Portland Eastern residents have their eyes open

Garfield Higgins

Sunday, March 17, 2019

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A house made of donkey skins trembles when a hyena screams. — Oromo proverb, Ethiopia

The by-election for the constituency of Portland Eastern is 17 days from today. The birds sing that Dr Peter Phillips, leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition and president of the People's National Party (PNP), has been pacing the creaking political floorboards at 89 Old Hope Road near non-stop. The birds also shriek that political bayonets have been cleaned, cane machetes sharpened, and daggers stashed.

The reliable Black-Bellied Plovers, Bananaquits and John Chewits chirp that powerful monied forces inside the PNP are very annoyed that after being almost two years atop the presidential perch, Dr Phillips has not gained any significant political traction among especially younger voters.

The birds sing that the recent Jamaica Observer Bill Johnson polls, which showed the governing Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) with an 18-point lead in favourability rating over the Opposition PNP among voters surveyed in Portland Eastern, caused much perturbation.

Word on the street

With just a little over two weeks before voters cast their ballots to decide who will become the Member of Parliament for Portland Eastern, last Sunday I made a second visit — my first visit was Sunday, February 24, 2019 — to sections of the following areas: Prospect, Port Antonio, Fairy Hill, Fellowship, and Manchioneal.

The funeral service for Dr Lynvale Bloomfield was held on February 23, 2019. Since then the ruling JLP and Opposition PNP have massively increased activity in almost every nook and cranny of the constituency. Given the increases in political activity, I wanted to hear from citizens how they intended to vote and why. Here are snippets:

1. A mason who lives in Manchioneal told me this was the second time he was going to vote, even though he was in his late 30s. “The PNP get mi vote the fuss time, mi never see weh dem duh,” he chimed. “But mi have bigger fish to fry dis time,” he continued. I asked him to explain. “I not voting for me this time,” he smiled. “What do you mean,” I asked. “Mi ah guh vote fi my two pickney dem, and mi nah vote for PNP dis time, papa,” he said.

2. A plumber in his mid-40s in Manchioneal told me Portland Eastern was in urgent need of help. “Yuh nuh see East Portland deh pon SOS,” he said. I asked him to explain. “The place stay bad, mi bredda, we need help; from '89 the PNP is like dem abandon ship,” he narrated. “Since Miss Vaz come on, she really a try; I give har dat,” he said. “Tyad of di walk and beg, and sweet up, we need action,” he said adamantly. “Miss Vaz look like she wi work fi the people, mi ready to vote,” he said as he got into a taxi.

3. A waiter at a hotel in Port Antonio told me that he grew up in a family that voted PNP since Dr Donald Rhodd was the Member of Parliament. He lamented the underdevelopment in the constituency. He told me he was attending evening classes so that he could resit Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate mathematics exams. He wants to become a land surveyor. “I wasted too much time at school, that is why I failed the maths,” he reflected. On the matter of the by-election, he told me he was very dissatisfied with the representation of the PNP. “Little done, very little done,” he said. “We need out of this tradition business,” he reasoned. “We need action — not sweet talk and promises, but action,” he noted. “The lady has been working; she is the better choice,” he opined. “Most of the young people feel the same,” he said in a rather cheery manner.

4. A young bus driver in Port Antonio, who plies the Port Antonio to Kingston route, said he will vote for Ann-Marie Vaz because she cares. “Last year January my yute ah run in a likkle spot and wanted a recommendation for a small loan,” he recounted. “A colleague tell mi say, check the MP,” he said. “After one week, then two week, all now him nuh write the recommendation,” he said disapprovingly. “The same colleague say to me, 'Talk to Miss Vaz.' So mi talk to har, and three days after she help with a link at the bank and give me a recommendation,” he said. “Today mi ah pay mi loan and a tek care of my daughter better,” he chuckled.

5. A taxi driver in Port Antonio went straight to the point. “Listen to me good, I am 47 years old, I have three children, I am a deacon in [……..] Church of God of Prophecy [name omitted to protect the privacy of the citizen]. I see Mrs Vaz, she work like horse, she has my confidence and my vote,” he outlined.

6. A small farmer in his 50s, who lives in Fairy Hill, told me he will vote for Senator Damion Crawford because the PNP “look out for the small farmers better... Dr Bloomfield always assist mi,” he related. “Mi get nuff help from Doc, with pig feed and seeds,” he said. “Mr Crawford, sah, him goin' to look out fi di farmers dem, mi like that, suh mi will vote for him. Just like Dr Rhodd and Dr Bloomfield,” he noted.

7. A retired teacher in Fairy Hill told me she was born in Portland Eastern and has lived in the constituency all her life. She conveyed that her loyalty will always lean to the PNP. “My family has voted for the PNP since Michael Manley,” she opined. “The PNP assisted me to attend the Mico Teachers' College, that gave me a start in life, which I otherwise would not have had,” she said. We chatted for a good bit about education and her days at Mico. In parting, I asked her for an assessment of the quality of representation by the PNP over the last 30 years. “It has not been as it needs to be. They have moved away from the people, and that is the mistake they have made,” she noted. I asked her to expound, “You see, people like to know they are respected when they vote.”

8. A bar operator in Fellowship said she was not going to vote, but changed her mind. “Why?” I asked. “Him too damn feisty, you hear how him style up the woman,” she said angrily. “As a woman, I cannot respect that,” she said. “No way I could ever vote for him, damn rude,” she said. “If is my vote Miss Vaz need to win, she a guh get it,” she said confidently. “Mi cut up 'bout the ting; him out-ah-order,” she winced.

9. A household helper who lives in Fellowship and works in Stony Hill, St Andrew, told me she was ready to vote. “I done ask my boss already for the day,” she said excitedly. “We just need a change, we need something else,” she shared. “The place need tender love and care,” she explained. “If Miss Vaz fail, she fail, but we need a change,” she insisted.

10. A college student who lives in Prospect told me it was not difficult for her to make up her mind: “Mrs Vaz, she is here some weekends, or I hear people say she is in some part of the constituency working — that is the kind of MP we need right now,” she said. “An absentee overseer cannot help us,” she outlined. I pressed her to explain. “Mr Crawford does not live in Portland. He does not have a business in Portland. This would just be a seat for him, to benefit him — it's time for the people to get the main benefit,” she divulged.

11. A mother of two who lives in Prospect and works as a paralegal secretary in Port Antonio told me she was going to vote for Crawford. “My vote is for Crawford, not for the PNP,” she said. “The PNP has abandoned the people here, but I feel that Crawford will reconnect with the people,” she elaborated. “I am was born and bred in a PNP family, that is just it,” she said.

12. An electrician in Prospect wasted little time in stating his preference. “Mrs Vaz in the morning, afternoon and evening, mi boss,” he said “She is a worker, not a shirker,” he stated.

The principle of holes

Dr Phillips, Senator Damion Crawford, Dr Dayton Campbell, and the PNP seem not to understand the principle of holes as applicable to politics: When you have found yourself in a hole you ought to stop digging.

The comments of Senator Crawford and Dr Dayton Campbell, two Sundays ago, in Port Antonio placed the PNP in a political hole.

Having achieved the desired political effect on the stump, Dr Campbell, some days ago, put out what I believed was a mealy-mouthed apology that seemed to cast blame on well-thinking Jamaicans for our ability to draw correct inferences.

A press statement put out by the PNP said, among other things: “I regret the interpretation that has been taken and therefore withdraw the statement,” Dr Campbell said.

Recall this is what Campbell actually said: “East Portland, let's do this. We gonna do this for a fallen soldier. Ah never sick Dr Bloomfield sick and dead. A kill dem kill Dr Bloomfield in ah the middle of the battle. If dem think seh dem a guh come kill wi doctor and then come tek wi seat, dem mek a sad mistake.”

“You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time,” said Abraham Lincoln, the 16th president of the United States.

A furore emerged after Senator Damion Crawford peddled sexist, classist and misogynist diatribe about his political opponent, Ann-Marie Vaz, two Sundays ago in Port Antonio.

Among other things, The Gleaner of March 4, 2019 reported: “ 'If you look at potential, the furthest this lady will go is Mrs Vaz. If you look at potential, how far can I go and how [far] will you come with me?' Crawford stated, also declaring that, 'If this lady beat me, it will be a travesty!' “

Sounds familiar?

The PNP National Executive Council (NEC) held a meeting in Hatfield, Manchester, on Sunday, February 5, 2017 that witnessed a fiery explosion from then Opposition Leader Portia Simpson Miller. Recall she chided men in the PNP, who, she said, “...don't like female leadership”.

In recent interviews I have heard Crawford and other PNP point persons suggesting that the media should be blamed for the flood of negative public sentiment against the antediluvian statements by Crawford. Really?

Then last Sunday Dr Phillips said this on the hustings: “You have a choice between a Member of Parliament who you hear talk and him nuh have nuh water inna him mouth, and him clear, you understand him.”

Among other things, Phillips also said, “How you going represent people and you cannot talk for them.”

Michael Manley was our most eloquent and charismatic prime minister to date. By the time he was defeated in a landslide by Edward Seaga and the JLP on October 30, 1980 Jamaica was in near economic, political and social ruin.

Were eloquence a necessary and sufficient quality of economic growth and development, Jamaica would be a First-World economy today.

There is something else. It sounds to me that Dr Phillips was disparaging Vaz's eloquent use of the language, which most, if not all Jamaicans use on a daily basis.

Sounds familiar?

A similar narrative was used by some higher-ups in the PNP to attack Simpson Miller in the two-party president races.

Phillips contested for the post of PNP president on two occasions. The first was in 2006 when he was among four candidates who sought to replace the retiring P J Patterson. Along with the other two he was defeated by Portia Simpson Miller. In 2008, Phillips again challenged Simpson Miller for the presidency and was again defeated.

I have heard Ann-Marie Vaz speak in several public forums. She is always eloquent and passionate in her delivery, whether in Standard Jamaican English or the vernacular. In Manchioneal, last week, she said, among other things: “Beautiful speaking cyaan put food pon yuh table. Beautiful speaking cyaan put water inna pipe. Beautiful speaking cyaan build roads. Beautiful speaking cyaan pay yuh supermarket bill or sen yuh pickney go school; ah action duh dat!”

This, to me, is quite eloquent, sophisticated and pragmatic.

Jamaica's best days are ahead. I am betting on Jamaica, full stop!

No person has the right to rain on your dreams. — Marian Wright Edelman

Garfield Higgins is an educator; journalist; and advisor to the minister of education, youth and information. Send comments to the Observer or higgins160@yahoo.com.

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