Political behaviour, whether categorized as conventional or unconventional, refers to any action or lack of action in relation to authority. Conventional political behaviour, such as voting, affiliation with political parties or campaigns, has been steadily declining. However, based on the levels of political participation, unconventional political behaviour, for example protest participation, involvement in demonstrations, roadblocks or riots, has been rapidly increasing. Unconventional political participation has undoubtedly become widespread to a great extent.
There has been an increased manifestation of unconventional political behaviour towards national institutions such as the government of a country and toward supranational institutions such as The World Trade Organization (WTO) and The International Monetary Fund (I.M.F). As the September 23, 2000 issue of the Economist magazine indicated in an article entitled “Anti-Capitalist Protests”, the number of anti-capitalist and anti-elitist and other protest movements continue to grow and more persons are getting involved in such movements voluntarily. The proliferation of the size and number of protests, protestors and protest movements is indeed remarkable.
In the Jamaican society and Caribbean region the trend is not different. While on the one hand voter turnouts at elections have been decreasing, on the other hand the number of roadblocks (which is one the most prevalent forms of unconventional behaviour) has increased tremendously. According to Trevor Monroe’s book
Renewing Democracy, only sixty-six percent of the eligible persons turned out to vote in
the 1997 General elections but number of roadblocks in Jamaica had increased from twenty-three in 1986 to approximately two hundred and seven in 1997. (pg. 116 &118)
However, not only have the number of roadblocks elevated but also the magnitude and gravity, as in the case of the “Gas Riots” in Jamaica in April 1999.
This was a week of protest actions which began with small barricades of wreckage set up in a few areas which diffused to many other communities across the island. There was mass destruction of private and public property, businesses and schools were closed and so forth. As a result, the already struggling economy was further weakened.
The great extent to which unconventional modes of political behaviour is widespread is confirmed by the fact that it has extended itself across the classes in both industrialized and developing nations. Protests, demonstrations, riots, revolts were largely initiated and propelled by members of the lower classes. However, Europe’s fuel-tax “revolt” which had a purely middle class character indicates something different. In addition, the idea that unconventional political behaviour is purely a lower class phenomenon is challenged by the involvement of a new class of educated persons and members of the professional upper classes who have become founders and agents of reform movements lobbying for specific causes using unconventional methods.
The manifestations of unconventional modes of political behaviour to such a great extent in the Caribbean and elsewhere is attributed to several factors, chiefly a worldwide change in political cultures, the evolution of modern technology and the proven efficiency of the use of these unconventional methods.
Political culture, according to Gabriel Almond on his book The Civic Cultures, refers to “the political system as internalized in the cognitions, feelings and evaluations of its population”(pg14). That means, it is the totality of the ideas and attitudes towards authority, government and its responsibilities as well as associated culture transmitters like the education systems and religious organizations. There is a notable change in political culture in the Caribbean and other parts of the world. People’s attributes towards political institutions, political representatives and social authorities such as the church have become even more negative.
Undoubtedly, there has been a great loss of confidence in political institutions like political parties, aspects of the states including armed forces, parliament, legal system and civil service. According to the article “Critical Citizens: Global Supports for Democratic Governance”, surveys carried out in several European countries, Japan and US reveal that in 1980 an average of 59% of the people expressed confidence in the previously mentioned institutions. Ten years later this figure fell to 53%. Similarly, there has been a significant loss of confidence in religious institutions. For Example, in Nigeria during the period 1990-1996 the number of persons who had confidence in the church fell by 17%, in Korea 11% and in France by 5%.
The average individual in the society feels neglected by those with political authority. It is believed that the politically elected do not care about those who have elected them. The public’s concerns are not being adequately addressed, if at all considered. They have no influence or hardly any influence on decisions made at the national and international levels although it pertains to them. For example, an article from the July 17, 1999 issue of the Economist magazine entitled “ Politics Brief: Is there a Crisis?” a large proportion of the people in Sweden agreed with the statement “Parties are only interested in people’s votes, not in their opinions.” Likewise, 84% of the Italians agreed “ Politicians don’t care what people like me think.” As a result, the electorate has resorted to unconventional methods to ascertain that their voices are heard.
The evolution of modern technology has also contributed to the widespread use of unconventional political behaviour globally. We are living in what is referred to as “The information Age”. As a result, information is more available and accessible to individuals. Even persons who may be illiterate can know what is happening in their country or other parts of the world through the electronic media like the radio and more often television. Also, thanks to modern technological innovations, such as the Internet, people can be more informed about events around the world. Some protest movements have set up websites, for example “M26”, so that present and prospective protestors can be updated with the latest information like dates, times and venues of upcoming events. In addition, improved technology in the area of transportation has been a factor because it has facilitated the rapid movement of people to and from different countries around the world. On seeing the lifestyles of citizens living elsewhere, some people are inspired to lobby for changes in certain aspects of their own society. For example, a Jamaican might visit the United States of America and observes how courteously civilians are dealt with by the police, in contrast to what he sees occurring in his country, he feels compelled to try and bring a change to the situation existing in his country.
The widespread use of untraditional forms of political behaviour is owed largely to the fact that such actions have proven to be and continues to be effective means of gaining the attention of the relevant authorities, articulating one’s views against an issue or a decision and causing problems to be dealt with more urgently. Anti-capitalist protest movements have organized protests at various meetings of the World Bank, World Trade Organization (WTO) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). The threats posed by these demonstrations have certainly gotten the attention of the officials to the extent that officials had to tighten security in and around the designated venues of the meetings. Suffice it to say, if nothing else, demonstrators have surely made it clear to officials that they are serious about the issue of anti-capitalism and are determined to purse it. Likewise, through protest action, the guild of students of the University of the West Indies got the administration to sign an agreement saying that the students security concerns would be addressed promptly. Therefore, whatever happens the protestors have won a kind of victory.
In conclusion, unconventional political behaviour is undoubtedly becoming more widespread in Jamaica, in the Caribbean and around the world. This has been confirmed
by local and international statistical information, some of which has been presented in this essay. Also, members of the various levels of the social strata have been involved in
unconventional political participation and this indicates that unconventional political
behaviour is becoming prevalent not only among the lower classes. This dramatic increase in unconventional political behaviour may be attributed to various things
but chiefly to a significant change in political culture, the availability of information and the usefulness of modern technology in its transmission to people in many parts of the world as well as the effectiveness of using unconventional methods.
Almond, Gabriel and Sidney Verba. The Civic Culture: Political Attitudes and
Democracy In Five Nations. Princeton: Princeton University Press;1963.
“Anti-capitalist Protests”. The Economist. 23 September 2000
Monroe, Trevor. Renewing Democracy In The New Millenium: The Jamaican Experience
In Perspective. Kingston: The Press of The University of the West Indies;1999.
Norris, Pippa. Critical Citizens: Global Support For Democratic Governance
London: Oxford Press;1999.
“Politics Brief- Is There A Crisis?”. The Economist 17 July1999