I like “we” better than “us.” It is more active; it is strong. In case you are wondering what I am rambling on about, dear reader, I am referring to the theme of today’s Blog Action Day 2012 – an annual event. It is “The Power of ‘We.'” A little corny, I agree, but let’s go with it. If you think about it, “we” is the most significant personal pronoun of all.
I had something else to write about today, but let me put it on one side, temporarily. Let’s talk about “we” (not good grammar but you know what I mean) – or “wi” in Jamaican patois.
The essence of blogging is, or should be, creating a community in which to share ideas, agree, disagree. It is not supposed to be an ego-boosting, self-aggrandizing exercise, as a Guardian blogger suggests in the article below. It should be about “we.” But which “we” are we talking about? How large is the collective “we” – how vague, how amorphous is it? Can we reach out and embrace the “we” and if not, why not?
Our local politicians seem to like the concept of “we” – when it suits them. When fingers are pointed at them to seize the initiative, to lead, to deal with a specific problem, the cry often goes up, “Well, we are all in this together… We can fight crime together… We can generate jobs together…” etc, etc. The Jamaican citizen, staggering under the weight of poverty, growing inequality, joblessness and all the other social ills, hardly feels empowered, one suspects. He/she feels like the “us” in “them and us.” And if he/she does get up and assert him/herself, with fellow citizens, as the collective “we,” the powers that be may not support you whole-heartedly.
One small example: I felt a little sad when I read that a group of rural residents were prevented from continuing a peaceful march of several miles from the birthplace of National Hero Paul Bogle (Stony Gut, St. Thomas) to Morant Bay. It was simply a re-enactment of Bogle’s historic march during the rebellion of 1865 (Bogle was hanged at the end of it). Yesterday was National Heroes Day. The people were also concerned about a number of current social problems afflicting Jamaica – the increased incidence of rape and other crimes, for example. So they had a lot on their minds; but they were peaceful. A van-load of police prevented them from completing their march because they did not have the “necessary permit.” The colonial apparatus of bureaucracy appears to be alive and well (yes, you must get a permit to stage a demonstration, and you cannot stage any kind of demonstration anywhere near to the Prime Minister’s office, the Governor General’s residence or the Houses of Parliament, or you will be arrested).
A sad little episode, and an example of the powerlessness of people who are not the right class and who are not people of influence. Who could be more powerless in Jamaica than the rural poor? Besides, the Governor General (the Queen’s representative) was in the neighborhood on an official assignment, and he must not be disturbed in any way by such a rabble! (No, rabble was certainly not the word for this group…)
Thus, the desire of “we the people” to express themselves peacefully in countries like ours is often thwarted by those in authority. So, where can, and must, the collective “we” assert itself, also peacefully and perhaps more effectively? I can only point to the incredible number of non-governmental, private sector, faith-based and community organizations in Jamaica that somehow manage to engender this feeling of “we.” They hint at the potential the citizenry has to really make changes for the better, if only we were to work together.
I have often mentioned these organizations in my Sunday blog posts, and I am in constant awe of them. I admire their dedication and their sheer determination. Many of them operate on a shoestring budget, sometimes having to fall back on their own personal resources to keep things going. There are so many that I know I will surely miss out many who are doing incredible work across the island, but here are a few examples:
Eve for Life supports women and children living with HIV – young mothers and families – offering counseling, social support, youth support, after-school programs…and a whole lot of love. Pat Watson and Joy Crawford are knowledgeable, sensitive, down-to-earth and caring.
Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica, founded by former U.S. Ambassador to Jamaica Sue Cobb, quietly gets on with the job of empowering inner-city youth in several Kingston communities, nurtured by the Office of Social Entrepreneurship at the University of the West Indies. It is great to see young people such as Edward Dixon and Marlon Moore working so hard with teens who are growing up in highly stressful environments, guiding and encouraging.
Another guide and supporter of Jamaican youth is Omar Frith, the quiet and effective manager of the Stella Maris Foundation. Omar is young and has “been there, done that.” He knows what the young people are going through – he understands, but makes no excuses for them. He is calm, thoughtful and full of belief. The Foundation offers all kinds of training, and brings hope, through mentorship and support for those who want to help themselves, in the relatively small but often-volatile community of Grants Pen in Kingston.
The Trench Town Reading Centre, incorporating a community classroom, is a bright, glowing and energetic little oasis in the heart of Trench Town – just over the road from the “government yard” where Bob Marley lived as a young man. Children’s eyes light up as they enter. There are books, and more books – for adults and children. There are activities – art and crafts, spelling bees, poetry competitions, you name it. There are activities throughout the long summer days when young children often wander on hot inner-city streets. It is a wonderful place of hope. And learning.
Jamaicans for Justice is high-profile, and so it should be. Founded by Dr. Carolyn Gomes – who gave up her lucrative pediatrician’s practice to lead the lobby group – JFJ fights for the rights of all Jamaicans, young and old, uptown and downtown. It lobbies for improvements to the justice system, which is limping along. It supports democratic ideals and practices – that real “we” in action that we should all support.
A number of women’s organizations understand the “we” and are working towards women of all ages and backgrounds to play their full part in it. The 51% Coalition is a relatively new grouping that seeks to redress the balance in society by strengthening women’s voices in public life. Woman Inc has for many years sought to protect and shelter the victims of domestic violence. Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre is an amazing group that advocates for and supports Jamaican women in the town and in rural areas, and understands their important role in society.
Last but not least…the Jamaica Forum for Lesbians, All-Sexuals and Gays (J-FLAG) understands fully the concept of “we” – although, in the Jamaican context, there would be good cause for them falling prey to the “them versus us” syndrome. But they don’t. They actually do “get it” – to use a contemporary phrase. Sadly, many of their fellow Jamaicans don’t; they prefer division, hatred and bigotry. It’s so much easier not to try to understand, to judge, to condemn. Yes, those are strong words. But when a local television station decides not to air an ad encouraging Jamaicans to love and understand their gay family members, it is a sad state of affairs. What are we afraid of? I guess we hate those whom we fear. Fear divides and cripples society. It renders us powerless. There is no “Power of We.” But J-FLAG still believes in it.
I am ending this with simply one of my favorite songs about “we.” The original, plaintive version of “Why Can’t We Live Together” by Timmy Thomas – a song that has been covered by Sade and many others. But there is nothing like that austere, crisp long intro. Listen to the words and look at the pictures in this video. They speak for themselves. By the way, I haven’t a clue how to upload videos, but you may find this in my Music Collection on Lockerz.com at http://lockerz.com/u/petchary/collections/4897223/petchary_s_music?ref=petchary or on YouTube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zhrCMIG53XQ&feature=player_detailpage.
I would also like to point out to you a short, but very important piece published in today’s Jamaica Observer by a young man (of Jamaican heritage, I believe) living in the UK, with the headline “Out of Many, One People.” It sums up the power of “we” – the incredible power of recognizing, supporting, loving each other’s differences.
Here is the link: http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Out-of-many–one-people_12732617
Please, please… let us not follow the example of our two political parties, whom our esteemed Gleaner newspaper still describes as the two “gangs.” They bicker at each other and among themselves. They sigh and heckle and shout and grandstand and show every evidence of divisiveness in their daily lives and their work in Parliament (although there is a general feeling that this combativeness disappears when they are at cocktail functions and social events). Instead of cheering them on in their spiteful forays against each other; instead of calling radio talk shows to defend the party we support; instead of accepting their favors, waving flags and abusing our neighbors in their name – let us be the real Jamaican “we.” Our oft-quoted National Motto is “Out of Many One People.”
Let us be that “One People.” For Jamaica, “we” means unity.
http://globalvoicesonline.org/2012/10/15/its-blog-action-day-celebrate-the-power-of-we/ (from Global Voices, an amazing website sharing blog posts from around the world on real issues)
http://www.guardian.co.uk/higher-education-network/blog/2012/oct/15/blog-action-day-power-of-we?newsfeed=true (Blogging – or the power of we, not me. guardian.co.uk)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/news/Disrespect_12746018 (Marchers claim disrespect to Bogle’s memory. Jamaica Observer)
http://www.eveforlife.org (Eve for Life website)
http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20110713/lead/lead4.html (Youth to be agents of change: Youth Crime Watch of Jamaica)
http://www.dogoodjamaica.org/organizations/stella_maris_foundation (Stella Maris Foundation: dogoodjamaica.org)
http://www.marciaforbes.com/content/51-coalition-–-development-empowerment-through-equity (51% Coalition: marciaforbes.org)
http://wrocjamaica.org (Women’s Resource & Outreach Centre website)
http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/magazines/allwoman/WOMAN-Inc-wants-end-to-domestic-violence_10869491 (Woman Inc wants end to domestic violence: Jamaica Observer)
http://www.trenchtownreadingcentre.com (Trench Town Reading Centre website)
http://www.pri.org/stories/politics-society/a-small-step-forward-for-lgbt-rights-in-jamaica-11667.html (A small step forward for gay rights in Jamaica: pri.org)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/rights-and-wrongs/ (Rights and Wrongs: petchary.wordpress.com)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/dark/ (Dark: petchary.wordpress.com)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/09/end-patronizing-piecemeal-engagement-of-youth/ (“End patronizing, piecemeal engagement of youth” – op-ed by Jaevion Nelson)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/04/12/op-ed-fighting-injustice-in-jamaica/ (Fighting injustice in Jamaica – op-ed by Jaevion Nelson/Javed Jaghai)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/we-are-the-51-per-cent/ (We are the 51% – petchary.wordpress.com)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2012/06/22/madam-director-madam-chair/ (Madam Director, Madam Chair: petchary.wordpress.com)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/11/26/trench-town-postscript/ (Trench Town Postscript: petchary.wordpress.com)
https://petchary.wordpress.com/2010/11/24/trench-town/ (Trench Town: petchary.wordpress.com)