Reason for discomfort in Mrs Simpson Miller's response

Monday, November 07, 2011

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Political garrisons, or politically exclusive zones as Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller prefers such communities to be called, were not created overnight.

Indeed, contrary to the impression given by new prime minister Andrew Holness in his acceptance speech two weeks ago, the process of political 'garrisonisation' started long before the turbulent 1970s.

Tivoli Gardens, the first of the recognised 'garrison' communities, was built and occupied in the 1960s and the debilitating process begun as far back as the 1940s — not long after the formation of the two major political parties.

That was when supporters of the People's National Party (PNP) and Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) first fought each other on the streets of Kingston using sticks and stones.

To the eternal shame of the political leaders of that generation the weaponry of choice would evolve to guns and bottle bombs on the streets of downtown Kingston in the 1960s. This, as political enforcers in the capital city, with the collaboration and support of politicians — elected and those striving to be elected — sought to protect and/or gain turf.

It is in the context of that outrageously vulgar and crude, decades-old battle for turf that politically exclusive zones first took root.

We say all that to make the point that we are in sync with the position of all those who say that the problem of 'garrisonisation' won't be resolved overnight.

We agree entirely with the opposition leader that, taken by themselves, 'walks' side by side by political opponents through hostile politically exclusive zones are merely symbolic. But as Jamaican politicians are well aware, symbolism has great value.

In that respect, we would have been more comfortable had Mrs Simpson Miller happily and unconditionally embraced the invitation by Mr Holness to "walk", even while emphasising the absolute importance of a commitment by government to social reform.

As it is, for those of us looking on from the outside, Mrs Simpson Miller's assertion that "Before we walk, I wish for us to sign-off on a programme of social transformation that serves to convert inner cities and depressed communities across Jamaica into 'winner cities', that will positively impact the lives of the persons who live within these areas," provides reason for discomfort.

She may not have intended it so, but the tone sounds suspiciously like old-style, contentious 'my way or the highway'.

Why, we wonder, is it not possible to do the symbolic walks while discussing with the Government that obviously necessary programme for social transformation?

The process, after all, has to begin somewhere and what better way than to have our political leaders showing goodwill towards each other in our most politically tribalised areas.

Those who doubt the value of symbolism should speak to former prime minister and West Kingston member of parliament Mr Edward Seaga and the former minister of finance and member of parliament for South St Andrew, Dr Omar Davies.

We well remember the admiring awe in the community of Arnett Gardens in the late 1990s when Mr Seaga, 'for the first time at last', sat among them in their football stadium to watch a football game between Tivoli Gardens and Arnett Gardens. History will show that the 'football initiative' by the political leaders of those troubled downtown Kingston communities have gone a long way in resolving old political conflicts.

The bottom line is that our political leaders and political representatives at all levels need to do all in their power to resolve and dissolve the hatreds and barriers that have for so long hindered our poorest urban communities and the nation.

What we do not need are unnecessary hurdles and obstructions.




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