How the Youth Can Participate in Politics

 

Dennis A. Jones for Metro P.R.

On Tuesday, October 1st, Hon. Manuel A. Natal Albelo, independent member of the House of Representatives in Puerto Rico, visited the University of Puerto Rico in Mayagüez to bring forth a discussion about Puerto Rican politics and the importance of the younger generation’s participation. This discussion was sponsored by La Jota, a youth group within Victoria Ciudadana, a political movement of which Natal is one of the founders and among most recognizable members. Although Natal has an affiliation to a political “movement,” as he calls it, this article does not seek to promote him or the movement. The purpose of this article is to help educate UPRM’s student body, as well as Puerto Rico’s youth, in understanding why their voice matters and how they can use their political power to form the this island’s future, if they so choose to do. Therefore, this article will omit the more partisan parts of the conversation with Natal and instead focus on the points he made in regards to how we can participate and make sure our voices are heard. 

Before starting the conversation, a representative from La Jota asked the packed room who was registered to vote, surprisingly, less than half the students raised their hand. With that in mind, Natal began to speak about the taboo nature of politics in Puerto Rican society. He described something that is common in many households and public spaces where speaking about politics is seen as something of bad taste. Natal suggests that this happens because of the mentality that “politics should be left only to politicians (…) the ones who have elected posts.”  But this belief is actually completely erroneous. Politics goes well beyond political parties and their politicking. He defines politics as “decision making in life within a society”, which makes everyone’s everyday life inevitably a political action. Each interaction between society as a whole and any given individual is inherently political because through this we structure society itself. This is why, by not becoming involved in this process, one effectively stays out of the democratic decision-making process; it means watching from the sidelines as other people decide the collective present and future.  

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 Natal calls into question the legitimacy of any leader who doesn’t have the support of the majority of the country they seek to govern. He suggests a change in legislature that would add a second round of voting when none of the candidates have obtained more than 50 percent of the vote. But even then, people have to vote. According to Natal, in the last election, only half of the people who were able to vote actually exercised their right. Local politicians themselves have made politics seem 'dirty’ to the people which is why many of them simply choose to stay out of it. ‘Why vote if it won’t change anything? If even the new elected officials will end up as corrupt as the rest?’ However, he describes voting as the responsibility of the citizen. Those who can vote must choose a government that will work for the welfare of its citizens, including those who can’t or won’t vote. Nevertheless, refusal to exercise one’s right to vote as a form of protest is still a way to participate in the democratic process. 

Natal also criticizes the notion that people who can’t vote don’t have a voice. Minors and immigrants who have constructed their lives on the island and even people who choose not to vote have the same right to speak and have their voices heard as those who choose to vote. Although voting is the most commonly recognized action of democracy, it is not the only one. As it was mentioned before, deciding not to vote is also a political action. Beyond that, there are countless more way a person can be politically and democratically active outside the elections. 

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During the Summer of 2019, there were dozens of different protests that went on throughout the entire island, eventually leading to a political change in the government. They were all fundamental to the end result. Still, there are political groups and colloquiums that represent the different interest of the people in our society. For example, there are groups who stand for the protection of the women in the island. There are environmental groups who protest against the pollution that affects specific parts of the island. There are labor unions who are fighting to keep their pensions from being reduced by the government. In all, if you cannot find a group that represents your interests or what you believe in, it is your right to create it.  

Lastly, if you are not registered to vote, everyone can do so at the headquarters office in San Juan. If you can’t make it, there should be a local office in your municipality. You can locate your municipality’s voter registration center here