The Jamaican Political “Party”

Warning: This page contains an excessive amount of the color Orange. But it could just as easily be the color Green. Interchangeably. The colors of the Two Tribes. Tweets are in purple.

Here's an orange "bag juice" to kick off with.
Here’s an orange “bag juice” for starters.

On Sunday, January 31, the center of our country’s capital city was closed off for seventeen hours. The area was bristling with police and security guards. Kingston residents who wanted to visit their aged aunt, go to church or (heaven forbid) go to work, were severely inconvenienced.

Why? Because…party time. We Jamaicans take parties seriously. Especially our political parties. Nothing must get in the way of a good time. We were about to be invaded by a horde of flag-waving, vuvuzela-tooting, ganja-smoking, gyrating, window-hanging, high-on-life-and-other things political supporters of the Orange variety, hanging out of Coaster buses that swayed all over the roads at high speed. I heard reports of supporters coming from Montego Bay terrorizing other drivers. Why don’t the police have any control over these buses from hell? Before every big rally they talk about “no protruding body parts” (which sounds slightly rude) but hey – the body parts protrude all over the place, as usual.

The occasion was a People’s National Party (PNP) rally, during which the Prime Minister was expected to announce (with expected fanfare)…wait for it…the election date!! I decided not to watch this awe-inspiring, historic moment on television, but resorted to my old friend Twitter. Now, as some people know, I spend far too much time on Twitter – and when big occasions are afoot, it is especially amusing/fascinating/annoying. I was not disappointed.

Heading for Half Way Tree on a beautiful Sunday evening. (Photo: Marcia Forbes/Twitter)
Heading for Half Way Tree on a beautiful Sunday evening. At least they were on foot and not a threat to other drivers. (Photo: Marcia Forbes/Twitter)

The usual clichés were trotted out as the Orange Tribe filled up Half Way Tree. Wow, what a crowd. Half Way Tree RAM. This is the biggest crowd EVER. They all say the same thing, every time, knowing full well that the parties bus their supporters in from every corner of Jamaica for the party. The supporters (many of whom may not even be registered to vote) are promised a meal: two small pieces of chicken or spoonful of curry goat and a huge serving of rice in a polystyrene box, plus a Red Stripe. And, of course, a fun time rubbing shoulders with fellow supporters.

The ritual begins. (Photo: Irie FM/Twitter)
The ritual begins. (Photo: Irie FM/Twitter)

They might even see themselves on the big screen – or on TV. As a friend put it, the true enjoyment of these rallies is “not for the folks in TV-land.”  This struck me as profound. So. The middle class (who may or may not still exist), uptowners and people with little energy for parties (like me) sat home and watched the less privileged among us partying, with those who would control them standing proudly above them on the stage.

By the way, this is the typical response of a “die hearted” (in Jamaican parlance) party supporter of either Tribal persuasion: “A reporter asked a PNP supporter earlier “why do u support the PNP” his response “CUZ MY MOTHER WAS A DIE HEARTED PNP N ME NAH SWITCH.” End of conversation. Substitute “JLP” on another occasion.

Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller proves her fitness for office by running onto the stage.
Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller proves her fitness for office by running onto the stage. Two of her less agile Ministers look on, rather glumly.

So much for the supporters. As for the performers (because party rallies are as much dramatic performances as parties) they had fun too – at least, for a while. By the time the Prime Minister came on stage (running) some of them looked a little frazzled. It was a long day and a long night. But parties are marathon affairs in Jamaica – not for the faint-hearted, at all. We take them seriously.

By the time the Prime Minister made her announcement (after 10 p.m. and after a one-hour speech aimed at “hyping up” supporters) the speeches had been dragging on for two or three hours at least. The crowd was looking ragged and some of the dignitaries on stage could barely stand up straight. The witty Dr. Michael Abrahams quipped: “I would not be surprised if the election date is announced to be February 31.” Another tweep commented that at this time of night the Prime Minister should be preparing for bed (in an extremely funny Jamaican way). Instead the organizers “have har inna cold air at late hours.” Jamaican humor is amazing, and best enjoyed in patois. 

Happy orange partygoers. (Photo: Gleaner/Twitter)
Happy orange partygoers. (Photo: Gleaner/Twitter)

Some of us at home were suffering. Dr. Abrahams said he felt he was losing brain cells rapidly. It’s the same kind of experience you have when watching awards shows, except the participants weren’t half as glamorous and didn’t wear pretty frocks. How long could they spin it out? The speeches got worse and worse. Dr. Peter Phillips expounded on “which party could people trust.” Dr. Phillips, I hate to say this – but the words “trust” and “politics” really don’t sit comfortably together, do they? Perhaps he wasn’t listening to what he was saying, but one junior minister reportedly said: “More people get raped under the JLP than under PNP.” Perhaps he was inspired by his senior minister, who controversially spoke about rape a few months ago? Ugh.

A PNP supporter scratches out the color of the opposing Tribe on her vuvuzela. (Photo: Gleaner/Twitter)
A PNP supporter scratches out the color of the opposing Tribe on her vuvuzela. (Photo: Gleaner/Twitter)

Some of my tweeps are even more cynical and embittered than me. One commented: Jamaica is still clearly 3rd in the priority of these people. 1. Party 2. Mek sure it’s not the other party 3. Jamaica (if it list at all).” There were many comments along these lines. Or perhaps it’s just that I follow some miserable people who don’t know how to have fun? The cynicism increased after the Gleaner tweeted a photograph of a supporter scratching out the green on his/her vuvuzela, which bore the colors of the Jamaican flag. Green is the Other Tribe’s color, you see. An inspiring moment, indeed. And by the way, those horrible things should be banned!

Last seen at the Total gas station in Half Way Tree… a black Octa drone belonging to MediaBlue Caribbean. Could the thieves kindly return it?
Last seen at the Total gas station in Half Way Tree… a black Octa drone belonging to MediaBlue Caribbean. Could the thieves kindly return it?

Meanwhile, three drones operated by MediaBlu Caribbean were given permission to zoom over the sea of Orange. The firm tweeted that several men approached them with the intent to rob them, but the police did not assist. They are still missing one of the three, which was stolen just after six in the evening, after it flew low over the crowd. This is disgraceful. Give it back!

Then there was the music, without which the party wouldn’t be a party. Many felt this was the best part. The “Selecta” did well, interspersing appropriate and relevant snatches of popular songs in between almost every phrase of the Prime Minister’s speech. He excelled himself. Or perhaps overdid it, whichever way you want to look at it.

Peter Bunting's meme. Note raised fist. I wish they would do away with this anachronistic fist waving, and with calling each other "Comrade" too. But it ain't going to happen!
Peter Bunting’s meme. Note raised fist. I wish the PNP would drop this anachronistic fist waving and calling each other “Comrade” too. But it ain’t going to happen!

So, on to February 25. As someone on Twitter put it, and I quote: “Portia will have a double celebration on the 25th, 40 years in politics and her third time as PM!! #boomshot.” Well, it might be a #boomshot for the Prime Minister. What about us Jamaicans (or “my Jamaican people” as Portia put it) – is it a #boomshot for us? Or is this whole thing an exercise in extreme self-aggrandizement?

So, as the Big Day approaches, I have a message for young Jamaicans (and the older ones, too), pinched from a tweet by Kendrick Lamar (which might be a quote from someone else, but it’s a good and relevant one): “If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change the way you think about it.” 

One of my tweeps had the final word. Why all this fuss over the election date announcement? All the expense, the many hours spent making noise, when we could all have had a nice quiet Sunday evening at home?

“She could’ve just tweeted it.” 

Precisely. Roll on, fixed election dates.


4 thoughts on “The Jamaican Political “Party”

  1. I know several ‘middle class…uptown people’ who went, not all die-hares, or doing it for work.
    Aren’t we glad the MPs weren’t in pretty frocks? Gender equality aside, Ministers Phillips and Pickersgill might have looked even grumpier.
    Eats shoots and leaves? Were the police to assist…the robbers? Just asking 😊

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    1. Well, those uptowners probably went out of curiosity or because they were dedicated party members. One wonders about the drone situation. The media company people insisted that the police did not come to their assistance. Yes, I am thankful for the lack of pretty frocks, too. It conjures up a slightly scary image… 🙂

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  2. Important thing to not is that most of the young people were just walking up and down with liquor. Look at even the Local Govt election from 2011/2012. 20 percent turnout. Political parties are representing a minority in Jamaica. Want proof? Look at who got the tax breaks back in 2012.

    People are basically retreating into themselves, even when they’re in public. One of the reason is that no political party has any idea of how to create social mobility for the bottom and middle of the citizenry.

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    1. You are so very right – people are retreating – I guess that is what I meant by the people in “TV land” who are looking on… Really this was just an opportunity for a party and a bit of socializing, drinking etc. I could not agree with you more, though. Both the political parties are grasping at straws…

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