So the sky did not fall over Jamaica last week as some had predicted. Opportunistic pessimists doubtless are wringing their hands in consternation. Doom-mongers, apocalypse-seekers, and the Chicken Littles of the land have failed. Hooray!
Chicken Little Syndrome, my coinage, does not advance the national life of Jamaica. It retards it. People who see the world only through apocalyptic lenses are extremely dangerous.
Chicken Little is an apologue. The Disney animation Chicken Little in 2005 explains the moral fable. The film was actually an adaptation of a European folk tale. In the original story, an acorn falls on the head of Chicken Little, the main character. She begins to think that the sky is falling. Incidentally, this main character is female in the original tale. In Disney's animation, the parallel character is male. Anyway, Chicken Little panics and runs to warn all her colleague feathered friends of the supposed approaching catastrophe. The friends share the frenzied panic, except for Foxy Loxy, who maintains that Chicken Little and the panicking bunch have been struck by a mistaken notion, and that the sky is not in fact falling.
Calamity conveyors crashed
Now, hold your horses! I am in no way saying Jamaica does not have many problems. We do! It is a fact that many of our problems today should have been remedied decades ago. It is also a fact that some who are now pointing fingers and shouting, 'Hey, look, the sky is falling,' are the very authors and creators of much of our present troubles.
Whichever cloak they don, secular or religious, they are nothing more than performance artistes. In local parlance, we call them poppyshow.
Now, good citizens who insist on accountability through various forums are not to be confused with those who binge on predictions of the worst for Jamaica. Those who get a high out of predicting disaster for us are not hermits. We their antidote must not be either.
Some wear colourful religious robes, several don the cape of trade unionism, many the cloak of civil society — de facto interdealer brokers for often undisclosed interests — plus many among us carry the mantle of political antagonists who foolishly believe that their singular responsibility is to oppose the ruling Administration.
Discerning Jamaicans, doubtless, noticed that in the days leading up to 'September Morning', the first day of the new school year, the gloom and doom mob rushed out into the highways and byways warning the unsuspecting to expect great trepidation. Their ultimate objective was to destabilise institutions, retard and immobilise folks.
Believe it, there are some among us who are so drunk on negativity, Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) cannot help them. And, of course, there are those whose minds have been corroded with what some psychologists called stinking thinking. Misinformation, disinformation, and claptrap fuel them. It is important that well-thinking Jamaicans are able to spot these types from a mile away.
Former President of the United States of America Theodore Roosevelt famously said: "It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
I am no Pollyanna when it comes to the realities before us as a nation, but I will not join those beating the drums of unavoidable failures. Why? Those cacophonous sounds fly in the face of free will and choice, which God has blessed us with.
So the predictions of mass breakdown of Jamaica Urban Transit Company (JUTC) buses did not materialise. The prognosis that transportation in the rural parts would have seen unparalleled chaos withered. Unprecedented traffic snarls all over the commercial and political capital, Kingston, was a no-show. The prophecy of hundreds of empty classrooms made vacant by teachers who opted for greener pastures was a false alarm, again. Hooray!
No false alarm
On the subject of false alarms, these words spoken by the general secretary of the People's National Party (PNP) Dr Dayton Campbell should not be treated as a false alarm.
"Nationwide [Nationwide News Network] is an incubator for the Government. An incubator for the Government. Naomi Francis lef' and tun press secretary. Cecil Thoms lef and tun communication director for JUTC. Abka [Abka Fitz Henley] lef' and tun senator. Dennis Brooks lef' and tun communication director for JCF. It [NNN] is an incubator for the Jamaica Labour Party [JLP]. And that is why they like to spin things that we say. And I expect them to spin things this evening," Campbell was reported as saying. He was speaking at his party's St Andrew East Central constituency conference last Sunday.
I believe these comments by Dr Campbell are a harbinger, and a most dangerous one too. We must 'tek sleep and mark death'. We have seen this movie before. The outcomes were terrible and have left many scars.
Information in the public domain notes that Dr Campbell is a qualified medical practitioner and also holds a law degree. It is not unreasonable to assume that Dr Campbell was very calculated in his comments and understood their implications given the political culture of the country. The PNP's general secretary is no political neophyte. Doubtless he is very familiar with the history of how some journalists were persecuted especially in the 1970s because they were branded as supportive of the JLP by the then leadership of the PNP.
It is critical that Jamaica continuously nourishes and cherishes press freedom. In recent times we have witnessed or read about too many instances where some who suffer with a colonial and rancid belief that they have a responsibility, if not duty, to think for others, have tried to usurp the effervescent flow of free expression that infringes no laws of the land. Even a single instance in which press freedom is threatened is one too many.
Especially for those of younger vintage, these are some of the horrific attacks on press freedom which severely damaged Jamaica's reputation internationally, resulted in painful and deadly personal injuries to many, and financial ruin for others. Those who make comments which rightly can be interpreted as stroking ghosts from awful times mean Jamaica no good.
These sordid incidents are but a few examples of how power-hungry maniacs in the past launched unwarranted attacks on our Fourth Estate with near catastrophic impact. Well-thinking Jamaicans must resist with every democratic muscle those who seek to revive rotten forces.
Torching of The Voice headquarters
Recall: "The brutal attack took place during the state of emergency when the JLP's candidate for St Andrew [South Western] Pearnel Charles had been thrown in detention camp and Joseph McPherson, editor of The Voice, was entered as a last-minute opponent of Portia Simpson. Shortly after his nomination, McPherson and his paper were made the subject of several attacks and once he had to be rescued by a helicopter. The Maxfield Avenue newspaper office was put under siege, invaded, and a number of employees tortured and otherwise brutalised. (The Gleaner, November 5, 2006)
These attacks culminated in the torching of the building that housed The Voice. Recall the murder of Earl Woodburn, an employee of The Voice, who "had been abducted at Pretoria Road and then his savagely mutilated body was found on St Joseph Road, then a serious garrison area of the People's National Party". (The Gleaner, November 5, 2006)
Michael Manley and his mob
Recall also "the time that Prime Minister Michael Manley adjourned a Cabinet meeting and, along with Tony Spaulding, P J Patterson, and others, led a mob on The Gleaner because they did not like what the paper was publishing. The theme of that threat was, 'Next Time, Next Time!' This was interpreted to mean that if they ever thought it necessary to revisit The Gleaner it might be more than shouted words. The same prime minister publicly referred to the newspaper as the 'Call Girl of North Street', and he described the editors, writers, and publishers as 'pimps of imperialism' ". (The Gleaner, November 5, 2006)
Recall, "The Administration of the 70s went further. They withheld government advertising from The Gleaner and diverted business to the Daily News. In addition, government ministries and departments were instructed not to buy Gleaner publications. So tight was the squeeze that, in July 1978, The Gleaner had to seek financial support by offering to the public $4 million of debenture to help deal with its obligations." (The Gleaner, November 5, 2006)
The late Ken Jones, journalist extraordinaire, chronicled in this newspaper, and in the Old Lady of North Street, how journalists like Wilmot "Motty" Perkins, David DaCosta, and John Hearne, after his political Damascus Road experience, were "witch-hunted in the 70s". Hearne's only sin was that he went to Trench Town and other places in Kingston and saw how the PNP was systematically displacing people to achieve political advantage — a strategy PNP thugs termed "scatta dem" (political cleansing). After writing about it he became persona non grata and a marked man by Michael Manley's party supporters. Hearne was badly beaten at a PNP conference.
Perkins and other like-minded columnists at The Gleaner paid a heavy price for the factual representation of the nearly incalculable damage which Manley did to Jamaica in the 70s. He was fired and, for a time, took up farming. "Farming is the hardest job known to man," he told me. He also told me that in the 1970s political thugs in relay-like fashion would ride pass his place of abode in the wee hours shouting threats which I cannot repeat here. Forces closely aligned to certain political interests also tried their best to 'stop his food', as we say in the streets today.
Recall the radio serial Dulcimina, which was written and produced by Elaine Perkins, a superb dramatist and the late wife of Wilmot Perkins. Dulcimina had an audience of over 500,000 listeners. Put another way, at its peak in the 70s, one in four Jamaicans listened. The programme was cancelled, Perkins told me, after certain political interests realised that he was benefiting economically from its production.
Wise politicians know that it is imprudent to quarrel with polls/pollsters and newspaper cartoonists. That common sense was largely dispensed with in the 70s.
Consider this item from The Gleaner, entitled 'PNP raps RJR, Gleaner': "Senator Dudley Thompson said the PNP believed in freedom of the press, but newspapers should be responsible. Journalists were using "snide phrases" to point arrows at the party. He attacked a "cartoonist with a foreign name", who was drawing some damaging cartoons. This person, he said, "would soon move on and join his ancestors". (The Gleaner, July 28, 1975) Thompson was throwing his daggers at the Gleaner's lead cartoonist Leandro.
Some will doubtless bellow, "Higgins, dem yah a long time things," Really! Only five short months ago a Radio Jamaica and a Nationwide News Network reporter were chastised for wearing green clothing to the PNP headquarters. Deputy general secretary of the PNP, Dexroy Martin, objected to reporters questioning PNP Vice-President Mikael Phillips. He also ordered the reporters to leave the compound.
Not without fault
The Jamaica Labour Party (JLP) is not blameless either. The banning of Guyanese scholar Walter Rodney from re-entering Jamaica because of his political views in the 60s was wrong. Also wrong was a march on this newspaper some years ago by JLP supporters because they did not like cartoons by Clovis and articles by veteran columnist Mark Wignall that were critical of then Opposition Leader Edward Seaga and the JLP.
"In darkness democracy dies," says The Washington Post. Well-thinking citizens have to protect the light.
Editor's note: On Friday, September 8, 2023, reports were that a lone gunman fired on the offices of Nationwide News Network. No one was hurt in the incident.