Columns

How can we change if we don't disagree?

Franklin Johnston

Friday, December 14, 2012    

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THE supreme irony of our generation is how the forces of revolution morph into the forces of reaction. Those men who would once die for free speech become those who may now kill to keep you quiet. The only certainty is change, but which way will the change go? I have seen the righteous fallen and his seed begging bread, and it ain't pretty. Many children of the righteous are "mad as a shad", disowned and destitute, and some wag their fingers to reference hidden sins, but he may be a new Job? Our faith is challenged, but the sun rises every morning. We have to keep the faith.

How do so many, once the vanguard of change, end up opposing dissent? Is this the corruption of power? Activism is the key to improving the lot of the disadvantaged, so how do we keep activism alive? When the system consistently fails to deliver, do we ignore it? If we get poor service, do we say, "Cho, a so it guh"? Do we protest against poor service at a tax office but ignore the disservice of professionals? Do we hassle the police, but ignore inefficient courts? Why are we hard on the small man, yet excuse the bigger heads?

Activism is the assurance our poor will be a declining cohort. The meandering, polyglot Hebrew peoples and their skilful scribes wrote: "The poor will always be with us." I beg to differ! The Bible depicts how an unlovely, oppressed people came to believe in themselves, by first believing they were chosen. They forged mantras which endured slavery and space and time; gave them an unshakeable identity, and today their scions are masters of the universe, albeit with a shaky foothold in an arid land their ancestors traversed. The Jewish people are no longer poor. The Book worked for them. We now use their Book as our sextant, but will it work for us? There are similarities in our condition but anomalies in our context. We also worship idols - car, house, gadgetry, lie with our offspring and sin as they did; but we do not live in a desert, so barrels of manna from America and our lush land undermine the lessons we should learn. You could starve in Bible lands, but here you have to be lazy to starve. Can people feel they are chosen when they do not like themselves? We want a different hair, face, nose, lips and colour. Can the Bible work for us, given this self-loathing? Will the first be last and the last first? When?

Who would have imagined Bustamante would one day be a national hero? Past JLP Cabinets banned books on black power and social change. They ripped open our baggage at the airport, confiscated our books; academics as the late Walter Rodney were banned, refused entry and others placed on watch lists. Who would have imagined that they would have high positions in academia? God loves Pauline conversion, but it jars man. How does the erstwhile enemy of the academy become the head of the academy? The Bible promises no reward in this life...yeah, right! Will history absolve them or us? Sad!

Let's be a tad self-indulgent. In the past decades we manned the pickets, demonstrated, were on the police and American watch list. Some who benefited from our activism now oppose change. We fought so they could keep their jobs; they now fight so we may lose ours! Were the protests and marches in vain? I think not. Let's press our worker groups to perform well as the night is far spent. Selah!

Antonio Maceo Grajales

Cuban hero. Last week we marked the memory of Antonio Maceo. Few heard of him and fewer still turned up for the solemn tribute. Ambassador for Cuba Yuri Gala, a few nationals, lesser Foreign Affairs divas, Maceo's Jamaican relatives and the cognoscenti made their way to Heroes Park. In the arid eastern sector, on a plinth some two metres high rests the bronze bust of one of the most decorated heroes of military history. No Sargon, Sun Tzu, or Xerxes he, no Charlemagne, Caesar, Genghis Khan, no Shaka Zulu, Napoleon, L'Ouverture or Geronimo, yet all spirits inhabit this wounded warrior. As a young man of a martial mind I was drawn to this combatant in whose path our wordsmiths pale, and read and visited his homeland and was inspired. He was a champion!

As we stood around that loosely cemented dais, his grandeur was palpable. The "Bronze Titan" - a warrior of the first metier. I felt tears which only the sacrifice of a well-fought life conjures. We were moved that a man should lay down his life for his people. We have none such and are poorer for it. The students of Garvey Maceo school did us proud. Maceo, military strategist and warrior of the Cuban wars of independence from the Spanish and emancipation, lived among us and his mother died here. We incubated this warrior; he changed worlds; we were unmoved. We are men of words. We fight personal wars of attrition among ourselves - women, kids, old people, the vulnerable, productive people - we destroy what we cannot build - a zero sum game. As we stood in that barren holy place and looked around, it was clear that "those who never fought for something of value would never fight for anything". More than ever we need to embrace our dissidents and keep change alive. Poverty is not a war for poverty is inertia; the struggle for prosperity is the war. We stood silent - Cubans, Jamaican descendants of the warrior; minor officials intoning the high-sounding phrases we do so well, Ambassador Yuri Gala, conscious people, students, languages provocateur Martha Corbett-Baugh from the Ministry of Education, Permanent Secretary Elaine Foster-Allen, regnant in red. The lads on bicycles; "wha a gwaan yah so, ah oo dem a berried?" ruptured the vigil with raucous monkey talk. Could this place of honour be a silent garden of remembrance and resistance? Why not raise funds to build Maceo's equestrian statuary fully mounted as was his wont?

Maceo makes it easy to understand how Cuba survives. They work and fight. With more than 20 war wounds he did not shirk, but rode in the vanguard in attacking the Spanish colonisers; two more wounds and he was gone. The haunting melody Guantanamera still echoes in my head, for as a youth I stood on the Malecón with my friends. A blockaded Cuba created an educated population, yet we, riding the world's prosperity for 40-plus years, did not. Why? Corralled Cubans feed themselves and we in the free market do not. Why? Cuba sends us doctors, teachers, coaches; how do they do it? Can our shame be the spur to prosperity? The spirit of Maceo is alive and they produced. We are wordsmiths, not warriors. Let us emulate the spirit of Garvey, make the change and build our country! We can do it! Stay conscious, my friend!

Dr Franklin Johnston is a strategist, project manager and advises the minister of education.

franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com

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