On February 28, in light of the catastrophic conditions among young black men in the US, President Barack Obama announced an initiative to empower them. He stated that America should do more to show these young men “that their country cares about them and values them and is willing to invest in them”. He emphasised that the government needed “to partner with communities and police to reduce violence and make our classrooms and streets safer. And we need to help these young men stay in school and find a good job—so they have an opportunity to reach their full potential, contribute to their communities and build decent lives for themselves and their families” (New York Times, February 28, 2014). He also called on the non-profit organisations to assist him in achieving his objectives.
For 15 years the National Association for the Empowerment of African People of Trinidad and Tobago (NAEAP) has been urging our government to partner with local black organisations to alleviate the conditions of black communities and black youths but to no avail. We established a school, conducted seminars, held summer classes and gave evening lessons. We offered national lectures but never received any assistance from the government or prominent blacks in our communities. Today that neglect continues to haunt us.
To make matters worse, it seemed to us that Mr Manning had an intractable fear of Sat Maharaj, and the PNM feared to be associated too visibly with anything black. In the early 2000s I sent a memo to Mr Manning recommending that there be an educational component in every CEPEP programme. I made that recommendation knowing that not every participant in the CEPEP programme would learn to read and write but remained convinced that if the children of a CEPEP worker saw their parents reading and writing, they were more likely to want to do the same. Fear of what the UNC or Sat would say prevented the PNM from incorporating this very worthwhile idea into its public works programme.
The PNM has an obligation to work to raise up those who have received least from society’s abundance. Afro-Trinidadians from the depressed segments have been the backbone of the PNM but have not received as much as they have given to the PNM. The PNM has been so afraid of being labelled “racist” that it has done little to enhance the well-being of those who need their assistance the most. Today, the outcome is clear: you either empower black people, starting from the base of their communities, or the society will pay a high price for such neglect.
Dr Rowley should also guard against a related tendency among the PNM hierarchy. On election day, come hell or high water, the people of Laventille, Morvant, and other such areas turn out faithfully to support PNM. Once the party gets into power a special select few who usually surround the leader profit most from the party’s victory by way of contracts, special favours, etc., while the poor and downtrodden, faithful to the end, go back to their homes, hoping that things will be better this time around.
Dr Rowley will have to remember the importance of an organised party in achieving its objectives, particularly with regard to black people. When CLR James left the party in 1961 (or was he thrown out?), he emphasised that the party must be controlled by its members. He noted: “A party leader has constantly to ask himself: If I am struck down tomorrow (or shot down) what will happen to my programme? The answer is not in individuals but in a solidly organised party” (Party Politics in the West Indies, 54).
James realised that an organised party was indispensible for the achievement of the party’s objectives. He observed: “It is the organised party which alone can assure success against the most powerful enemies. It is the power of the organised party which will bring to the party young and educated elements who are so conspicuously missing [from the party]….Periodical exhortations and denunciations by the political leader will not organise the party” (Ibid., 60-1). It is a warning of which we need to be aware as we prepare for government.
The PNM also has to be careful about its tendency to glorify “the political leader”. We do not even refer to him by his name but by his title. Party members ought to remember that we serve Keith Rowley or Penny Beckles when we insist on the centrality of the party in formulating policies and practising consistent democracy within the party. The leader of the party articulates the party’s views and inspires us to greater heights. Ultimately, the leader is not the party: he or she represents the concentrated expression of the party’s aspirations which he or she is bound to respect.
On May 28 I will support Keith Rowley’s candidacy for the leadership of the PNM as I did in those not-so-glorious days of 1996 when he challenged Mr Manning for the leadership of the party. However, I would be lacking in patriotic sentiments if I did not remind my party of the debt it owes to its most faithful followers and the need to stop taking their loyalty for granted. I may be wrong, but I think the fortunes of the party will rise and fall on how it treats this important segment of the party. As the old folks used to say, “A word to the wise is sufficient.”
(Part 1 was published in yesterday’s Express).
• Selwyn R Cudjoe is a member of Party Group 12, Tunapuna Constituency. He can be reached at
email@example.com and tweet @ProfessorCudjoe.