This week is an opportunity to learn new skills and sharpen those you already use in your political activities. You will discuss ways to reach your constituents, to effectively communicate and to debate passionately and respectfully. You will be challenged to think differently about those you might see today as political opponents. You will have to put yourself in their shoes, and see issues from a different perspective.
As the week goes on, don’t forget to seek to understand what you have in common, and how you might come to consensus on issues that evoke strong feelings coming from different positions, but that are important for Liberia and your future. This opportunity for fellowship is one of the most valuable aspects of YLPS. These skills are important not just in the political realm, but in your everyday lives, families and relationships.
What you have to say matters, and how you say it matters even more. By practicing how to engage responsibly, peacefully and transparently in the political process, you will ensure that your voices are not only heard, but also heeded by those in government and the international community.
And the stakes today in the 10 weeks before elections have never been higher. Peace is something that, once achieved, must be actively protected and preserved. UNMIL and international partners can’t deliver that to Liberia. EVERY Liberian must feel that burden and responsibility of protecting the peace.
Politicians must promote a sense of "Liberian-ness" above parties or county, and have a peaceful process not based on "turns" but on respect for the rule of law.
Politicians must be conscious in their actions and their words, to ensure that their words and deeds empower citizens to use their minds and voices, not knives and stones.
The United States remains committed to supporting Liberia through this historic transition. First, we are working closely with the National Elections Commission to ensure elections are free, fair, and transparent. Secondly, we are working with civil society as they inform citizens about their civic duties and responsibilities. Lastly, we are supporting domestic and international observers of the electoral process.
I want to thank NAYMOTE for its commitment to the leaders of tomorrow who are in many ways already leaders today. We urge you all to continue to engage with NAYMOTE on civic and voter education and public debate. Please work to bring a diversity of voices to your cadre. By this, I mean not only women, but also those from the counties, as well as recognizing the leadership, potential and power of those with disabilities.
This week, think about where you will be a year from now. By then, Liberia will have a new president with six months behind them. What role will you have played? If your candidate or party does not win, what choices will you make – on election day and afterwards?
In closing, I am proud to be here today to support you. Next month, through USAID and our partner the National Democratic Institute, we will hold YPLS debates featuring YPLS graduates from previous semesters. The topics will be drawn from the National Youth Manifesto, which NAYMOTE helped support.
Remember, we expect great things from you, and we will be watching. By great things, I don’t just mean big wins. I mean a fundamental, seismic shift in the art of political discourse and civic engagement. And I know I will not be disappointed.