Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Heroic muscle-flexing, all for PNM benefit

Lennox Grant logo55

Mark Fraser

 “I am not a Syrian,” said Gregory Aboud, proclaiming passport credentials giving Trinidad and Tobago as his birthplace. On the day after the CCN TV6 town meeting where Mr Aboud spoke, placards preferring “African” over “Indian” rule were held aloft by no-name, but no doubt T&T-born, demonstrators, whom nobody later wanted to claim.

Speaking at the Thursday night Lara Promenade town meeting, Mr Aboud, main man of the Downtown Owners and Merchants’ Association, called attention to the shirt-and-tie he was wearing. That would place him directly as someone living life and doing business in Port of Spain. With crimes against humanity notoriously bloodying the images of both civil-war sides in Syria, the outspoken Port of Spain businessman distanced himself from Mideast conflict, to embrace instead challenges of T&T politics and culture.

He invoked political history of his personal experience. As a child, in the 1960s, he had attended a public meeting in Woodbrook, at which PNM ministers under the sainted Eric Eustace Williams, were, upon introduction, booed by the crowd.

That’s how it works here. Ministers, regardless of how precious their political provenance, in due course all get booed. Planning Minister Bhoe Tewarie, in his turn, on an Independence Square evening, was a man alone. Except with one woman who, calling out the Prime Minister, pronounced “Kamla” to rhyme with “Pamela”, Dr Tewarie was the singular target of rage.

It’s happened before, Mr Aboud said, and it will happen again, he assured. The “very same scorn as heaped on Dr Tewarie” will be reserved for future ministers. It’s all on account of “the model that we own,” he suggested.

A downtown operator, he had to be alertly watchful of street-level developments. “There’s a fight breaking out in a corner over there,” he announced, almost as an aside to his remarks raising questions about politics and about culture, and putting it all down to the “special flavour of Port of Spain”.

The city, next day, welcomed what had been promoted as the “mother of all marches”, set to take off from Woodford Square, spiritual ground zero of history-making resistance and rebellion. To bring out the people, the Joint Trade Union Movement organisers did not rely on the strength of historical resonances: they took to the media, and to the streets.

Two days before, on South Quay, I received a flyer that pushed the theme “Time to Take a Stand for T&T”, and “Time to stop the talk and begin the walk! Join our march!” It was from David Abdulah himself that I got my flyer. The OWTU and MSJ big man showed up on Knox wearing a grey T-shirt, issued by but not branded in the name of his union.

I was among those who had to be there, in the capacity of participant or observer. Here was the latest exercise of heroic muscle-flexing out of Woodford Square, at once triggering flashbacks, starring trade union figures such as George Weekes, Joe Young, Clive Nunez, Winston Lennard and, in 1970, the explosive emergence of Geddes Granger.

In those times, the spirit of the age compelled coming out in solidarity with whatever specifics or generalities the platform performers declaimed. Had T&T somehow gone back there? Was a “revolution” underway, of which I and others have been distractedly unaware?

Mr Abdulah’s flyer urged a “stand” against crime, corruption, victimization, abuse of power, nepotism, reckless spending, selling out of patrimony, disrespect and disregard, lies and deception—“all manifestation of the worst governance we ever had!” So listed, was this posting of treatises capable of stirring a 2014 episode of “remonstrance”, such as would submit those holding office to the command of “people power”?

And then what? On Friday, the next-step demand was for “general elections now”: an urgently summoned replay of the match-up engaged four years ago, once again, infused with desperate hope for a somehow different result.

We certainly saw red, the splashiest part of the national colours and, unmistakably, the PNM colour. The union cohorts held aloft the national flags, but the semiotics eventually told of PNM as essential stakeholders and beneficiaries, newly “energised” by the Team Rowley mobilisation, with those campaign T-shirts everywhere newly-pressed into service. 

The police permit having banned DJs, “rhythm sections, bull horns, or mobile PA systems”, the demonstration, apart from a vuvuzela or two, was relatively quiet. Nobody had thought to try the local solution of cuatros, with bottles and spoons as war song accompaniment, that hardly qualify as any “rhythm section”.

About 3 p.m., the demonstration had filled out a U-shaped formation, flowing south along St Vincent roughly from Hart Street, cornering at Independence Square, going north along Abercromby.

Outside the Abercromby Street office building, where Sport Minister Anil Roberts was imagined peering down at his freshly armed tormentors, voices of the red-clad marchers “went up”. Party politics was overwhelming union protest, with both allies demanding election now.

 Is the MSJ ready for elections now? Surely the PNM are, or they look so, even with little evidence on Friday of Youth League or Heliconia involvement. 

And in another four years, recalling the Gregory Aboud warning, will it be another set of ministers being booed?