…0 Murders in 4 Days
42 Counts of ABM Fraud
Father and Son Drown
Cop on Kidnapping Charges
Man Held For 2 Agoutis
Man Shot At Party
Brother and Sister Chopped
Teacher on Rape Charge
Man Faces Murder Charge
Guyanese Woman in Court For murder
From Page One to Page Five, uninterrupted and unrelieved, the catalogue of disaster filled every inch of news space in one of the dailies last Tuesday. Some days, the smorgasbord of crime is considered reader-worthy enough to run to seven pages straight.
Is there no place that's safe, you ask, as you begin another day soaked in blood, sipping coffee and turning the page, clicking a mouse or tapping the screen.
Fifty years into Independence, the body politic is almost completely paralysed by impotence. There is no problem defined that doesn't remain unsolved.
By Thursday, Fr Clyde Harvey was ready to take matters into his own hands. Delivering last rites for yet another Gonzales resident felled by a bullet, he was frustrated to the point of vex.
"When will this nonsense stop?", he thundered.
With various agencies having failed to respond to pleas for supporting Gonzales' pro-community initiatives, Father Harvey had accepted that help was not on the way, after all. Like a general making a last stand, he looked at the mourning community across the coffin of the fallen and declared that it was now up to them. The people of Gonzales would have to band together to "hold Gonzales", he ordered.
Once again, as they had over the centuries of survival, the people are finding that, in independence as in colonialism, they are alone, unrepresented and left to fall back on their own resources in order to save themselves. They hadn't expected this. Governments of their own choosing were supposed to fix things and make their lives better. But fifty years into Independence, with government bigger than before and more invasive than ever, people are concluding that independence means you on yuh own!
No government of independent Trinidad and Tobago wants to hear this.
Having arrived in office by the vote of the people, and governing in the name of the people, such distinction would seem illogical and a figment of the over-active imagination or fabrication of the political foe. No government dares to risk its own survival by questioning its capacity for representing the people. Too much, including office, would be at stake.
And yet, it is a truth far easier perceived from the outside. Which explains why the electorate is doomed to that perennial sense of betrayal with every movement of a political party from opposition to government.
Over the course of fifty years, however, we have seen too much to believe that any simple change of government can transform this old, dilapidated, institutionally rundown colony into a viable society capable of leading the Caribbean into the front ranks of the world.
We know that the cosquelle masquerade adorned in the plumage of development is not real. Deep down, we know that the massive investment in education, security, health, physical infrastructure, public services, monuments and parades of every kind, is a beaded bikini too small to cover up the deep-seated, inherent dysfunctionality of this society, economy and polity. We know, even when we prefer not to know, that without tackling our problems from the source, the annual billions spent on change will be just salts running through an infected system.
As with country, so with people.
Our own lives mirror the independence experience of achievement.Public markers of success mask our private condition of identity confusion, insecurity and inadequacy. Scared to present ourselves as we are, we avoid the risk and invest heavily in image, inventing identities and playing mas, knowing that the theatre ends with a curtain fall, separating yesterday from today, and requiring no commitment to further action.
But if delusion walks with its own protection against reality, the truth walks with its own consequences for shaping reality.
Perhaps, then, it is the truth about our country and ourselves that has the power to free us from the paralysis that keeps us talking in circles, and to give us the keys to unlocking our power to act.
Both online and off, citizen angst is rising to crescendo levels in response to a growing sense of disorder and loss of control. Even if it might ultimately prove that it had the answers, few are now willing to wait on the government. Throughout the land, a powerful instinct to citizen intervention is building. Tempered with commitment and wisdom, this is the force which, in 2012, 50 years after independence, might be the beginning of nationhood.
For this, however, we will have to move beyond our sole obsession with government and turn our energies into projects for change. Mass involvement in politics must move beyond campaigning to find a place in community participation, the nursery bed of political engagement and education.
Perhaps we can start by reaching out to Fr Harvey and the people of Gonzales. Or the people of Carapo.Or the children in Chaguanas.Or the woman down the road.Or that elderly couple around the corner. Or we might take up issues on behalf of others. And as we do so, we might take the time to build communities of information, circles of caring and bridges of support.
In his plea to the people of Gonzales, Fr Harvey had given up on the rest of us. With good reason, he concluded that Gonzales has no allies in its battle against crime.
Could this really be true?
We must hasten to make this right or prove him wrong.
For too long, we have mis-served politics believing that we represent the centre when it is the centre that must represent us.
As we build our circles of engagement, and increase our understanding of the other and of this place, and penetrate walls that alienate and separate, we will discover that we have triggered the change that we've been longing for.
• Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the
T&T Review and director of the
Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies