I confess that I used to be rather cynical about Labour Day. It seemed like a bit of a PR stunt for political leaders, who pose from various angles while planting a tree, or painting a wall for five minutes.
Well, on Monday, May 23 we still had some of that. Both Prime Minister Andrew Holness and Opposition Leader Mark Golding gave us Labour Day Messages, and both did some work in Mandela Park, a much-neglected area in the middle of Half Way Tree. I disagree with the Prime Minister that perhaps the Park should be moved elsewhere. It’s in an extremely busy area. All it needs is some TLC, on a regular basis. It’s good to have a spot like this in a busy place – but it must be maintained and cleaned on a regular basis.
Photo op time: Mark Golding, leader of the People’s National Party, fills a rather deep hole in Mandela Park, while Prime Minister Andrew Holness paints it black, on Labour Day. (Photos from Mr. Golding’s Facebook page and Jamaica Information Service).
However, what has sold me on Labour Day now is my neighbourhood.
And my neighbours.
And our political representatives (yes!)
Labour Day was fifty years old this year.
On Monday, our ebullient Jamaica Labour Party Councillor Kari Douglas organised a large truck, which collected literally tons of junk that we all put out on our roadside. I spotted her political counterpart, the People’s National Party Councillor Caretaker Mr. Jesse James Clarke (a science teacher at the University of Technology, who looks young enough to be a student!) at our gate as the truck collected our offerings.
The truck went up and down, round and round, tooting gently at the corner, made more than one trip to the dump, and eventually left at dusk with a final “toot,” piled high with garbage, with two men perched on top.
Not to be outdone, our People’s National Party Member of Parliament Julian Robinson – a more low-key personality compared to Ms. Douglas, but exceptionally diligent – was out early painting “Stop” signs on the road in huge letters that you cannot miss, and making sure signs are installed at some dangerous four-way intersections.
Our neighbours came out to support our MP in his work.
My husband and I also played our part. A stretch of our road is a garbage heaven. Taxi drivers who continuously pass through; the patrons of nearby bars and restaurants, late at night; and other passers by, whether “walk foot” or in a fancy car…all seem to think that this area is a kind of informal dump. Sometimes they hide their KFC box behind a lamp post or tucked into a hedge, as if they think that’s not so bad.
We recently caught a taxi driver red-handed; he was carefully placing his box lunch and drink containers by the side of the road, in a popular spot. We stopped and said to him “We live here! This is not fair! Pick it up!” but the gentleman (who was not young in years, by the way) flatly refused, telling us that we were blocking the traffic (we weren’t). He was not in the least embarrassed.
So this Labour Day, we made up our minds to pick up every scrap of garbage (widely scattered by recent heavy winds) along that stretch. We had a little glow of satisfaction afterwards. We filled four kitchen bags with trash – and, significantly, one huge supermarket bag of plastic bottles. On that relatively short stretch of road we found at least 100 of them. We staggered home, rather tired and dehydrated.
Councillor Kari Douglas and her assistants paint a “sleeping policeman.”
How was all of this organised? Well, this is why I now feel proud of my neighbourhood and the people who live in it. Since the dreadful time of COVID-19 lockdowns and accompanying anxieties (and in some cases, severe illness) began, we have become closer – much closer than ever before. This has mainly happened through an online neighbourhood watch of sorts, with a separate group where we talk about more or less anything and everything – including the perennial problems of garbage and noise. Thank you, WhatsApp!
It goes beyond that, however. On our WhatsApp group we offer each other concrete, practical help and information, at almost any time of the day and night. We reassure. We warn. We empathise. We let each other know if we have left the front gate open, by mistake. We are an amazing resource to each other. We care! And we mobilise!
I guess that’s why I have now warmed to Labour Day. After all, it’s all about community. I recognise that we are “lucky” and privileged in many ways, but I wish every single community across the island was like ours.
I love and appreciate my neighbours more than I can possibly express.
I also love the late Prime Minister Norman Manley’s vision, when he established Labour Day in 1960, and his son Michael’s reincarnation of the day as a way to develop this sense of community and co-operation, twelve years later.
And I even felt warmly towards our political representatives, who worked together, apparently on a bipartisan basis. And worked hard, too. No photo ops, speeches or messages.
Just work. Just collaboration. Thank you, all.