Hard Woman fe Dead

portia


Prince Buster died on September 8 this year, roughly two weeks ago. I remember feeling a deep  sense of loss all day long into the next few days that was exacerbated by the scant attention local media was giving the news. On the day of the latter-day superstar’s death radio and TV newscasts in Jamaica carried it way down in their line-up. None of them even had the sad news as a top three item as far as I recall.

I didn’t know Prince Buster personally. I know that he was a crucial pioneer of the success story that is Jamaican music and I love his music and his swaggering history. When @DahliaHarris said “The way international media is paying tribute to Prince Buster is amazing. We need to teach our youth about our Jamaican legends” I completely agreed. The news of Prince Buster’s death should have led newscasts in Jamaica on that sad day for this was the passing of a legend.

Think about it. Had a paltry politician from the top two rungs of Parliament died it would have led the news here but someone who helped to put Jamaica on the map through its music, someone who inspired so many people worldwide that when you google his death you get a list of tributes published in all the top global media—the New York Times, BBC, The Economist, The UK Guardian, Rolling Stone—no of course not…that’s secondary news in the country of his birth.

The Economist’s tribute described Prince Buster’s life as “a chronicle of the tropical tempest that is modern Jamaica” and ended by invoking his blockbuster Hard Man fe Dead:

“In his 1966 record “Hard Man Fe Dead”, Prince Buster sings the tale of a corpse who steadfastly refuses to die.  It’s an ode to the indomitable spirit of his countrymen—and a fitting tribute to his own legacy:

“Now the procession leads to the cemetery,
The man holler out—don’t you bury me!
You pick him up, you lick him down,
Him bounce right back, what a hard man fe dead.”

It’s at moments like this that you realise there is something seriously askew with the way Jamaican society operates. This lopsidedness also manifests itself in the inability of the country’s bourgeoisie to understand who Portia Simpson Miller is and what she represents to many people in this country. “I’m a hard woman fe dead,” she said when she emerged triumphant from the internal elections of the People’s National Party last weekend, having won 2,471 of 2,669 votes cast by delegates.

This after a mounting campaign in the media to discredit her in the weeks preceding the election, on the grounds that it was time for her to go, particularly as her health seems increasingly to be an issue. The negative campaign only seems to have spurred on the support this grassroots leader enjoys. In 2006 when Portia won the PNP’s leadership election for the first time, with the vast majority of PNP delegates voting for her, it was against the wishes of the majority of the party leadership at Cabinet level, and in Parliament.

Unfortunately for the top leadership they soon realised that none of them could muster similar support from the delegates and thus began a decade of an uneasy coalition between middle class and elite PNP leaders and Portia. Although some of them were involved in the campaign to hasten her departure they have now been told in no uncertain terms by the delegates that she will go, when she, and they, are ready. Without Portia the PNP may never win another election and that is the simple truth of it.

As a wit once observed in response to snarky sniping about Portia Simpson Miller’s lack of higher academic degrees, “Who say Portia don’t have PhD? Portia Have Delegates. seet deh? PhD.” An upper St Andrew friend was bitter about Portia’s re-election as party leader, grumbling that she needs to go as she couldn’t represent the country. Why not, I prodded. “No man, she can’t speak for me,” came back the answer, and implicit in that statement was all the prejudice and disregard too many of us feel towards the grassroots of this country.

The sober truth though, is that neither can Upper St Andrew (and its counterparts) speak for the grassroots any longer. That is why Portia still reigns…and why the passing of Prince Buster should have been front and centre of the news on September 8, 2016. No two ways about that.

(The above is my Gleaner column from September 21, 2016)

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.