My first time in the voting booth. As I walked out of the local primary school that served as a polling station I felt my world was about to change. Life would be different—better days were on the horizon. I wonder now how many other people, thousands, obviously, felt as I did at the last general elections.
As most Saint Lucians now know, we were conned. The party I voted for won but I lost. Nothing changed, except for the worse. The dark clouds that hung over the island are darker now than ever before; the poor people are now destitute; some have taken their own lives; many often go without nutritious food. Meanwhile the politicians appear prosperous in their cars that they seem to change every few months. They walk around like peacocks, as if they had every reason to be proud of what they’ve done to our country.
What did my Saint Lucian friends think about all of this? Melissa Theodore, a long-time friend from high school days: “It’s a vicious cycle of ‘the youth don’t vote so we don’t reach out to them’ and the youth thinking ‘they don’t care about us so we don’t vote.’ A youth lobby group should be formed to pressure the government. We need people with passion and pull to make a difference. It is time we take politics in Saint Lucia into our own hands.”
Another acquaintance, David Du Boulay, was of the opinion that the right to vote is a privilege and should not be taken for granted: “Not voting only means that whatever happens you had no say in it. Whether it be voting for your constituency representative or strictly voting for leadership, you cannot forget what voting represents and why it is important. The snap election and the cutting short of the voter registration process means many new voters will not get the chance to express themselves at the ballot box.”
Du Boulay’s encouragement was urgent: that people who were in the position to vote on behalf of others who were unable to do so, needed to head out on election day and get to the polls.
“Find them and vote on their behalf,” he urged. “If you must stay silent at least share the voice of your neighbor who was not allowed to register because of the calling of a snap election.”
Some people I talked to resorted to disclaimers. “I don’t usually do this but . . . ” But what? What are we really afraid of? As uninterested as we, the youth, may be in the politicians of the day, how much longer can we continue to live as we do, knowing that every second that things don’t change is to the detriment of ourselves, our families, and our nation?
As I continued to gain perspective through the feedback of others, the issue seemed to be less about young people withholding their votes and holding the island’s political future at ransom and more about them having no idea who to vote for in the first place.
“What really is the difference between the two parties?” my friend Melissa asked as we continued our dialogue. “What do they stand for? What’s the big difference in their policies? I think politics should be based on issues and principles, not on colors and nepotism.”
One truth is undeniable. We need to move forward. We, the people of Saint Lucia, need a government that understands
our need for a real sense of stability; something that has for too long eluded our beautiful island. We should
only ever allow a party to gain or to remain in power because we trust it and because we have faith in the ability to bring about useful change. Tangible change. Our country is dying from the effects of selfish agendas masquerading as hope. Saint Lucians cannot take it anymore!