6 a.m.  Akins, Damian, Dhiradj and I left the guest house, making our way through the morning traffic to get to the Channel 6 TV station.

Though only in their mid-20s, Damian is a Barbadian senator, and Dhiradj, a member of the Surinamese Youth Parliament.  They were being about the their participation in the formation of the Assembly of Caribbean Youth as well as their expectations for the first ever OAS Youth Forum that began today in Port of Spain.  While they both are already active members of their respective countries’ governments, Damian clearly stated that, in general, government bodies have yet to move beyond tokenism when it comes to the incorporation of young people.

His words couldn’t have run clearer.  Just three hours later, during a review of the draft Youth Statement to the Head’s of State and Government, a frustrated young Trinidadian man stood, calmly took the mic and asked the session’s facilitators what we were all thinking–are you taking us seriously?

We were being asked for input on a document that we had never seen before, but now found projected before us on the screen, awaiting our edits before being presented to the heads of state and government later this week.  While regional consultations took place in Mexico, Paraguay, and Panama over several months last year, involving 1,088 young people from Latin America and the Caribbean to come up with a set of top policy recommendations in the areas of human prosperity, energy security and environmental sustainability, a completely different set of youth was now being asked to confirm or deny the document… in 30 minutes.

The thought was laughable, but the fact was, we were staring that situation in the face, and it wasn’t funny, it was straight up insulting.  Why hadn’t they provided us with the document ahead of time?  After commending OAS officials for recognizing the untapped value of youth and for giving us the unprecedented opportunity to participate in the Summit of the Americas process, the whole thing seemed like more of a staged photo opp than a genuine taking into account of youth perspectives.

And staged it was.  While the recommendations themselves are good–education that reflects the current global marketplace, improved skills-based programs for youth in under-served areas, increased mobilization of financial support for youth entrepreneurship, government incentives to encourage alternative energy development, an integrated environmental sustainability curriculum in schools, legislation on mandatory recycling and waste management programs, and the creation of certification programs to more easily identify environmentally sustainable products–the wording and rationale had been extremely watered down.

Turns out, members of the delegation committee had already sumbmitted several drafts to OAS representatives.  Each time being told that the language they had chosen was too strong or too demanding.  After so many tweaks and fluffs, you can’t help but start to doubt the statement’s authenticity.

And at the end of the day, many young people I spoke to felt as if they’d spent more time being talked at than actually asked for their opinions.

What I learned from today is how incredibly important it is for us as politically-minded young people not to settle for this level of engagement, but to push back consistently and articulately about the level of dialogue and change we expect to see implemented by the systems that represent us.

Speaking of which, the People’s Summit starts tomorrow! and it’s time for me to get some sleep.

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