The election campaign began, unofficially, well before Christmas. After a short break it returned, swelling to a crescendo after Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller announced the election date on January 31 (she took a full hour to announce it!) There has been a lot of noise and a lot of unpleasantness, frankly. February has not been an easy month, and even media practitioners are looking forward to the closing of polls on Thursday, February 25. With the current atmosphere, it is not certain that all will be over then, or that life will return to normal.
Be that as it may, some non-governmental organizations have done all they possibly can to focus on broad and over-arching issues, keeping an eye on Vision 2030 (a vision which, one hopes, is more than a mirage). The LGBT rights organization J-FLAG has, in several ways, sought to raise Jamaicans’ consciousness by carefully examining the issues that affect all Jamaicans (not only the LGBT community) as the elections draw near, and have used social media to address these issues in a thoughtful and coherent manner.
You will find the petition “Protect and Promote Human Rights, Economic and Social Justice for All Jamaicans” online at https://www.change.org/p/votejustice-protect-and-promote-human-rights-economic-and-social-justice-for-all-jamaicans The petition page lists ten “critical matters” that it urges the next political administration to focus on, referring to each goal and outcome of Vision 2030 beside each of the issues – rights of the disabled, the elderly, marginalized communities, children, environmental protection and so on.
Sadly, after one week the petition only has 124 signatures. From this one might conclude that Jamaicans in general are not particularly engaged with the issue of “Equal Rights and Justice,” although they may enjoy the music of Peter Tosh, who received a National Honor and who sang passionately on this topic. Judging from some of the comments on the organization’s Facebook page, one might also figure that neither are Jamaicans in the least concerned about the rights of the LGBT community in particular (here’s one sample comment – and it’s one of the nicer ones, many are unprintable: “Jesus all the way. No homo nuh have rights. You need to stop the nastiness.”) I always thought Jesus was pretty strong on human rights. Oh, well! Got that wrong… However, this is possibly why there are so few signatures – simply because it is J-FLAG that has organized it. One might suggest, too, that Jamaicans are too busy hurling abuse at each other, online and off line, in what we mildly call the “silly season.“ I would use a stronger word than “silly” to describe the acrimonious election campaign period.
Undeterred, J-FLAG has continued to lift the tone of the discussion for the last several weeks. Its affiliate WE-Change has hosted a series of tweet chats and “lymes,” with two tweet chats this week on the political parties’ manifestos. The manifestos were quite late, but were still up for examination, and should have been discussed in more detail in other fora; but time was short, and the general public and media have been more interested in political rallies and other dramas.
WE-Change (a member of the 51% Coalition) has run Twitter polls and generally kept people talking about the issues. In the absence of televised debates (due to the ruling People’s National Party’s refusal to participate) and the cancellation of other planned live events such as last week’s Town Hall Meeting with political representatives on the University of the West Indies… this is indeed welcome. Social media has played its part in keeping meaningful discussion alive, debates or no debates – if one filters out the partisan nonsense, of course. WE-Change have done exceedingly well in this area.
So, kudos to J-FLAG and WE-Change for keeping the fires of democracy burning. Along with several local bloggers and tweeters, they have done well – despite, or perhaps because of, the lack of formal debates.
In the immortal words of Winston Hubert McIntosh (1944 – 1987):
Everyone is crying out for peace, yes
None is crying out for justice
I don’t want no peace
I need equal rights and justice