A mountain has died and words are inadequate to describe the loss, the Fidel-shaped hole in the universe we must live with now, but Jamaican songwriter and singer Tanya Stephens has written the most thoughtful, eloquent, hard-hitting tribute you can imagine and it deserves to be read far and wide–
I still remember the almighty roar that went up from the crowd outside the Holy Trinity Cathedral on North Street in Kingston when Fidel Castro alighted from his car and made his way into the Cathedral where the funeral service for Michael Manley was being held. It was 1997. I was in the street outside with the hoi polloi but i heard that even inside the Cathedral, full of VIPs, diplomats and other elites the entire congregation arose applauding when he walked in. Fidel was an inspiration as Tanya explains so eloquently…
He was good or bad depending on who you speak to. I fell in love with the romantic portrayal of the Cuban revolution in high school History class. I couldn’t express that at home. I later took more details into consideration and lost some of my love for the man while exercising empathy for the many refugees who fled the country to seek more favorable socioeconomic conditions elsewhere. Then I went to Cuba and my love was renewed. There’s no human on this planet who gets a perfect score from every other human. What I saw was an education system which works. Healthcare which works. National security which works. We stayed in a rooming house in a ‘ghetto’ in Havana although we could have easily afforded a room in the best hotel, but we wanted to be among the people. I went walking in this ‘ghetto’ after midnight, and the only interactions from locals we attracted were offers to (literally) break bread with us and invitations to come into homes and hang out with them. I dream of a Jamaica close to this.
I could also see that it was a synthetic kind of safety born of fear, but I would pick someone being afraid of the repercussions from committing a crime over everyone being afraid of criminals ANY day.
To all the people whose lives he touched negatively, I hope they and their descendants can somehow find the peace he is now incapable of giving them.
To all the people from all over the world who have benefited from the world leading education and health care industries he sculpted, I hope their gratitude will never wane and it will influence somehow their decisions when electing their own officials.
To all the other Caribbean Government heads, please take a page from his book. One of the good pages. Craft our education and health systems like you ACTUALLY have our interest somewhere in your corrupt hearts.
To those in the Jamaica tourist industry, Cuba has comparable and even better beaches, more points of interest, a more romantic tourism product. Get off your butt and start rebuilding your sector. The sky is not falling but your appeal and worth is!
To my 5th form history teacher Miss Blisseth (hope I spelled correctly) I thank you with all my heart for introducing me to the ONLY living Caribbean legend of my childhood. Shaping young minds is a tough job. We didn’t agree on everything, sometimes we even disagreed aggressively, but I’m grateful for every illusion you shattered and every new thought you introduced.
Why Gladwell is wrong about the recent revolts in the Middle East from Iran to Egypt.
I’d bet my bottom dollar that somewhere in Tahrir Square today they’re blasting Bob Marley’s revolutionary lyrics while chanting down Babylon. We’re going to chase those crazy baldheads out of town–Get up, stand up, stand up for your rights–Rebel Music–Burnin’ and lootin’–almost every one of his songs yields a line of sheer rebellion and his music is all-pervasive. As @kristainchicago said on Twitter today: Universal truth: no matter what country you’re in, there’s a bar somewhere playing No Woman, No Cry.
Malcolm Gladwell has been shooting off his mouth insistently about whether or not social media played a role in the latest set of insurrections in the Middle East. His thesis is that revolutions took place before Facebook and Twitter from which he concludes that the recent uprisings had nothing to do with social media and even if they did, this is ultimately fundamentally unimportant compared to the reasons for the respective revolts.
People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the Internet came along. Barely anyone in East Germany in the nineteen-eighties had a phone—and they ended up with hundreds of thousands of people in central Leipzig and brought down a regime that we all thought would last another hundred years—and in the French Revolution the crowd in the streets spoke to one another with that strange, today largely unknown instrument known as the human voice. People with a grievance will always find ways to communicate with each other. How they choose to do it is less interesting, in the end, than why they were driven to do it in the first place.
A respondent to Gladwell, AliaThabit, succinctly pointed out the flaws in his thesis:
I just got back from Egypt last night. If the internet were of no consequence, the govt would not have shut it down–along w/ the mobile network in Cairo, and FB and the SMS network over the whole country, which is how most people there communicate–everyone has a mobile, and sms are free (calls are not). I spent most of the first week of the revolution in Aswan with a hotel full of Cairo students who were on holiday–we (and the whole town) were all glued to the television, and they were also glued to their phones. Information raced around the country. The French may not have had Twitter, but they would have used it if they had. There are twenty million people in Cairo alone. How many lived in Paris?
There is a crucial point that the prolific Gladwell (whose mother is Jamaican) is missing. The celebrated revolutions of yesteryear all had heroic leaders around whom sustained acts of dissent, rebellion and revolt were mobilized. What is noteworthy about the recent wave of popular uprisings everywhere from Iran to Tunisia to Egypt is that they have been ‘leaderless revolutions’. This marked change in modus operandi between traditional revolution and its contemporary counterpart is worth studying; the reasons for the shift are attributed to the speed with which information is collected and disseminated by groups of people using the new social networks. The era of the charismatic leader may be over.
Whether or not the revolutions will have been fully successful–and no-one has really defined that success–there is a palpable and electric sense of change, not just in North Africa but globally. The events have revealed that there is already a network for change and how it has worked. One tweet widely circulating from Egypt outlined the method: “Facebook used to set the date, Twitter used to share logistics, YouTube to show the world, all to connect people.” The dispersed co-ordination shows that the network has learned from Iran that social networking can also be used by the police to track down activists. Mubarak tried to cut off all Internet access, hoping that this would quell the street actions. Facebook went first, followed by Twitter, then all connections. It was a revolution watched on social networks, but acted in the streets.
…The result has been the now-characteristic “leaderless” revolutions, as the Western media have depicted them, as if expecting new Castros and Lenins to materialize. Unable to comprehend networked change, those working in hierarchical companies are already writing banal opinion pieces predicting the collapse of the revolutions for lack of the very kind of leadership that provoked the uprisings. Should the revolutions fail, it will be following the combination of local state violence and globalized governmental and corporate hostility. Israel and Saudi Arabia found an unusual point of agreement in opposing the Egyptian revolution, while stock markets plunged on January 29 as it became clear that the revolution was not going to be crushed. Oil prices hit $100 a barrel on January 31, the usual profiteering from democracy. Israel has begun leading a movement to support Mubarak for fear of the unknown.
Tunisia exploded first, and a domino effect spills over multiple countries. Yemen, Algeria, Jordan. And now Egypt, cradle of humanity, that threatens to remove the Mubarak cancer by the force of the protesters…
…I wonder: why not Cuba? As I watch TV, listen to the demands of the volatile Egyptians. Listen, for example: “We got tired of lies, misery. For decades we endured the dictator Mubarak who has ruined this country.” We hear Egyptian scholars say:” I am a lawyer and live like a beggar. I earn $60 a month, and my rent alone is $75.” And we can not avoid the immediate association with our island.
I’ve heard all the arguments of the Egyptians. And I do not think there is one, I repeat — not one — which does not apply to my country. The same hunger and hopelessness, the same distaste for an inept government; the very low wages that don’t stretch even to survive, the underground corruption; the warning, just look at the living standards of the ruling class; and now, ironically, Cuba is also added to the list of countries with high unemployment.
And then there arises, inevitably, the pointed question: Why not Cuba?
If I had to respond I would start by pointing out a subtle reality: The control of information in my tranquilized country is, aberrantly, more fierce than in countries such as those that have just exploded. For those who don’t believe information has such an important role, I suggest they ask themselves: Why has the opening act of every classic dictatorship in History been to seize the methods of communication?
So this is what Gladwell glibly elides–how messages of revolution are transmitted is crucial–this is why as Licea observes dictators and powerbrokers have always tried to control the media, whether these were the drums of the enslaved signaling revolt on Caribbean plantations or more contemporary forms of broadcasting which now include Twitter and Facebook. Sorry Malcolm you can’t just blink this one away…