Friday, January 19, 2018

Unleashing the majority


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Nothing like the holidays of Divali, Indian Arrival and Emancipation to bring out the heebie-jeebies and creepy-crawlies of ethnic anxiety.

Riven by the old desperation to belong and be counted, we seek strength in the arms of the ethnic family and significance in the spotlight of separateness, anxious to announce our triumph over the devastations of history and to claim our moment on stage.

For sure, our battered and bruised spirit needs such moments of self-affirmation and joyous reunions of the clan. But tomorrow always comes, bringing with it the hard, cold realities of a present without a map to that elusive future of tomorrow where the part, so weakened by historic division, will be strengthened in an embrace of the whole.

In the cold reality of this day stands the truth of who we really are. A truth beyond the ethnic stereotype of who is more "well-to-do and culturally strong and progressive" than whom, and of who is more entitled than whom- all part of the mythology invented to cover up our naked insecurities, shore up our self-confidence and intimidate the other.

In the clear light of the new day, we reveal ourselves as a people united in fear, doubt and, yes, hope. A people on the hustle away from their past, willing to exploit any and every thing to gain an advantage in the present so as to better secure the future. Nothing new there. Since Columbus, this has been our way. In the competition for advantage only the colours and faces have changed.

But as we stand on the precipice of this moment, contemplating the future ahead and the abyss below, we recognise the truth of Pat Bishop's admonition that until we would have all crossed, none would have crossed. Even the venomous snake seeking a free ride on the turtle's back must learn to defy its instinct and hold its fangs if it is to make the crossing intact.

In the circumstances, the shrieking insanities, occasionally let loose by ethnic delusion and competition, cannot be taken for anything more exalted than what it really is: a rabid anxiety by special interests to grasp opportunity before it passes.

As, indeed, it will pass.

In almost every sphere of national life-- politics, the economy, society-- we are hitting our heads against the logical consequences of our absurd response to the challenge of nationhood, having wasted so much time waiting for someone to come along and hand it to us.

The responsibility vacuum, evident from the first years of Independence, is now all-encompassing. From captain to cook and kitchen to cabinet, there is an absence of responsible citizenship with the confidence to pursue a vision beyond quenching the immediate thirst of self-interest.

In response to this comprehensive vacuity, a rash of political interventions is breaking out in every nook and cranny as citizens, sensing danger, rush to stick their finger in the dyke, hoping to stem the rising tide. The result is a rapidly intensifying politicisation on the ground with a burgeoning of political activity over which the old political system has decreasing control.

One week from today, on November 24, the People's Partnership Government will be at the exact mid-point of the five year term to which it was elected. It arrives at that moment with its promises of national unity in tatters and its moral authority for winning change in a state of complete evaporation. Having missed successive opportunities to make right with history, the UNC-led coalition has been consumed by its inability to escape the old political culture, leaving it in hapless surrender, unable to do anything but perpetuate the politics of divide and rule, already having claimed itself as its very first victim.

While redemption should never be ruled out, the People Partnership, like Patrick Manning's People's National Movement, is unlikely to embrace any initiative to save itself. Its investment in denial is already far too prohibitive.

And so it is compelled to keep going on as it is, a government under siege, seeing enemies and planting friends, all the while working the arithmetic of elections in relation to the balance sheet of the Treasury, even as interests are secured as insurance against the possibility of defeat.

In the midst of such volatility, we might temper the instinct to fear and frustration by openly acknowledging our historic responsibility as the generation between the old and the as-yet undefined new. We are the transformation generation.

If we accept this, we will know that we cannot hope to keep profiting from the past and still hope to change it, nor can we be so afraid of the future that we lose our trust in it.

The historic challenge of transformation requires revolutionaries everywhere, people who are prepared to denounce the deficiencies of the status quo and align themselves with an agenda for change.

We need revolutionaries in government who are prepared, on the people's behalf, to take on central power inside its lair; revolutionaries in business and in labour with an investment in the national well-being. We need revolutionaries in the professions who see themselves as more than hand-maidens to power, and revolutionaries among the citizenry at large with a willingness to stand on the side of truth and justice even at personal expense.

As challenging as these fifty years have been, we have somehow managed to avoid losing our way. From time to time, we have lost our footing, missed the turn or followed the wrong map. Notwithstanding the false starts, stumbles and tumbles, the movement remains unquestionably forward. To quote Black Stalin, we can't turn back now.

If we were to speak out, we will release the power of our numbers and discover that the extremists are loudest only to cover up their fewness. It is silence that keeps the majority trapped in the illusion of being a minority with the truth of their own power hidden from them. If we didn't know it before, we know now from the experience of Divali 2012 that history is on the side of change.

To adapt the title of Ken Parmasad's unforgettable essay, by the light of the deya we have once again seen the truth. Disturbing in parts, but nonetheless beautiful for being the unmasked truth.

Sunity Maharaj is the editor of the T&T Review and director

of the Lloyd Best Institute

of the West Indies