“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”


I am sharing below a blog post from one of my favorite Jamaican tweeters. I edited it slightly as I was unable to re-blog it properly (I wish everyone was on WordPress!) @MizDurie responds to a remark by a leading local politician that those who comment on social media are irrelevant. Why? Because they are a) a minority  b) articulate and c) politically motivated. Our political leader prefers to work with the inarticulate majority of “ordinary Jamaicans” that shout at political meetings and vote blindly, without thinking about the issues. THEY are politically motivated of course – for the correct political party.

I joined three other tweeters on local radio this morning to discuss this with broadcast journalist Cliff Hughes. We agreed that we are not about to shut up, any time soon. We noted the inter-connectedness of social media, the rapidly increasing participation of more and more Jamaicans (everyone has a mobile phone, many have data plans, Internet access is growing daily). So we are a rapidly growing minority (one of my colleagues pointed out that almost half of Jamaica’s population is on Facebook). We also noted that Twitter helps to coalesce public opinion and gather people around a cause or idea – especially through the use of hashtags. For example, my fellow tweeter, communications expert and social media inspiration Dr. Marcia Forbes will be speaking on the use of social media in women’s empowerment at the University of the West Indies tomorrow. I don’t believe many Jamaicans on Twitter are simply indulging in idle “verandah chat.” They may be seeking answers, yes. And as a social media activist, I believe Twitter is a motivator. 

Just like the people in Ferguson and across the United States, we can – and must – make our voices heard. As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. suggested in the quote in my headline (and in many other famous remarks) – if we do nothing, say nothing, then our society is in danger. We are in danger of moral and physical decay…or worse. And by the way, there are many examples in global history of this actually happening. 

But hey – who wants to be “ordinary,” anyway?  Politicians, don’t ignore the extraordinary ones…

Here’s @MizDurie’s blog post, which she tweeted this evening. I think it applies to almost anywhere, come to think of it. 

There are a number of ways to get involved in our democracy. I’ve highlighted a few below, but this is by no means exhaustive. If you have other methods and ideas of how people can get involved, send me a tweet (@MizDurie), or post it in the comments. Most importantly, in addition to sharing this post online, please discuss these ideas with your friends, colleagues, co-workers, family members who may not have online access to this post. We need everyone to get involved in some way. Thank you.

****

Jamaican Twitter was set ablaze last night after it was given the label of “articulate minority” by Cabinet member, Robert Pickersgill.

“Pickersgill made the statement immediately following an Opposition walk-out of Parliament yesterday, after Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller failed to answer questions tabled by Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) leader Andrew Holness, on the ongoing Outameni controversy… ‘No ordinary Jamaican not speaking about it…Twitter? Twitter is ordinary Jamaican? Ordinary Jamaicans know anything about Twitter?’ Pickersgill said, adding that Jamaicans on Twitter are an ‘articulate minority’ and the outcry was ‘politically motivated’”. – Jamaica Observer, November 26, 2014

This sentiment isn’t new, though. Delano Franklin once referred to critics as “the chattering class.”

In 2002, as a general election loomed, the matter of the numerous scandals which unfolded during the (then) 13-year reign of the People’s National Party came up. How on earth would they expect to win with all that baggage?! The response?

“In terms of the electorate, the average person does not even know about these things…” – Maxine Henry Wilson (February 19, 2002)

It should disgust you that they think this way about you.

It should disgust you EVEN MORE that they’re actually right.

They know that the Jamaicans who vote (and vote them into power consistently) don’t necessarily pay attention to, or critically analyze current affairs issues. Where the “chattocracy” will engage in reasonable dialogue online and on verandas, and measure the pros and cons (and con artists), there are those who don’t. And MANY of those who don’t, vote. And the politicians know this. We can talk ’til the heavens open up, the bottom line is…the real truth of the matter is that your value boils down to nothing but your vote.

Yes, we can be all idealistic and say “But I am a citizen! My voice is as important as any other person’s!” True, but don’t bother. Learn this: anything that threatens/destabilizes their power (or propels/maintains it) is what they will pay attention to. It hot, but hush. Yes, you do have the right to not get involved. But that is exactly what oppression needs to “grow and flourish”. They don’t care, because they think that YOU don’t care enough to do something about it. Talking and complaining can only go so far.

I am a big advocate for voting. The more you vote, the more you shape the democracy you want to see. You send a message of the type of governance you want to see. I don’t care for whom you vote, as long as you make an informed choice based on your and your community’s needs. Start by getting enumerated. Its easy, and it’s free. The EOJ explains the process here. Discourse is an essential part of our democracy, and helps shape the issues as they unfold. But our talk has to be supported by consistent action, and ultimately a willingness to learn the one language that politicians pay attention to – a language defined by one symbol: X

In the meantime, there are other things you can do…

  • Pay attention. Read local and international newspapers and blogs. Examine opposing viewpoints. Listen to news commentary and talk radio. Equally important: DO NOT SHY AWAY FROM ASKING QUESTIONS. If something doesn’t make sense, if it doesn’t sit well with you, demand answers.
  • Pay attention to what takes place in Parliament. It is streamed live every Tuesday at 2:30pm on JIS’ website, and highlights usually take place during the evening news. Familiarize yourself with Parliamentary processes and procedures. Parliament’s website is a good place to start.
  • Peruse Ministry websites for information such as statements, policies, news and updates. You may find links to Ministries’ websites here.
  • Pay close attention to what various interest groups and causes are articulating as their concerns – unions, civil society, environmentalists, religious groups, business and commercial interests, etc. This is important in helping to shape your own convictions around particular issues, and what you should be lobbying your MP for.

Now for the work. Do you know who your MP is? Find out. Familiarize yourself with their track record before they’ve entered politics, and since. Familiarize yourself with their input in the House of Representatives – do their views (and votes) there align with yours? Are they truly representing your interests? This is important because whatever position they take in parliament suggests that they are representing YOUR views. How comfortable are you with this?

Is your MP accessible? Pleased with how a portfolio Minister handled a particular matter? No? Write, call, or march on your MP’s/Minister’s office. If there’s no response (or even an attempt), take it to the media. Write the papers and call the talk show programs.

If you find that your concerns are shared by others in your community, organize around those issues. Have poster/placard-making parties, brainstorming sessions, plan talking points for town hall meetings, etc. There is strength in numbers. Among those types of interest groups I’ve listed above (and others) find a cause – an organization or lobby group – that is aligned with your concerns so that your voice is strengthened. In that is the advantage of an already organized group with which you can be active on the ground and let your voice be heard.

No success there? Form your own interest group. Get your friends, community members, colleagues together and get organized. Develop a plan of action. What that action plan looks like will depend on the skills of those involved, availability, urgency of the matter etc. Use whatever skills you have to help effect change. Are you good with making YouTube videos? What about those exceptional writing skills? Have a loud booming voice good for chanting during a road march? EVERYTHING COUNTS. And EVERYONE can do SOMETHING. Bottom line is that organization is key for any plan to be effective.

STAND UP FOR SOMETHING.

Take it further – journalists are now more accessible via social media. Bring your concern to their attention. Is there a blogger that posts on issues of that nature regularly – collaborate with them in articulating your concerns. You can also donate to organizations or causes that you believe will advance ideas that are in the best interest of the country.

Don’t forget third parties and independent candidates. It may very well be that some of these people have good ideas and platforms worth paying attention to. Also, remember you are not beholden to any one party. You are not born under the name of a political party; this is NOT PNP or JLP country.

Finally, UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES SHOULD YOU REMAIN SILENT. Those who assume that we are only good for talking think that our voices go nowhere. PROVE THEM WRONG. Not only use these social media tools to shape opinions and put forward ideas for progress, but also use them to push for change and organize for action. Twitter, Facebook, Instgram, and all those meme creators can go so far to get the message out about meeting times, places and activities.

Now, if you are still willing to sit back and do nothing, you are willing to accept that which is dished out to you.

Demand better. Demand accountability. Demand humility. Demand integrity. Do not put up with disrespect by those elected to serve.

And ultimately, hit them where it hurts. Let them know you WILL NOT be ignored. Force them to pay attention – get out there, get enumerated, and vote.


9 thoughts on ““Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

  1. We need to start acting and stop playing dead while these politicians do what they please! Who’s an #OrdinaryJamaican?

    Like

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