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PNM’s last chance

By Selwyn Cudjoe

Part 1

“A nation should not be judged by how it treats its highest citizens, but its lowest ones—and South Africa treated its imprisoned African citizens like animals.” — Nelson Mandela

I am certain that Keith Rowley will emerge victorious at the PNM’s party election and go on to become the next prime minister of Trinidad and Tobago. Fortunately, that is the easy part of the political equation. The more difficult part is to govern in such a way that the society emerges in a better place than it is in 2014. That’s the challenge the PNM will face when it takes the helm of government. However, if Dr Rowley and the PNM fail to leave Trinidad (and especially our brothers and sisters in the depressed areas) in a better way than they found them in 2014, one can confidently predict that 2020 will mark the beginning of the end of the PNM as a political force in our country.
PNM has contributed much to our society. Therefore it stands to reason that if the party accepts praises for the good things that have happened, it must also accept its share of blame for the bad things.
If the society is more crime-ridden today than it was yesterday, the PNM must accept its share of the blame for such a condition. It does not do any good to blame the People’s Partnership for the state of crime in the society since both parties share in the blame.
The PNM must accept that the party has failed the country in how it has treated the least amongst us: that is, the people of Laventille, Morvant, Sea Lots, Maloney, and the other depressed areas that are predominantly black. If the party wishes to be a relevant entity after 2020, it must stop the downward slide in which these people find themselves and work towards creating a more equitable society where they feel they have a stake in the society and that Trinidad and Tobago is as much theirs as it is ours.

If the PNM wishes to make the society more liveable, it must make the community the centre of all social and political development. It is an opportunity which the PNM rejected and one that has come back to haunt all of us.
In 1989 Joel Krieger, a colleague of mine in the political science department at Wellesley College, and I wrote PNM’s 20/20 Vision Statement (it was adopted at the 1989 PNM Convention) the one thing we stressed (but could not get Patrick Manning to agree with) was the principle of community control as the foundation of our social development.
We argued then—and I have continued to do so consistently—that if colonialism involved the control of the society by the governor and an executive council who worked for the benefit of the British Crown, then independence—and later republicanism—must involve a radical overthrowing of that order and placing the control of the society in the hands of the community.
Today people must work for themselves and the enhancement of others. The community must become the fulcrum around which our social and political system revolves.
In today’s world, government officials are slowly realising that the communities are the key to solving many of our problems.
A week ago Garry McCarthy, the police chief of Chicago, Illinois, the murder capital of the United States, attributed the drop in the murder rate in Chicago (the murder rate dropped by 18 per cent in 2013, the lowest level in 50 years), to the role of community policing and the provision of more social services and amenities for the “worst neighbourhoods” in his city.
Speaking about the success of his efforts, McCarthy noted that “the department was structured around community rather than citywide policing, resources were shifted to the most dangerous areas through more spending on overtime, and merit-based promotion for commanders was introduced” (Financial Times, February 18).

The police department, he said, had done a “gang audit” and identified “every member, every territory and every conflict in the Chicago’s entrenched gang culture.”What he did not mention was his department’s close working relationship with the community.
Crime however does not exist in a vacuum. Sociologists have attributed increased crime in these black areas to the high levels of unemployment that exists there. Heidi Shierholz, a labour market economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington DC noted that for 70 years black unemployment had been twice that of white workers. She says: “It’s hard not to use the word ‘depression’ when you’re describing the labour market conditions among African Americans now” (Financial Times, February 17).
• Concludes tomorrow

• Prof Cudjoe is a member of Party Group 12, Tunapuna Constituency. He can be reached at scudjoe@wellesley.edu and
tweet @ProfessorCudjoe.

— The Michael Harris column returns next Monday
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