Columns

New Elections = New Opportunities!

Al Miller

Sunday, October 08, 2017

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Ahhhh …do you feel it? The sights, the sounds, the feeling! No, no, no, not Christmas! Election is in the air! Prime Minister Andrew Holness finally called it. Monday, October 9 is Nomination Day, and Monday, October 30 is the Grand Day — particularly for our tribal folk.

I have never been one to disparage elections because of their importance to true democracy. But we have developed a system in which this is the only time that some of our citizens will actually be able to 'eat a food'. This is Christmastime for our tribalists. Our politicians know that and will do everything to exploit this cultural fallacy - negatively and positively - to the max! May God help us all.

The point has been consistently made that many of our social ills, particularly crime and violence, find a seedbed for growth in the artificial divisions in our society, made worse by our tribal parties and their policies and the accompanying garrisons and donmanship culture. Given this reality, all attention and effort must be given to breaking down our dividing political walls to open up one Jamaica that works for all in a real partnership for prosperity.

Now more than ever, greater care and responsible action have to be taken, using every opportunity to send the right signals to a hurting nation.

Frightening new negative realities

For those who may be new to my columns and to our current Jamaican realities, let me rehash for you a few negative cultural changes in our country, of which you must become aware.

1. Crime and violence are now of an unusual nature. This can no longer be ignored and dismissed with trite statements such as, “We've always been a violent country,” or “We are an aggressive people.” For, despite our long-standing violence and aggression, previous generations always had limits. In the gas riots of the late 90s and early 2000, my generation and those following would 'block road an bun car tyre', but there is now a generation or two who will block road an bun the car with you in it.

Yes, we have always had a few young males who were on call to do the evil work of a few unseen politicians and businessmen, but there is now a generation or two who are not just on call, but who have their own agendas. They no longer feel they must be faithful to those who empower them with the weapons of destruction. They will kill not just because of an order given, but because they get pleasure from doing so. In addition, the numbers of those willing to engage evil to achieve their agendas are no longer few; the young males on call are no longer few.

This brings me to my second observation of which we all must be aware:

2. The numbers are changing drastically on us. There are now many more of us willing to engage in the cultural practices that we know are wrong; whether that's dishonesty in our Government or private business, or beating a child with a machete, or killing my friend and his family over money we dishonestly gained.

This alerts us to the final culture change that you must take seriously:

3. Our current crime and violence cohorts are not respecters of persons. 'It nuh matter who yuh be, they will pull the trigger whether you are man, woman, child, or animal; even if you're related to them. There is no longer a premium placed on human life, nor any fear in taking one.

It's important to understand these new negative paradigms, because we can only overturn them with positive new paradigms.

A new day, a better way

Mr Prime Minister, I must put the pressure on you. Firstly, you are the young, new-era prime minister. Secondly, you are the current leader of the nation whose cue the nation should follow. Third, you have indicated a strong commitment to change and to tackle this crime monster. And, fourthly, you are the party leader who must seek to influence your associates to a fresh approach.

The new Leader of the Opposition must now take the reins and show his leadership influence to commandeer his Comrades to begin to demonstrate the fresh approach. This would inspire hope in the nation of the possibility that we can see a new and brighter day.

This is not going to be easy to do with our history and culture. Not to mention the fact that some of the same players operating in the wrong way for so long are still on the teams. But it is not beyond us to make the concerted effort needed to bring us to a new day and a better way.

I must remind our politicians that the citizens care zero whether green or orange solve our crime and violence, social issues, fix the roads, or provide infrastructural development, services and amenities. What they want is the roads fixed, and good schools for their children, and decent jobs with a living wage. They want growth and development of the communities and better opportunities for all the people.

Mr Opposition Leader, now the focus shifts to you. Two of the constituencies up for by-election are garrison communities with your party's watermark. Might this election be the watershed moment of transformation that we will be able to identify when we examine our history? A moment of change from the well-known garrison-style politics to a politics of change that would cause former visionary party leader Michael Manley to be proud of his party.

Recently a young and once again up-and-coming member of your party appealed for a resocialisation, not a criminalisation of the lady who beat her daughter with a machete. Let me take that appeal a step further and call for a resocialisation of our garrisons. Lead it, Dr Phillips! Lead it hand in hand with the prime minister, and together take us to our 'Jamaica first' mountaintop.

What is the mandate that you will give to the new representatives in these two traditional People's National Party strongholds? Will there actually be transformation under your watch, or will it be more of the same? Now is the time to show true leadership and begin to assuage the cynicism of the larger portion of the electorate.

Election time is opportunity time!

An election is a tremendous opportunity to begin the change from tribalist language to a 'one-Jamaica' language of unity. Elections present a tremendous opportunity to begin the change from garrison culture to communities of excellence; communities which represent what's best in us — our best locale, our best expressions of creativity, our best freedom to live, love and live better. Imagine a Trench Town without violence, where the Culture Yard could become a real tourist mecca, where the community could benefit from a visitor rate that far surpasses what it is now.

The election is a tremendous opportunity to begin the change from rule by dons to that of communities led by inspired and inspirational agents of transformation. What if our communities had trusted and trustworthy leadership instead of exploiters who rule by oppression and violence?

Mr Prime Minister and Mr Opposition Leader, I beg of you, use this by-election to demonstrate how an election campaign can be the starting point and the catalyst to move us toward a new way of thinking, a new way of electioneering, a new set of paradigms.

In the same way that a football team in practice divides itself into two opposing sides for the purpose of training and identifying the best players to take the field, so too election campaigns are a way to identify the best players for Team Jamaica. But once the election is over, we are one team — one Jamaica. That should be the approach. Since we are all on one team, we should not be trying to damage each other in the practice sessions.

One way to begin to do this is to change the type of rhetoric used on the campaign trail and in political ads. Set the example of positive rhetoric. We don't need one more campaign in this country that is based on denigrating the opposing side. Begin to break down the divide and take the higher ground. Begin to remove the sharp tribal edge we have known in the past. Put away negative rhetoric and consistently declare positive rhetoric. Send a new and correct message to your party workers, the electorate and our nation.

Election Day

For those who are successful in the elections ahead, what do we expect of them? What will you do that is different? A quick survey of constituencies being contested will demonstrate that very little has changed in any of them in the last 30 years. The poor are still with us. The infrastructure and housing are still dilapidated. Economic activity is stagnant. There has been very little evidence of a clear vision; very little has happened developmentally or transformationally. Instead, there have merely been handouts and the occasional fixing of some roads.

What are the candidates bringing to the table to offer the constituents and the nation? Will they make a difference or simply give us more of the same divisive tribal, inefficient, unproductive, backward leadership? Will they be leaders of influence who can transform the communities they wish to lead?

If they cannot influence positive change, then they are misplaced and will only become a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution. This is a part of the reality that we must grapple with going forward.

Mr Prime Minister and Mr Opposition Leader, please show us that you are willing to grapple with and try to solve these problems. We need new paradigms of leadership at all levels, to combat the new paradigms of crime, violence and lawlessness that threaten to overtake us all. Political, pastoral, business and civil society leaders, this is the time, this is the season to act; to bring new transformational paradigms to the national table. God help us all if we don't.

We are in a season of leadership change in both our main political parties. This baton change should result in a whole new dynamic. We desperately need some new faces, fresh minds and ideas. The parties need to reinvent themselves; shake off the negatives, the unproductive trappings of the last 40 years and take on a new persona. One with a fresh, exciting vision; one with a unifying voice; one that puts the welfare of the whole nation ahead of any partisan concerns. It's time to get rid of the bad baggage and embrace the hopes, dreams and aspirations of all our people everywhere. Let's really make it a Jamaica that works for everyone in a partnership for prosperity.

I know that there are some who will read this and say, “Impossible pie-in-the-sky dreams!” However, I am old enough to have heard my parents speak of the days when citizens of both parties would go with each other to their respective public rallies. If it happened in time past, this and more can happen again in the future.

Rev Al Miller is pastor of Fellowship Tabernacle. Send comments to the Observer or pastormilleroffice@gmail.com.

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