My response to today’s editorial:

“Yet, Jamaica’s thinking middle class has the power to profoundly influence change.”

I find these coded and lofty attempts to distinguish who’s “thinking” from who’s not to be really problematic.

For example, the term “well-thinking Jamaicans” which is used far too much in editorials, smacks of an elitism that is based in the editors’ sense of the moral superiority of some groups over others.   Is “thinking” supposed to allude to education level and capacity to engage with ideas in a complex way? Then say that.  Just be aware that you can’t critique political engagement in Jamaica based on this vague sense of who’s “thinking” versus not.

Everyone’s thinking; not everyone is thinking clearly, about the same things, at the same level, or even working with complete, accurate information.

Maybe what’s important is what kind of thinking they are doing: what are people are taking a position on, what that position is, and what they don’t seem to be concerned with.

This is why I ask what this term “thinking middle class” is supposed to mean? Going with the assumption that its education that you’re concerned with, then this group would most likely be comprised by those who are policy leaders, run NGOs, university teachers, political analysts, etc.  But you may want to tell us again what distinguishes their opinions and stances regarding partisan politics; I don’t think you ever gave us that information.

You’re also distinguishing them from “non-thinking middle-class” – who are those? That sounds like an epithet. All who are left, including the apathetic as well as the cash-rich, free-wheeling, party-hosting ones who we read about in the social pages? Again, tell us so readers can know where you are coming from.

Middle classes cannot observe anything from the sidelines. They are part and parcel of everything, even though they are less visible as a group of political actors. It is members of the middle-classes who shop at places like MegaMart and whose tastes are catered to by the formation of small businesses as well as by the gov’t.  Middle-class people also run credit unions, speak out against the exploitation of children and women, and against police brutality, as well as demand better accountability on the part of the police.

It is also members of the middle class who are married to politicians and financiers, create fake organisations and mismanage funds, implement, defend and lobby for policies and laws that harm women, children and the environment, hide information and engage in fraudulent transactions, refuse to implement rules of fairness and equal access, demand exorbitant salaries and compensation packages, provide demeaning customer service while taking our money, and yes, even shape public opinion by publishing their stances in the newspapers without adequate citation or evidence.

It would be nice to see more members of the former type of middle-class to stand up and speak out in a clear and coherent voice against corruption, against fiscal mismanagement, and offer incisive critiques of all these lofty plans that are put out called Visions, Mandates, Platforms and what not.

It would also be nice to see more of those people working to form alliances with working-class people and demanding change on behalf of those at the bottom the way they used to in the 1980s.  However, I don’t agree that these are the only “thinking” folks.  I happen to agree with them and how they think, yes.

I also agree that, because middle-class folks do and can have a lot of influence, they need to be more organised and forthright about where they stand on public policy issues, and take leadership in advocate on behalf of all Jamaicans, rather than just on their short-term class interests.

The problem right now is that those who are having the biggest effects are doing so thru their tacit support of the status quo, and who use back-channels to protect their interests. The ones who want to change things are too busy fighting bureaucracy, intentional ignorance, and intransigence and trying to keep their heads above water.

My point is, they are all thinking, but they’re rowing in different directions, some in fancier boats than others, some even able to hire others to row for them.

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School has reopened so it’s high season for parent-bashing. Here’s my response to the latest on the National Parenting Policy proposed a few years back.

To the Editor:

As a parent with a child in Jamaica’s gov’t-run schools, I have long opposed such lofty propositions as a “National Parenting Policy” for both its elitism and shortsightedness. In particular, Andrew Holness needs to remember that “fixing” parents is not part of his portfolio. In seeking to “fix” parents and so-called broken families, such policy does little more than continue to heap disrespect onto poor people. After all, that is the group which is the target of such policies. Any fool can see that.

What’s more, those who are charged with the job of educating our children already have a set view of what constitutes “parents” and what role such parents should play, and will not take any responsibility for how educators themselves have marginalized parents from active participation in their children’s education. Just look at the quality and content of the communication between principals, teachers and parents over the past several months, and it will be clear what I mean.

So, for Andrew Holness to say that “[w]e want to bring parenting and the family structures formally into the education system,” is to ignore the way that families are already part of the system. For one thing, all those children came from families, whether he likes the family form or not. In addition, constantly singling out children whose family arrangements do not conform to what he and others imagine as “normal” is simply wrong. One anecdote does not make a pattern. I daresay, if one cannot identify who the child’s current caregiver is, then there is a serious problem in the record-keeping abilities of teachers and principals! If Holness looks to the policies that he has championed, parents’ roles are already carefully prescribed in them: the only thing that we are supposed to do is pay the required auxillary fees so that the child can attend! We are certainly not required to send our children to school, let alone to make sure that the child has all the necessary supplies. Where has the MoE carefully defined and communicated to parents the desired relationship between schools and families? That’s a true failure in educational policy, not in parenting. A top-down National Parenting Policy is certainly not going to fix the problems that currently plague Jamaica’s education system.

I believe that when the MoE chooses to change it’s approach i.e. to treat parents with respect, acknowledge the jobs we already do, and see us as partners in the education of our children, I am sure there will be a lot more cooperation and far less distrust. Right now, the only message that Jamaican parents get from the MoE is that we are lackeys who do not perform a good enough job and are a burden to the MoE. That is hardly an empowering message or wins you any friends.

If Holness wants parents to be more proactive and present in their children’s education, then he will have to make room in all relevant education policy for that to happen. For one thing, that means challenging the historical relationship between parents and schools in Jamaica, where parents were expected to “send” their children to get something that said parents, because of their social inferiority, were “lacking”, and where teachers were considered to be of superior social status. That attitude is pervasive in our society, and is certainly reflected in the skepticism and latent hostility directed against parents by the employees of the MoE, which gave rise to such problematic ideas as a “National Parenting Policy”.

Holness can’t have it both ways: either parents are partners or they are not. Such a shift in emphasis – from demonizing to engaging parents – will require the MoE to include parents as a group at every level of participation and decision-making, from the school level up to the national level. To date, parents are left on the sidelines, perhaps because we are not considered knowledgeable, important enough or credible on the subject of our children’s education. And yet, we are gladly blamed for whenever something goes awry in the schools. Go figure.

Lashing out against parents and diverse family arrangements that children come from is not the answer. Only when the MoE creates systems and programs in the schools to make it meaningful and welcoming for parents to participate will we see any difference in the quality of parents’ engagement. Only when the MoE attempts to meet parents where they are at rather than chastising them for not being good enough will we see any turnaround in the academic achievement of our children.

I decided to start my own party.  Why not? After enduring the hypocritical, circus-like behaviour of the PNP, the bald-faced lying and deceitful JLP, and the near silence and invisibility of the NDM for the past several months, what are we supposed to do?  Just sit down and wait for all of them – a bunch 0f middle-aged men and women who lie so till dem not even know when dem a tell lie again,  who tink seh dem entikle fi tell Jamaican people anything whe’h come a dem mout’  an’ nobody nuh fi seh nutt’n to dem, who still nuh realize seh colonialism dun long time and dem not the annointed ones, and who still cannot figure out how to speak and act with sincerity and humility – to come tell wi di same half-cook foolishness they have for the past 30 years?  We certainly do have some eediyats among us who believe that all these relics need to do is pray and call on the name of Jesus and they will be cleansed of their evildoing, but do not count me among the thus annointed.

So, mi decide fi mek a move.   I believe we need a party that is led by the PEOPLE, works on behalf of the PEOPLE and speaks in the voice of the PEOPLE.  And since we in the 21st century – aldo’ nuff a wi still not even can read clock or sign – the internet seems a good place to start.  An’ like how Jamaican people love gossip an’ spread rumour a’ ready, it is only a matter of time before everybody a chat bout di PPJ as if dem did read this blog demself.

Just remember, this is not a party that is interested in running this country and becoming Prime Minister and what not.  We nuh inna dat deh ki’ na politics.  This is a party that is about getting things done by making sure that those who are elected as representatives will walk, talk and sign on the dotted line drawn by the PEOPLE.   We demand, they respond.  The one dem whe’ h deh inna govament right now nuh seem fi know wha’  fi do besides tief money, curry favour, gi backchat, spen’  off money whe’ h nuh belong to dem, an a gi out govament tings like is bingo prize.

So, it look like seh dem politcian yah – from mayor all di way up to prime minister – need smaddy fi tell dem wha’ h fi do, smaddy fi light fiyah unda dem tail fi get dem fi do dem job, an’  smaddy fi run dem out when dem n’ aa perform but a get paycheck an’ nuff bodyguard fi mek press statement full a lie an’  scull Parliament when dem feel like it.

Wi tiyad a it!  Wi tiyad a dem! Wi dun wid all a dem foolishness deh!  Is a new day dis!

The party now needs a platform.  In the coming weeks I will create and launch a new blogspace that will serve as the virtual home and primary communication portal for the party.  I am now counting on the PEOPLE (that would be you, reader!) to speak up and tell me what they want this party to address, and what we should prioritise in the next 5 years, and how we should go about creating a more active citizenry that is willing to fight for a better quality of life for this and future generations.  Let the PEOPLE speak!

Dancing For the Devil

June 10, 2010

I was responding to Agostinho’s post about the future of Passa-Passa, when it occurred to me that I should write some of my thoughts about the event on my own blog as well.  (I wish I kept track of what I wrote on other people’s blogs; each was a post in itself!)
I have never gone to the Passa Passa street dance held in Tivoli Gardens in West Kingston every Wednesday night because I refused to go and dance for the devil.   It was as simple as that to me.
It took me a little while to connect “Passa Passa” to THE Tivoli Gardens of which I have known since childhood.  And that place was not one that I imagined non-Tivolians being able to inhabit quite so easily.  Something wasn’t quite right; I didn’t feel right going there, no matter how much hype it got.  I turned down every invitation.  Not interested.
But when one of my friends from Kingston was going on about how no violence “couldn’t” happen because the Don seh so, my interest was peaked.  Really now?  So all the gunfire and dead people doesn’t really have to happen – a don can just open his mouth and things stop? Well, then, to me, all dem dons well wicked fi a mek people a kill off demself so and don’t do anything about it.
The  ‘mandate’ of no violence during Passa Passa in Tivoli just seemed downright strange.  It probably wasn’t even true, but it certainly felt true to lots of people.  After all, they kept going.
And then it slowly dawned on me that this much-talked about event wasn’t just an expression of altruism on the part of the don; it wasn’t just about wanting people to have a good time.
Passa-Passa wasn’t just a big street dance.
It was a full-on performance BY Christopher ‘Dudus’ Coke for the rest of the country and the world.   He showed – and did he! – that he had the power to command the resources, the attention, the energy and to which was drawn crowds of people like moths to a flame to frolic in his personal fiefdom that is Tivoli. Smart man that one.
And frolic they did.
They sang and danced and even managed to convince themselves that this was a deeply spiritual experience one they were called to and can’t help but partake in; that some kind of freedom was possible right there in the JLP’s terrordome called Tivoli.
As it turns out, the people were the props.   They had a good time as long as HE thought it expedient and the PR remained good.   They got played.
The story of Passa Passa reads more like a sci-fi horror movie:
The people are commanded to dance by some Unseen Being and Force, and they do so gladly at first, even as they begin to have that growing feeling that what they think is voluntary isn’t really so;
The intensity of their performance increases as the participants try harder and harder to push the encroaching reality away by singing, dancing, drinking and laughing harder, faster, louder.
The sheer terror of realizing what they are trapped in and who they are performing for makes them go mad; the exhaustion produces hallucinations; every person is now a threat to every other person; it seems that no one can leave this place alive.
Soon there are dead bodies lying everywhere.
Fade to black.
When the music ends and the lights come on, what felt like a filmed performance of a street dance is revealed to be a staged play.
Curtain raises.

No applause.

No director goes on stage to take a bow.

Only gunshots and wailing.

Curtain falls.

The spotlight shines on a line of caskets at the rear of the stage.

At the same time the music begins to play and becomes increasingly louder.

It’s coming from the caskets.

dem guh loot police station a look fi bullet an gun..

police ah run lef’ kyaar and gunman a drive..  POLICE CARS NO. 20, NO. 36 &  NO.91

dem bun dung police station..

helicopter and all a dem fufool police an’ souljah a run go a Tivoli fi meet dem Waterloo…

Crime Minister Golding come pon TV a twis’ up im mout’ an a talk like seh im nuh responsible fi wha’ deh gwa’an…

Dat man need more dan prayer. Im need fi tek whe’h imsself! 

What an embarassment!

What  a spectacle of incompetence and sheggery!

But, if ah so it fi go so di whole na’asy govament bwile can bus, den a so it affi go…

From dodging to denial….

Just in case you don’t realise it yet Brucie, your days as PM are numbered less than 10.

When a political leader boldly LIES to both its citizens and those who make up the government that one is expected to preside over, purposefully misrepresents one’s relationship to criminals, abuses one’s access to power by using it to negotiate arrangements that have little to do with governance and national interest, and everything to do with preserving one’s political status and authority, and where the use of such power reflects a glaring conflict between two competing roles that the head of state does not acknowledge or understand as problematic, then there can be little confidence in that leader’s ability to govern.

Through his actions – from overt arrogance and disdain for the people’s point of view, to the bare-faced lying when even his colleagues felt it necessary to tell the truth  – all public trust has now evaporated and there is little left to assure Jamaicans that we have not been similarly misled in the past, and will not be treated in similar fashion in the near future.

Not only has Bruce Golding’s unethical behaviour disgraced the position of PM, but he has shown himself to be of questionnable character and a failure at providing the model of leadership that Jamaica needs right now.  And, at a time when we are struggling about what to do about the widespread crime – in terms of both direct violence and corruption – that is enveloping Jamaica, we can scarce afford to ignore the real damage that Bruce Golding’s conduct will have on such efforts.

The best think that Bruce Golding can do for the country right now is to resign, effectively immediately.

On tolerating homosexuals and such… – Editorials, Current Issues & Opinion Articles – JamaicaObserver.com.

You know what I love (in a cheeky kind of way) about this editorial?  Even as its authors concede that a lot will and continue to change regarding the status of gays and lesbians, it still showed ambivalence of its editors about this change, despite their best efforts.  Try as they might, they really can’t handle it; that’s what the “and such” is really about.   In a way, their ambivalent stance mirrors the attitudes of many Jamaicans today who see that their attitudes are slowly changing but they really can’t get a hang of exactly when and how.  This kind of ambivalence wasn’t so noticeable 10 years ago.  So, THAT is something to celebrate!  In another 10 years, I think we will probably be someplace different, regardless of the vitriolic sentiments that many are clinging on to.  Those folks probably won’t change their minds, but others around them are changing, making them more of an anomaly than ever before.   Laws don’t change until cultural attitudes shift.   I can wait.  And so can many of us.