Getting on the Bus…An Account of Portia Simpson-Miller’s 2006 swearing in

An Account of Jamaica’s Prime Minister designate Portia Simpson-Miller’s 2006 swearing in.

Portia Simpson Miller at SALISES's Prime Ministerial Series in Summer 2011
One of the disdainful Clovis cartoons published by the Jamaica Observer just the day before Portia's devastating victory

Sigh! No, i haven’t been invited to the Swearing-in tomorrow…! So i’ll watch the goings on from the comfort of my living room. In the meantime below is the column i published in the Sunday Herald following Prime Minister designate Portia Simpson-Miller’s first swearing in on March 30, 2006.

Getting on the Bus

There was really no place else to be on the afternoon of March 30 than King’s House. In the end you didn’t even need a ticket, no matter what colour, though I would never have gone had a friend not called to say she had a ticket for me. So ticket in hand and clad in a red silk sari I headed to Hope Road to attend Portia’s swearing in. Yellow and red coded cards were the tickets of choice. Mine had a blue band. Oh well I consoled myself, it could have been worse; green cards (for a change) must be at the very bottom of this ranking.

The weather couldn’t have been better. Rain had washed the city earlier in the afternoon without drenching the ground and leaving puddles. The miles of white plastic chairs were wet though being dried by young men with clean rags. I saw John Maxwell and attached myself to him as we searched for a suitable seat. There were placards everywhere designating groups of seats with rather puzzling labels: Judges; Professional Associations; Caneworkers.

I temporarily lost John as I commiserated with a diplomat friend whose designated area was somewhere in the distance. I glimpsed John again; he was seated under a giant mango tree with a good view of the stage; I reattached myself. There was no placard labeling this section and according to John he had heard a rumour that the seating system had “broken down”. Discreet enquiries established that this was actually a red section but what the heck no one was checking.

We were only a hundred or so feet away from the stage, in fact we were right behind the section that must have been designated Big Business. Are you sure we aren’t going to be evicted from here I whispered, looking nervously around at the fast disappearing seats all about us. I SHALL NOT BE MOVED announced John; I wasted no more time worrying, concentrating instead on looking as much as possible like an immovable object dressed in a red silk sari. It worked.

There was about an hour to kill before the ceremony began but time passed swiftly. The band struck up at 4.30 pm exactly and shortly before 5 the central figures in this national drama appeared on stage. As former Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made his last speech red-gowned men and women constituting the combined choir of the University Singers and the Kencot Youth Choir assembled on a stage to the right of the main stage.

The choir was a beautiful sight and sound with Dean Fraser and Shirley Willis performing a gospel song especially chosen by the new Prime Minister to herald her entrance. Then Portia took centre-stage opening her innings with a prayer. I know my last column was a fulmination against a nation at prayer but there is a difference between praying rather than doing and praying and doing. The latter I think is what the new Prime Minister intends and I’m in full support of that.

Let’s hope that she meant what she said in her thoughtful, well-articulated maiden speech, That line about balancing people’s lives rather than merely balancing the books was a brilliant one and I think captures the nation’s predicament superbly. Portia also said that she couldn’t make the necessary changes without the wholehearted help and support of the people. Again this is something that couldn’t have been stressed more. It’s an obvious thing but one that only a leader who inspires and moves the people can achieve. If anyone is capable of doing this it’s Portia Simpson-Miller.

There was something symbolic about the mingling of the crowds at Portia’s swearing-in. Those who came early got good seats, regardless of the people they had been intended for. All Michael Lee-Chin was standing by the way, and other rich and powerful faces were seen waiting in vain for seats. But as Portia said money shouldn’t make some people more important than others, learning shouldn’t make some people more important than others (loud cheers broke out at this) and neither should colour, class or gender. Jesus, she’s written my column for me, said John.

The national anthem was sung and people were heading over to the West lawns for the reception. It was time to leave. I had been dropped off at Kings’ House and now had to find my way home. There was hardly anyone around I recognized, where were all the UWI folk? Except for Carolyn Cooper, Trevor Munroe, the Hicklings and John and myself I didn’t see anyone. Was there a section marked Academics I had missed?

Walking down Hope Road a man fell into step with me and introduced himself. Where was I parked, he wanted to know. Oh, I didn’t drive I told him, I live up UWI way and figured I could find someone who’d give me a ride. Alright, he said in a taking charge manner, I’m parked at Papine, I took the bus from there, why don’t you take the bus with me to Papine and then I’ll give you a drop. To allay any worry the expression on my face may have indicated he pulled out his ID and showed me that he was an ex JDF man of 34 years standing. Er, how much is a bus fare, I asked, its years since I took a bus. Fifty dollars he said.

The next thing I knew I was on a bus heading to Papine with my sari blowing in the wind. It was an exhilarating ride and before I knew it I was home, wondering why I didn’t take the bus more often.

Where’s my vuvuzela? …Announcing the Second Coming of Portia Simpson-Miller

A summary of what i think went wrong with the JLP’s 2011 campaign to get a second term and the conditions under which Portia Simpson-Miller returned to political power in Jamaica despite her embrace of gay rights.

The Jamaica Observer made this really useful interactive map available, with all sorts of information on constituencies at your fingertips if you hovered over it
Las May, Daily Gleaner, December 30, 2011

The December 29, 2011 general election was the fifth election in which I’ve voted, all in Jamaica, and this one was the most deeply satisfying. Not just because the candidate I voted for won, but because she won so decisively. It was also almost like a normal day, with no skirmishes or violence to mar it (well actually that’s not really normal in Jamdown, is it? But you know what i mean) At 6.42 pm yesterday when I tweeted, “I think Portia’s going to whip dem, this is going to be a rout…” I was in a minority of one who called it correctly long before the results made it plain there was going to be a landslide. Everyone thought it was too close to call, though my friends at Nationwide, like many others, had given it by a hair’s whisker to the JLP.

As Election Day came closer and closer I began to feel in my gut that there was going to be an upset. Unlike the highly touted pollsters with their ‘scientifically tested’ samples (99% of which turned out to be wrong) I was going by my own experience, by what i was hearing from close friends, associates and radio and what I was picking up on the ground so to speak.

Up to a month before the election I also thought that the JLP had it locked with their master-stroke of appointing a new leader, Andrew Holness, whose relative youth (age: 39) in a party dominated by oligarchs, signaled the beginning of something fresh and long overdue.

Lady wears both party colours so as not to be victimized by either?

Then unexpectedly one or two friends whose opinions i value highly, and who are both more Labour-leaning than PNP-types both said they thought the JLP would lose. The reasons they gave–the bleak economic landscape foremost among them–made sense. Still I didn’t really believe they were right and in the meantime the ruling party’s catchy election jingle Vote for Labour had bored itself into the nation’s skull, including mine. EVERYONE was humming it, I didn’t see how the JLP could lose, particularly as the PNP seemed to be mum on the whole judging by the lack of memorable jingles, TV ads or statements.

The much hyped debate did a lot to boost Sista P’s votability quotient. Widely portrayed by the JLP as being incapable of stringing a sensible sentence together the Leader of the Opposition came across as relaxed, friendly and totally in control in contrast to former Prime Minister Holness who looked like a rabbit caught in the horsehairs. He seemed visibly nervous whereas Portia came across as gracious and comfortable in her skin. These things speak louder than words, something the JLP seems to have forgotten even though they have the example of former Prime Minister Bruce Golding to hand. Golding was articulate to the point of eloquence, as sharp as they come and extremely knowledgeable. Did all this make him a better leader? Really? Then why are we even discussing why the man who prematurely succeeded him lost the election to win his own mandate yesterday?

So incredibly considering the negative publicity she received in advance of the debate, Portia took the debate. Another major blunder the JLP made was the scurrilous attack ad in which Portia was depicted as a raving lunatic. They aired it so often it began to be annoying and I started to feel resentful because it seemed like a cheap shot to me, using the most questionable editing tactics, freely re-arranging quotes, speeding up speech, distorting sound and generally altering and doctoring existing audio and video to suit their own purposes. To make matters worse the message they seemed keen to transmit was that Portia was loud, emotive, out of control and therefore not capable of being a good leader. It’s the kind of scornful, contemptuous portrayal women have suffered at the hands of men for centuries; poor people have suffered at the hands of the smug middle and upper classes; those who are not quick on the draw face from those who are considered bright; Muslims face from the West, etc etc.

Consequently anyone who has ever been the butt of such demonizing tactics would have and probably did, identify with Portia. I know I certainly did and I share very little with Portia in broad terms; imagine then how the hundreds and thousands of people who view her as someone who has risen from their own ranks, who feels she represents them, felt.

And that was the big miscalculation on the part of the JLP’s G2K. To make matters worse the Party lobbing such belittling take-downs is widely perceived as representing the ‘Mulatto’ and light-skinned segments of the population. Coming from them, or from anyone for that matter, the attack ads took on a racist dimension.

The JLP also miscalculated how their attack on the PNP’s Jamaica Emergency Employment Programme (JEEP) would be viewed. In their haste to scoff at JEEP as being ” nothing more than another crash programme” that would burden taxpayers’ pockets the Labourites forgot that while this approach might appeal to the middle class minority, to the far larger group of unemployed, underemployed and unemployable, JEEP would be a boon. Most of them don’t pay taxes so what do they care about that?

So in general the JLP was seen as trying to win the election through slander and mudslinging; they had very few ads promo-ing their worldview, their plans for new and inspired governance, or their creative approach to the problems plaguing the country.

The 2011 Elections in Jamaica were notable for the comraderie displayed by supporters of both sides

The utter contempt and disdain displayed by the government concerning the Tivoli incursion in which 73 civilians lost their lives was another nail in the JLP’s coffin, coming on the heels of the JDIP scandal. Security Minister Dwight Nelson’s blasé denials and prevarications when questioned by the media about a ‘spy’ plane (see my previous posts on this), fortified by a truly callous campaign mounted by the de facto JLP organ, the Jamaica Observer, dismissing the role of the US DEA Lockheed P-3 Orion in the invasion of Tivoli was more than any citizen could stomach. Former PM Holness’s belated attempt to set the story straight by contradicting his own security minister was the final straw: here was a party whose ministers didn’t hesitate to lie when it suited them, for whom the deaths of 73 civilians mattered so little they would try and shrug it off as Nelson had done.

But the most laughable, most despicable strategy employed by both the Labour Party and the Jamaica Observer was (as @BalanceMan said on Twitter) to treat the election of 2011 as if it was a referendum on gay rights. Again they completely misread the mindset of so-called ordinary Jamaicans (who are anything but ordinary). They assumed that this was a life-and-death issue which would be a liability for the PNP following Portia’s gallant statement that her government would review the existing buggery laws and that she was not averse to having a gay minister in her cabinet. The Observer tried its best, with numerous cartoons and articles on the subject to turn the population against the PNP by playing on the well-known local hostility to homosexuality.

Instead it backfired on them. Out of 63 parliamentary seats the JLP won 22 and the PNP 41! As Trindadian writer/editor Nicholas Laughlin observed on Facebook after the results had become known:

To summarise: in Jamaica, widely considered the most homophobic country in the Caribbean, the ruling party runs a gay-bashing general election campaign and loses by what can only be called a landslide.

On a side note you couldn’t help laugh at the following wisecrack referring to the PNP’s promise to remove general consumption tax from our energy bills. RT @rushknot: Electricity tax gone! *turns on AC*

And that is where I’m going to leave this for now; let’s hope that these are not just empty campaign promises because the outcome of the 2011 elections in Jamaica, in which popular sentiments on gay rights played such a prominent role, must give all of us plenty of cud to chew on. It certainly demands a rethinking of the global view of Jamaica as ‘the most homophobic place on earth’. Let’s see if the PNP having gained such a huge nod from the electorate will now put its mouth where its money is and REALLY strike a blow for equal rights for all.

Don’t draw mi tongue…coz it’s firmly in my cheek

If political ads can be doctored why not what journalists write in the paper? In which i doctor a leading columnist’s words to mean the opposite of what he would like to say to show how unethical the Don’t draw mi tongue video ad attacking Portia Miller is.

One week to go before elections in Jamaica. Christmas which is this coming Sunday has been almost completely sidelined. Santa? Who’s that?

Much to the disappointment of her detractors Portia Simpson-Miller, the Leader of the Opposition, failed to fall flat on her  face during the much hyped final debate on December 20. In fact she came off looking rather good overall, despite an inadequate answer or two, completely outshining the competition when she boldly said that she would have no qualms about having Gays in her cabinet, if they were qualified for the job. Andrew Holness, the current Prime Minister, stuck to the party line and refused to acquiesce to reason, deferring to public sentiment that he says he is loath to cross.

Portia on the other hand was not afraid to buck popular sentiment, opting for what is right, displaying courage and leadership in the process, two qualities sorely needed in these trying times. The truth is that Jamaican attitudes towards the vexed question of homosexuality are slowly but surely changing. For an excellent post on the subject read Ross Shiel’s Reactions to THAT gay question.

Clovis, Jamaica Observer, December 23, 2011

But they may not have changed enough yet and the backlash from the anti-gay brigade in Jamaica is a real threat (curiously the charge is often lead by the media itself as evident in the Observer cartoon above). The Gleaner’s Dec 23 editorial sums up the situation well:

Mrs Simpson Miller’s courage in taking this stance, and its timing, ought not to be minimised, or overlooked. She did it in the middle of an election campaign in a largely homophobic Jamaica, with her party in a tight race with the governing Jamaica Labour Party.

The easier option, as Mr Holness took, would be to waffle about respecting Jamaican sentiment. That would ensure, at least, that fundamentalist Christians would not be trotting out scriptures to illustrate God’s abhorrence of homosexuality. She now runs the risk of alienating anti-gay voters.

Winning will certainly be an uphill battle for her, especially in the face of defamatory videos circulated by the Labour Party’s G2K, in which they cobble together a number of clips, some of them out of context and doctored to fit, depicting her as a raging virago. One of them, now banned from the two major TV stations, plays on a quote from her campaign in the 2007 national elections in which she said ‘Don’t draw mi tongue’; no one now recalls what this was said in response to and its impossible to tell from the cunningly doctored video. Of course ‘don’t draw mi tongue’ in itself is a harmless Jamaicanism broadly meaning  ‘Let me hold my peace, don’t make me get too candid.’ This was widely used against Portia in 2007 and has now been resurrected, interspersed with images of the candidate in full demotic mode, with clips from various speeches and interviews collaged together to give the impression of someone violating all the norms of respectability and decorum so beloved by the Jamaican bourgeoisie.

The Jamaica Observer, to the surprise of many considering their blatantly pro-government stance, actually came out with an editorial chastising the JLP for the ad on grounds of ‘civility’ and ‘decency’. But these are highly subjective measures, what is decent to me may be indecent to you. What about the legality of broadcasting a doctored video in which clips are neatly arranged out of sequence, with crucial segments missing to give a certain impression? is it accurate and ethical to splice disparate bits of video and audio together like this? Is this not a violation of Regulation 30 (f) of the Jamaican Broadcasting Commission which rules that broadcast content should not “contain any false or misleading information”?

Ace Observer columnist Mark Wignall sees nothing wrong with the G2K ad. According to him:

One very important question is, who is the author of these ads? Other questions are, are the ads fictional and hence, defamatory? As I saw it, no, and hence the ads have been authored by the subject of the ads and not by fancy technological cut and paste in an engineering studio.

 

Really Mark?

 

So then you won’t object if I draw your tongue by doing something similar with your columns, would you now?

 

Folks read the following, every single word in it was written by Mark Wignall, and therefore using his own logic, is authored by him:

 

Andrew Holness is the…worst nightmare
Half-way through its first five-year term of government since it was defeated in February 1989, troubled by its inability to attach the word “spectacular” to any part of its performance during that time, and buffeted by political storm winds associated with the Dudus extradition request, the general view at street level suggests major survival problems for this administration beyond 2012.

 

An examination of the 17 Cabinet members will easily present us with eliminations simply because leadership material is largely absent. On our “first-scratch” list would be: Cabinet Secretary Douglas Saunders, Grand-daddy Mike Henry the transport minister, a remarkably fit Pearnel Charles at 74 years old, Deputy PM Dr Ken Baugh whose heart is not in it, and Karl Samuda who needs a good rest now. Housing Minister Dr Horace Chang has much in his educational, organisational, political and professional past to be proud of, but in this the age of the pirates he would never make it. Sports Minister Babsy Grange has never indicated that she had more in her than what she now has.

Security Minister Senator Dwight Nelson was, like Golding, a child prodigy, but it is not my belief that he was cut out for the potential pitfalls of representational politics. He earned himself the moniker, ‘I can’t recall’, during one phase of him being grilled by seeking solace in replying ‘I can’t recall’ to a series of questions. As a Jamaican watching him that day, I felt ashamed for the state of my country, and while I recognise that there will always be sensitive matters underpinning national security, I expected a lot more from him than ‘I can’t recall’. Dwight Nelson should pack his bags and go!

Read more:

Health Minister Ruddy Spencer reminds me of the late Hugh Shearer, a man who found real happiness after the west engineered his ouster as JLP leader in 1974 and replaced him with the fiery Seaga.

Heading our shortlist is the youngest Cabinet member: 38-year-old Andrew Holness, the education minister (a Seaga find) whose ministry operates in a poor country that will never be able to allow him to operate at his full competency level. He has what some would call a “caring” personality but he also will find it difficult to sail the seas with political pirates. He needs at least seven more years to toughen his hide. Andrew Holness is the…worst nightmare

The last two on the list are Daryl Vaz (47), Minister in charge of Special Projects and Information and Telecommunications, and James Robertson (44), Minister of Mining and Energy, second-tier personnel salivating outside the prime minister’s door like eager hounds in heat.

The reality is, the little man and woman at street level are very much worse off than they were in 2007, the year the JLP took power…enough hopelessness and economic uncertainty exist among our people to scare the JLP government silly as it views its electoral prospects in 2012.

Is the PNP’s Progressive Agenda the answer? It is an exciting document that takes the PNP into almost scripting what I see as the ultimate mission statement. Does the JLP government have any mission statement guiding it or is it still playing “ketchy shubby”?

I don’t know Mark, you tell me, and don’t seh is mi draw your tongue…

 

Advisory: Content in this post has carefully been doctored to produce a particular message not unlike the production of the G2K video featuring the Leader of the Opposition. If you don’t have a sense of humour or are lacking in intelligence you may want to forget that you read it by undergoing appropriate memory erasing procedures or consuming amnesiacs.

Overtaken by the bré bré?


These days I seem to spend all my time sprinting from deadline to deadline, hurtling over the added hurdles of blog posts–pacing myself–hoping even briefly to attain the grace, elegance and power of Olympian Melaine Walker. Sigh. One of these days….

In the meantime there’s much to talk about. With the potential meltdown of the financial architecture of the United States occurring in the background it seems picayune to return to the PNP power struggle that came to a head last weekend–on the 20th to be precise. But it bears talking about for several reasons. For one the outcome left a number of Jamaica’s leading talking heads and pundits with egg all over their faces…again (the diatribalist also focuses on this, read his Errata).

For another, Portia Simpson-Miller, President of the Opposition People’s National Party, represents to the elite and middle class in Jamaica what Obama represents to white, bible-thumping, gun-toting mainstream America. Thus she comes in for the same kind of demonization and denigration that is often directed at Obama in the US. Which is worse I wonder: To be black (socially speaking) in a black country or to be black in a white country?

Nationwide’s Cliff Hughes, who had predicted that Bruce Golding would win the 2007 election by a landslide, again misread the political landscape a year later. Both he and co-host Elon Parkinson called it for Portia’s rival, Peter, the day before the September 20 election. In this they were echoing the Gleaner’s sentiments as well as the Observer’s. The latter’s chief columnist, Mark Wignall, also convinced himself that Phillips ought to pull it off; in 2007 he too like Messrs Hughes and Robinson had thought that Golding would sweep the 2007 elections.

How to explain these failures on the part of Jamaica’s leading journalists? They all to a man seem to have substituted wishful thinking for objective journalistic analysis allowing their prejudices to inform their professional opinions instead of hard intelligence. What is worse, having made such gaffes, all concerned proceeded full steam ahead with their Portia-bashing, berating the newly elected PNP President for not mentioning her opponent’s name in her post-election address and continuing to cast aspersions on both her and the delegates who had elected her.

“The PNP is in danger of being overtaken by the bré bré…” proclaimed Hughes on the Monday following the election. Bré bré I understand is a word meaning ‘much, many, plentiful’; when used in the way Hughes employed it it signifies what Don Robotham means when he says ‘lumpen proletariat’ or what Upper Saint Andrew is fond of referring to as the ‘Buttoos’.

On Oct. 24th on the TV show, Impact, Cliff Hughes continued his prosecutorial harangue against the PNP leadership wielding the whip of political correctness against the hapless Simpson-Miller. Portia should have immediately checked the delegates when they booed Harry ‘Pip Pip’ Douglas, one of the losing Vice Presidential candidates, and she should have graciously (and with remarkable hypocrisy) acknowledged Peter Phillips by name and offered him a role in the opposition ranks (az cawdin to Hughes).

Not having done either she had once again (in the view of these journalists) demonstrated the lack of ‘leadership qualities’ Hughes and Co. have been accusing her of for some time now. Never mind that the delegates might have been expressing legitimate grievances when they booed Douglas. When he lost his seat in the 2007 general elections one of the newspapers explained why:

Douglas, the politician who some St. Mary residents have alleged honks the horn of his SUV more often than he represents them, has been driven into the political wilderness by the voters in South East St. Mary. He was popularly called ‘Pip Pip’, an indication that he did not even give a full blast of the horn whenever he drove through the constituency.

One might ask why Portia Simpson-Miller should have censored or otherwise interfered with the delegates freely expressing their view of a politician who clearly, judging by the above, had done very little for them.

The open contempt expressed for the rank and file members of the PNP has been breathtaking. On the day of the election Messrs Hughes and Parkinson characterized the votes in favour of Portia as coming from the ‘heart’ rather than the ‘head’. In other words according to the hosts of Nationwide the delegates had hung up their minds and allowed themselves to be moved by emotion rather than reason.

In an article titled “Who are these PNP delegates?” Horace Williams, a human-resource specialist, gave quite a different picture from that of the die-hearted Phillips supporters masquerading as journalists:

There has been much debate as to why the Arise and Renew team did not win the PNP’s presidential elections, given the large sum of money provided by the private sector, and the moneyed class, their level of organisation and level of intellectual input from the middle class, the backing from sections of the media and the overall level of advertising and media exposure. It is also felt that the Arise and Renew team presented a vision of the future for the country, which was clear, rational and evident for all the delegates to see.

What appears to have happened, in my estimation, is that all those so-called ordinary black, uneducated, unsophisticated, ill-informed and short-sighted persons who voted for Mrs Simpson Miller are singing a different tune from the so-called educated, visionary, upper class, intellectually sophisticated and far-sighted Jamaicans.

Over the last three or so decades, the lot of the ordinary black people in this country has not changed substantially. There has been some improvement, but much more could have been done. They have voted for successive governments, but all that appears to be needed of them is to dip a live finger in the ink on election day. After the party has been elected, ministers of Government who then move into upper-class neighbourhoods in St Andrew are appointed, are provided with multimillion-dollar luxury vehicles, and are provided with all the trappings of modern life. Their friends and relatives are allowed to plunder the resources of the country for their own benefit…

…So, Mrs Simpson Miller’s win may be seen in the context of a drowning man clutching at a straw. In my estimation, the delegates are saying to the owners of capital, the intellectuals, sections of the media, the browns, whites and the other class: “You have not helped us so far, or much more could have been done”. Let us cling to Sister P who is one of us, whom we can trust. In my estimation, they are saying: “We do not trust you; we do not trust your company; you want us at the back of the bus; your only intention is political and economic power for yourselves.”

This is hardly an example of people voting with their hearts instead of their heads is it? On the contrary the PNP delegates calmly and rationally examined the lay of the land and coolly decided where to cast their vote. Those who were swayed by emotion rather than rationality, their hearts rather than their heads, are all those media VIPs who called it for Phillips and the Arise and Renew campaign despite the political portents to the contrary. How credible are they now?

Photo by Varun Baker, http://www.varunbaker.com

Patwa Grammar

Today’s a big day in Jamaica. The People’s National Party (PNP) which held power from 1989 to 2007 is undergoing a power struggle which culminates today when party delegates will decide whether the incumbent party leader, Portia Simpson-Miller, continues to lead them or if contender Peter Phillips will get a chance to take the helm. An unbelievable amount rides on the outcome of this race for each candidate is seen as representing a different class. what we’re seeing is nothing less than a class war though there’s a lot of resistance on the ground to calling a spade a spade. Much of this class struggle expresses itself linguistically and Carolyn Cooper had a boss article called “Nuff tings a go gwaan” on the subject in last Sunday’s Gleaner (see below). Read it; i’ll be back at the end of the day when the results are announced to add my two paisa worth. till soon!

Nuff tings a go gwaan?

Prime Minister Golding spoke straight from his heart when he was asked how the nation was going to honour our Olympic champions: ‘Nuff tings a go gwaan.’ Then in response to Jacques Rogge’s reprimanding of Usain Bolt for celebrating victory in typical Jamaican style, the PM’s passionate assessment was: “Is pure red eye and ‘grudgefulness’.”

In classic dancehall fashion, our prime minister dismissively sent a message to all bad-mind people: “Tell dem to tek weh demself.” Incidentally, that’s ungrammatical Jamaican. It should have been ‘fi’ instead of ‘to’. And in the sentence above it should have been ‘a’ instead of ‘is.’ And then ‘grudgefulness’ adds an over-correct English ‘ness’ which wouldn’t usually be there in Jamaican. These are good examples of English interference in Jamaican grammar. Bilingual speakers sometimes get their languages mixed up, especially when they are in a highly emotional state.

8.10 pm

Yessssss! Portia prevails! by 350 votes–

Photo credit: Pepper swimps by Varun Baker (who happens to be my sun and a great photographer, check out his website)

To the World from Jamaica! Patwa Power Bolts the Stables


Yes, we can…be worldbeaters! That’s the message from Jamaica’s relentlessly resilient and resourceful underclass who have proven yet again their ability to dominate global competition in the arenas where their lack of English doesn’t hold them back. This is Patwa power (patois or creole, the much reviled and disdained oral language spoken by the majority of Jamaicans) at its most potent: a lithe and flexible force–honed by adversity–flaunting its mastery of the universe of athletics.

To underscore its point Patwa hurled its most powerful lightning bolt at distant Beijing. Named Usain, this young and irrepressible son of Jamaican soil then re-inscribed forever the significance of the word Bolt. Both English-speaking and Patwa-speaking Jamaicans united in celebrating Usain Bolt’s extraordinary exploits (Gold and world records in Men’s 100m, 200m and the 4×100) and those of the nimble, determined young Jamaican team accompanying him. Over the two weeks of the 29th Olympiad they enthralled global audiences over and over again with their worldbeating skills.

Portia Simpson-Miller, considered by many patwa-speakers to be their spokesperson, nailed it when she said on radio that the achievements of Jamaican athletes at Beijing made her proud because “what people call ‘ordinary people’ have produced such extraordinary results”. Prime Minister of Jamaica briefly from 2006 to 2007 Simpson-Miller has faced enormous hostility from the English-speaking elites here who would like to continue their hegemonic rule over this small island state in the Caribbean. President of the Opposition People’s National Party she is currently being challenged for leadership by Dr. Peter Phillips, seen by many as representing the highly educated but numerically small middle class and a state of mind known as Drumblair, the equivalent in Jamaica of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) culture or status in the United States.

Watching the athletic meet at the Olympics unfold from the vantage point of Kingston, Jamaica was an incredible experience. Raw, naked nationalism at its very best: First we rallied around Samantha Albert, Jamaica’s only entrant in the equestrienne events. Samantha is a white Englishwoman with a Jamaican mother who was born and lived here in her early years. She didn’t stand a chance of medaling, merely hoping to make it to the top 25, yet Jamaicans cheered her on, proud to see their flag in this never before contested event.

Then there was the first big race, the men’s 100 metres, in which both Bolt and Asafa Powell were gold medal contenders. Alas Powell disintegrated under the pressure; he still came in fifth but his fans were inconsolable. Bolt’s sensational streak to victory helped but by and large Jamaicans were grieving for Powell. He holds a special place in their hearts. It is as if they identify with him. Whereas in the past they used to cuss off Merlene Ottey when she only managed a bronze medal this time the public concern shown for Powell’s morale and well-being in the aftermath of his disastrous run was quite remarkable. When he finally anchored the 4×100 team to victory in fine form, thundering down the closing stretch like Nemesis herself, he had completely redeemed the favoured son spot he had never really lost.

If Jamaican success at the men’s 100m was tempered with disappointment at not pulling off a trifecta (or even a bifecta) the female athletes delivered perfection by winning gold, silver and silver at the women’s 100 metres. This was an unexpected bonanza. Till now no one had really focused on the female runners or races other than the women’s 200m where Veronica Campbell-Brown was expected to deliver gold. Now the women had successfully grabbed the spotlight and kept it on themselves winning gold or silver in most of their events. In the end, of Jamaica’s 11 medals (six of which were gold) 8 were from women as TVJ’s commentator Bruce James usefully pointed out. One of the sweetest was Melaine Walker’s virtually effortless 400m hurdles gold medal.

Shelley Ann Fraser (women’s 100m winner), the pocket rocket who shot out of the starting blocks and into our hearts wasn’t even considered a medal contender to begin with. Earlier in the year when Veronica, the defending Olympic 200m winner didn’t qualify for the Jamaican 100m team because she came fourth in the qualifying trials (this shows you how competitive athletics is in Jamaica) there were many who thought one of the unknowns who had beaten her should have stepped down in favour of Campbell-Brown out of deference to her seniority and past distinctions. Fraser was the one many thought should have been eliminated from the Jamaican team to make way for Veronica.

Maybe that’s what made her run like a cheetah and spring like a moko jumbie but from now on everytime anyone in the world wants to illustrate the concept of delight they should simply replay Fraser’s girlish leaps and bounds when she realized she had won Olympic gold. If the whole world fell in love with that ecstatic brace-filled smile and the spontaneous, unadulterated joy Shelley-Ann Fraser expressed on the track you can imagine how we in Jamdown felt.

What was hard to imagine even down so (admittedly from uptown down so) was how the parents of these individuals must have felt. Especially when the TV cameras took you to the homes of Shelley-Ann and Sherieka Williams and Sherone Simpson and Melaine Walker and you realized with shock how very poor these people who had produced such champions were. Most of them had watched their sons and daughters winning Olympic silver and gold on very small TV screens, in very humble living quarters, in this ghetto or that one.

Waterhouse. Slaughterhouse. Powerhouse. That’s what young Shelley-Ann from Waterhouse has reiterated for us in case we didn’t know this already from the abnormal number of successful musicians her community has produced. Virtually 80% of Jamaica’s biggest names in music have come from Waterhouse, one of the poorest ghettoes in Kingston, including the young singer I mentioned in my last blog, Terry Lynn. The area should be declared some sort of national patrimony or Talent Park with free education up to any level for all.

When asked if she herself had ever displayed any running talent Shelley Ann’s mother said that indeed she had quite a bit of experience sprinting from the police, with the goods she tried to sell as an unlicensed street vendor. She was an experienced runner she said so her daughter’s performance was not that surprising.

The Ministry of Transport hastened to announce that it was going to upgrade the roadways in all the communities whose athletes had produced Olympic gold. Why? Not so much to elevate these depressed communities as to give them an instant facelift so that when the international media arrived their impoverishment would be less apparent and less of a blight on the brand name of Jamaica! The politics of sports in Jamaica! Or just the politics of politics…

On a more amusing note page two of the Observer, the social page, suddenly underwent a population transfusion, the beige and white socialites who normally monopolize it abruptly displaced by the almost uniformly dark-skinned athletes. Sigh! If only Jamaica’s business and social elite were one hundredth as nimble and competitive as the country’s athletes! If only they too were worldbeaters!

Personally I think that the phenomenal performance of Jamaican athletes is also due to the cultural self-confidence they feel; a confidence expressed by Usain Bolt in Beijing’s Bird’s Nest stadium when he spontaneously broke into the Nuh Linga and the Gully Creeper, the latest dance moves innovative Jamaican dancehall music has produced (actually Usain’s trademark gesture of pulling back an imaginary bow and arrow like Orion is now the latest dancehall move here).

This is not a confidence manufactured by the abjectly self-conscious, respectability-seeking, hymn-singing English-speaking middle classes but one bred out of the flamboyant, boisterous, in-your-face Patwa-speaking population. In the forty years since Jamaica’s independence it is the latter who have proved both through their athletic and musical prowess that they are ready to take on the world. The Beijing Olympics have shown that the world is more than ready for them (minus the prissy IOC head Jacques Rogge who sounds for all the world as if he had been formed in the bowels of Upper St. Andrew). To the World Ja!

Photo credits, captions
(L-R) Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Usain Bolt and Michael Frater of Jamaica celebrate the gold medal after the Men’s 4 x 100m Relay Final at the National Stadium on Day 14 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 22, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images AsiaPac)

(L-R) Joint silver medalist Sherone Simpson of Jamaica, gold medalist Shelly-Ann Fraser of Jamaica and Joint silver medalist Kerron Stewart of Jamaica stand on the podium during the medal ceremony for the Women’s 100m Final at the National Stadium on Day 10 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 18, 2008 in Beijing, China.
(Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Masters of the Universe?

Remember how former Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller was chided and ridiculed for wanting to hold elections on July 7 last year? 7-7-7 I did try and point out at the time that in countries like India and China it’s quite normal to schedule things on auspicious dates at auspicious times. Numbers are nothing after all if not symbolic!

Like many others I ritualistically seated myself in front of my TV screen at 8.08 pm Chinese time on August 8, 2008 to catch the Opening Ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. What a stupendous show! To have pulled off such a stunning feat live, with the entire world watching, without a glitch or stutter—hats, tams and solar topees off to the mighty Chinese!

I gushed about it to all and sundry for two whole days till my cousin Susan sent me a tart email from Delhi saying: Dear Annie, I’ve been supporting the Tibet group in India, so the Beijing opening seemed stylistic and opaque, also 95,000 people were evacuated from Eastern China because of flash floods same day as the opening…and I’m not even a political person really, so Tiananmen square is always dedicated in my mind to those students.

Stick a pin.

For me it was the East showing the West what the marriage of technology, art and people can do. A show of power but one far more sophisticated than the nationalistic military parades normally on offer. With this synthesis of China’s penchant for the military, their mastery of technology and ancient flair for the artistic the mightiest nation of the east was signaling that it has reached; it has arrived. China has dramatically proven its prowess, displaying complete mastery over the universe on the very terms that capitalism uses to assess success.

At the same time the spectacular display was premised on teamwork, on large numbers of people working together, not on individual idiosyncracy so highly prized in the West. There were of course cameo concessions to the valued place of the modern individual for instance when two singers stood on top of a globe, looking like for all the world like one of those plastic couples used to decorate wedding cakes; dressed in Western clothes they theatrically lip-synched the haunting theme song You and Me, ingeniously combining Western pop and Chinese song (someone I read somewhere dismissed this as kitschy tripe).

Is this the same China that impassively stood by and allowed Tiananman Square to happen? I’m not sure but this Olympics also signals China’s opening up to the values of the West, including the notion of individual human rights I would imagine. Yet in this opening ceremony it was showing the splendour and vastness of imagination its people are capable of; the achievements of its civilization from the invention of paper and gunpowder to outer space exploration; its ability to command the heights of tradition as well as the most contemporary technology. There was something extraordinary in that display ( It’s cyberfeudalism growled Melinda Brown as we watched thousands of elegantly begowned, bewigged Mandarins juggling neon laserbeams).

Having so memorably flexed its creative muscles will China now be more willing to negotiate with the rest of the world? Will it feel more gracious toward the demands made on it by Tibet- and Darfur-watchers? We’ll find out in the sweet by and by, won’t we?

Meanwhile back home the excitement is building as Jamaica’s cassava-fed athletes get ready to hit their stride when the Olympic Track and Field events kick off tomorrow. Will Asafa finally deliver? Or will there be a repeat of the World Championships some years back when both Asafa and Usain Bolt were pipped by Tyson Gay; the best excuse I heard after that debacle was a radio announcer claiming that this was because “Jamaican men nah like Gay running after dem so dem just a let him pass”.

Some of the funniest commentary on the impending Olympic events is to be heard on my all-time favourite radio programme, Left, Right and Centre (LRC), part of the Nationwide Radio network here (Digital AM 770). For weeks now they’ve been carrying spoof ads on The Farcical News Network for products such as ‘ANDRALONE’. Here’s an example–

Intro: Bob Marley’s song “You’re running and you’re running and you’re running away…” Music fades.

Brooks: “Are you coming last in every race you run? Do you have dreams of placing 6th or 7th but can’t afford the high end drugs your friends are using? Well boost your performance with ANDRALONE, the fast-acting, low-end, generic drug designed especially for athletes who can’t seem to dig themselves out of obscurity. Build those muscles! Grow that chest hair! Get out of the blocks faster than you ever have before with ANDRALONE!

Last night the show lampooned Jamaican athletes in Beijing, imagining them upsetting Olympic Village officials by nonchalantly (Ja-style) calling all of them Mr. Chin. Missa Chin beg yu two slice a bread! Missa Chin which part di pattyshop deh? I tell you the hosts of LRC, Messrs Dennis Brooks and Damion Blake, rank right up there with Bill Maher and Stephen Colbert. Unfortunately Damion is leaving to do his PhD at Virginia Tech; he’ll be badly missed . Virginia’s gain, Ja’s loss.

Well, it’s been an intense few weeks for me lurching from deadline to deadline and trying to find a moment in between to blog when not being terrorized by my good friend Peter Dean Rickards. PD has been assaulting me at regular intervals with outtakes from his maiden music video, The System, featuring an amazing new female singer called Terry Lyn. I’m still traumatized by the first cut (trust me this is the most appropriate metaphor to use here) he sent me which involved a gory sequence of a pig being slaughtered to an unbearably cheery rendition of Fire of Eternal Glory (in her song, The System, Terry Lyn rhymes Waterhouse with Slaughterhouse).

“But I identify with the pig!” I squealed via sms.

“Pig nah die in vain! Him get videolight!” PD texted back callously.

Obviously all of this is a little premature considering that what PD refers to as the Pig Opera has yet to be released. But when it is trust me it’s going to create a sensation. Remember you heard o’ it here first!

Jamaica’s most successful products: Athletes and music. Both occupied the mainstream media in New York this past week first with Baz Dreisinger’s thought-provoking article in the Village Voice How Jamaica’s Volatile Dancehall Scene Can Avoid a Biggie vs. Tupac Tragedy; featured in this sharp critique which should be required reading for all the pontificating pundits in Jamaica who love to chant down dancehall is an in-depth profile of and interview with top DJ Mavado. With epigrammatic precision Mavado sums up the situation: “They are trying to blame a problem that they put we in on us. They are turning dancehall into a scapegoat.”

And weighing in on Jamaica’s runners, in the Wall Street Journal no less, was Colin Channer with the memorable line “Jamaica’s love of speed seems at odds with its hard-nosed commitment to nonchalance”: See ‘Cool Runnings’ Are Heating Up.

Meanwhile fingers crossed that both Asafa and Bolt prove on the global stage once and for all that they ARE, like the Chinese, masters of the universe.