Portia Simpson Miller’s historic journey

Sunday, March 19, 2017

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Portia Simpson Miller’s budget presentation last week was in fact a fond farewell. What a journey she has had serving, for over 40 years, as Member of Parliament of St Andrew South Western, a constituency of serious challenges — the type that women politicians tend to inherit. It took courage for young Councillor Portia Simpson to step up and campaign to become a parliamentarian, and even more to seek the presidency of the People’s National Party. This column has commented on her exciting career and so today shares excerpts.


"Hearty congratulations to that seasoned campaigner Portia Simpson Miller, president of the People’s National Party (PNP)…When G2K copied media an urgent letter protesting a delay by a television station in carrying an anti-Portia ad, I wrote back, ‘Enough is enough’… Malcolm Gladwell, that gifted writer with Jamaican roots, said that to excel at anything you need to do it 10,000 times. That is why our most memorable mentors are the seniors in our lives. That is why one should never underestimate the political clout of that grass roots veteran Portia Simpson Miller.

"… And so, as Portia Simpson Miller ascended the stage at PNP headquarters last Thursday night, flashing her famous smile, and hugging her candidates one after the other, we saw a woman practised in the way of politics, hitting all the right notes and ensuring that there was ‘no piece of paper’ in her hand.

"She started with a well-known Bible verse. Then the DJ played Tony Rebel’s song, [some of the lyrics being] ‘Mind what yuh say to yuh sister, she could be the next prime minister.’ … She thanked, among many, Comrade P J Patterson, her helper Marva, and Andrew Holness, who had called to congratulate her, saying that ‘he was very gracious’. She referred to the welcome sight we saw more of in this than any other previous election, ‘PNP supporters in orange and JLP supporters in their green hugging in friendly rivalry’."


"Portia Simpson Miller is not simply the leader of the Opposition or the president of the People’s National Party. She is the fulfilled dream of thousands of Jamaican women, who saw this humble girl from Woodhall, St Catherine, rise through the political ranks to become the first female prime minister of Jamaica. She is the young girl who grew up to have a fairy-tale wedding, her wedding dress floating royally on the lawns of the University Chapel as she married one of Jamaica’s most respected business executives, Errald Miller.

"Now that she has entered this challenging phase of her political career, let us tread softly as we tread not only on her extraordinary career, but also on the dreams of thousands of humble Jamaican women. Their utterances of support over the past week are not simply blind political ‘followership’, they are a call for respect for a woman who rose through the patriarchal ranks of politics.

"As we have heard women leaders here and abroad reflect on their challenges, we realise how difficult it is for those of us who ‘hold up half the sky’ to ascend to these high seats of office. I am not excusing any of the shortcomings of our leaders; however, it is interesting the level of scrutiny to which women leaders are subject compared to their male counterparts. Think on these things."


"We have watched her rise from humble KSAC [Kingston and St Andrew Corporation] councillor to prime minister of Jamaica. Portia Simpson Miller has cut an impressive figure in line-ups of regional and global leaders, and has scored a double page in Time magazine as one of their personalities of the year. Her visceral political campaigning has made her a hero to her followers and the fear of her opponents.

"...As Hillary Clinton will attest, and nearer to home, Olivia ‘Babsy’ Grange, the road for women in politics is that much narrower and rougher. In this male-dominated field of endeavour, women must not only match up to those qualities expected of men in power, but they must also become the pious mother as well as the fashion plate imposed by the glamour media on women. Owning campaign platforms with her strong voice, becoming ‘Mama P’ to her constituents and striding out in impeccable suits, Portia Simpson Miller was able to accomplish more than any other Jamaican woman politician. She ascended to the presidency of the PNP, retaining the position despite several challenges, and served as prime minister twice.

"Women who choose politics as a career are very brave indeed, and clearly Portia Simpson Miller is one of our bravest. Still, this year marks her 40th anniversary as a Member of Parliament, and her 10th as PNP president. Before the applause stops and the harsh criticisms escalate, we believe that it would be a good time for Simpson Miller to resign from the PNP presidency and representational politics. She will quickly be forgiven for those lapses of temper, and her many other accomplishments will position her as a stateswoman and an icon of feminist determination.

"…May she take this decision to prayer, and know that her place in history as Jamaica’s first woman prime minister is a very special and lasting one."


We salute Portia Simpson Miller. Her 2017 budget presentation was indeed presidential, and the standing ovation from both sides of the House affirmed her undisputed stature. May she have a long and happy retirement in the knowledge that she has made her mark, not only on the political landscape of Jamaica, but on our national consciousness. Her life’s work is a message to all Jamaican women and girls: "Yes, you can!"


Finance Minister Audley Shaw, as is the tradition of ministers of finance, had to bear the expected bad news in his budget presentation. Of course, we expected increases in taxes on non-essential items and low-hanging fruit like gasoline; however, we are shocked at the proposed tax on health insurance. Clearly this will only create further pressure on our already beleaguered health system. We understand that representatives of the insurance industry have met with Minister Shaw and we dearly hope that he will reconsider this move.


A sad farewell to the gracious Delroy Gordon, executive director of Jamaica Cultural Development Commission, who passed away after a brief illness. Regrettably, we now have to give thanks when we lose loved ones and colleagues by natural causes, as we are in shock at the tragic death of Dr Garth Officer. We understand that Dr Officer was attacked at the gate of his St Andrew residence on Friday. Dr Officer served as a member of the Medical Council of Jamaica and was beloved by his colleagues, staff and patients.

Our condolence to the families of these excellent gentlemen. May their good souls rest in peace.






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