|THE MOST HON. P. J. PATTERSON, ON, OCC, PC, QC|
Inaugural PNP YO Lecture at Excelsior High School - Thursday 18 July 2013
This Lecture forms part of a series, during the 75th Anniversary of the People’s National Party, intended to reflect upon our historical legacy and advance our discourse on a range of contemporary issues devoted to our social, economic and cultural evolution as a country and as a people.
I must commend the PNP Youth Organisation for hosting this lecture and, once again, being first off the mark. The occasion is itself of great significance as you mark your 45th Anniversary for it was here at the Excelsior High School Auditorium that the PNP YO emerged on the political stage.
Yours is now a mature Organisation, which has fostered the engagement of the PNP with a broad coalition of youth support that has yielded benefits to the mutual advantage of both the Party and its Affiliate over the preceding years.
How fitting it is that the event coincides with the 95th Birthday of Nelson Mandela, an icon in the struggle for freedom, for justice against the cruel indignity of apartheid!
The two political institutions which played a seminal role in the shaping of the Jamaican society are currently celebrating milestone achievements. The Jamaica Labour Party deserves our warm and sincere congratulations on its 70th Anniversary. For seven decades, the Jamaica Labour Party and the People’s National Party have managed to keep our democracy alive.
I have said before and, once again assert, that if we objectively assess the performance of both political parties over these years, there are successes for which we can each take credit and failures which we should admit.
While we will always have our differences as part of the cut and thrust of the political process, we must always strive to remain true to our history.
I shall not follow someone else’s contrived version of our past that would make one Party the “saviour” and another the “villain.” That would only serve to falsify the chronicle and perpetuate the divisive nature of our political process.
Let me begin with “mashing down one lie”.
Scholarly research, for example, has shown that the growth of the 1960s was sustained by the strong economic foundations laid by the PNP Administration of Norman Manley between 1955 and 1962. It could not have suddenly happened after 1962. A country’s development is not just a series of events, but an endless process of activities. It takes away nothing from a truly honest political figure to recognize and acknowledge that the economic growth between 1955 and 1965 was the highest in any single decade in our country.
As we inaugurate these Annual Lectures, I want the YO to devote its energy to ensuring that the legacy of our fore parents is forever protected from any attempt to distort their contribution for the sake of political one-upmanship. If we allow the distortion of the people’s history to go unchallenged, then the common cause which bound us in slavery, colonialism and independence and that must provide the meaning and purpose of our future development would have been fractured.
THE REAPPRAISAL REPORT
Following its defeat in 1967, the second in the Independence era, Norman Manley insisted that there be a critical review of the Party’s organization and administrative structure to make it more efficient, responsive and attractive.
I was entrusted with the responsibility to chair a Reappraisal Committee, comprised of Party stalwarts and known supporters with diverse areas of political experience and professional competence.
Our instructions were to avoid any compromise on the core values and tenets of the Party in an expedient route to political office. Cardinal principles had to be maintained while pursuing sound political strategies to secure State power – the two should not be seen as mutually exclusive.
Several structural changes were proposed and subsequently approved by a special Party Conference in 1968 –
* The Report recommended the creation of a Party Secretariat with a competent staff to support the General Secretary. These were a Public Relations Officer, (Patrick Cooper); a Fund-raising Officer (Robert Pickersgill); a Research Officer, (Kenneth Chin-Onn); a Youth Organizer (Leroy Cooke).
* A new post of National Organiser, (Courtney Fletcher) was created to take charge of operations in the field.
* Other key features of the Report included a recommendation to separate the role of the Party President from that of Party Chairman. Arising from that recommendation David Coore became the Party’s first Chairman.
* There was also a recommendation to elect four Vice Presidents of equal status, and so discontinue the practice of electing a first, second, third and fourth Vice President. The four candidates receiving the most votes would be elected to fill the four posts.
Another key recommendation was to decentralize the Party by establishing six political regions and vesting in them clear areas of constitutional responsibility and oversight.
That recommendation was not implemented until 1974.
THE BIRTH OF THE YO
A year before the Report of the Reappraisal Committee, Norman Manley had expressed the Party’s concerns about the involvement of young people in the development of the new Jamaica. He said: “youth power in the modern world is not a joke. It is a tremendous reality, which has made new leaders and brought down old governments. Youth power is the repository of so much faith and hope and new energy and unexpected dedication, that any wise observer will falter at the thought that any generation coming into being should not be making search for its own mission, and informed with a desire to achieve it.”
Among our recommendations was the need to attract and connect with the youth of the population and to do so through the establishment of a Youth Organisation as an Arm of the Party.
Elected as a Party Officer in 1969, I understood the importance of this task and was the Vice-President assigned to devote the time and energy in building a strong and vibrant youth movement within the People’s National Party.
WHERE DO WE BEGIN?
The activism of young Jamaicans in the political process certainly preceded the formation of the People’s National Party (PNP) in 1938.
When Solomon Alexander “Sandy” Cox launched The National Club in 1910, Jamaica’s first nationalist organization, the two secretaries were 23-year-old Marcus Garvey and 21-year-old Wilfred Domingo.
Domingo became a founding member of both the Jamaica Progressive League and the People’s National Party.
In 1934, thirty-year-old Osmond Theodore Fairclough returned to Jamaica from Haiti, where he had held managerial positions in the National Bank. When he presented his credentials to the managers of two Canadian commercial banks operating in Jamaica, one offered him the job of a porter. Fairclough immediately took the decision to invest his time, energy and resources in the formation of a political Party that would radically change Jamaica’s political and social fortunes.
In 1937, Fairclough recruited 25-year-old Frank Hill to launch a weekly newspaper, The Public Opinion, which quickly became the organ of the national movement.
Kenneth George Hill was 27 years old when he founded the National Reform Association (NRA). Earlier in 1938, he was at the centre of the labour rebellion and later led the dissolution of the NRA to make way for the PNP.
Howard Cooke was a 21-year-old teacher at Mico Practising School when O.T. Fairclough requested that the Principal, J. J. Mills, recommend two young members of the Jamaica Union of Teachers (JUT) to represent that body at a conference to discuss the formation of the PNP. He became the youngest member of the steering committee which wrote the Party’s Constitution.
OUR NATIONAL HEROES
We could go even further back in history.
When the Maroon Treaty was finally signed in 1739 – Nanny had become a skilled and persistent leader for some twenty years before the Treaty was agreed. That places her in her late twenties when she started her protest against the greatest military power at that time.
It is believed that Samuel Sharpe was born in 1801. What is, however, certain is that he was hanged on May 23, 1832. That would have meant that he began his advocacy for Abolition in his twenties, if not before, as he was only 31 years old at the time of his execution.
Of more recent vintage were Paul Bogle and George William Gordon. Bogle was born around 1820. He was executed in 1865 – he would therefore have been in his mid forties at the time of his execution. For him to have achieved the position of a leader among his contemporaries, sufficient to have mobilized and led them in Rebellion – he must have started his brand of advocacy in his early adulthood.
Both he and William Gordon were in the same age cohort. Obviously, William Gordon also began his entry into prominence while he was quite young.
TRACING OUR PAST
“The Youth are the Trustees of posterity” – Disraeli
The past is fixed, we can no longer change its course nor influence its outcome, but it demands our full understanding and our own narrative.
Too frequently we hear the younger generation claiming they have no interest in the past. They only want to hear how we are going to deal with the present. Our founding fathers and mothers hold little importance for them and so our past becomes vaguely perceived.
Our own National Hero, the Right Excellent Marcus Garvey – recognised “that history is the guidepost of our destiny” and without that sense of history we can gain no respect or occupy any pride of place on the world stage.
Like a nation, the Party’s history is also the living embodiment of its being. The principles and traditions that are embedded in the history of the PNP remain the very soul and life of its existence today.
Any understanding of the PNP YO in the context of its role within the Party over the past decades must therefore begin with a descriptive analysis of the Party, its origins, principles and objectives in the context of the times and circumstances which foreshadowed its formative years.
TRACING OUR POLITICAL ROOTS
When the economic consequences of the Great Depression began to take its toll in Europe during the 1930s, the strategy of the British Colonial authority was one of ‘self-insulation’ by transferring the burden of economic recovery to its colonial subjects.
There was an immediate backlash.
Throughout the British West Indies, the people reacted in waves of demonstrations, strikes and civil protests. The policies under Crown Colony rule had provided the seeds of social discontent through a clearly defined class/colour hierarchical structure, and deprived the descendants of slaves from having any voice, or say in the determination of the government to rule on their behalf.
After the Morant Bay rebellion, the Colonial powers had resorted to an autocratic Crown Colony regime – a covertly repressive system, which Norman Manley described as “a perfect instrument for the degradation of political life, for it gave the illusion of power without the reality of responsibility.”
The social and economic servitude of the Jamaican masses was to provide the catalyst for the unrests that gripped the entire Caribbean. There was no social cohesiveness or sense of community. The Moyne Commission, established to investigate the social and economic conditions which led to discontent across the West Indies, noted the social malaise which engulfed the islands and “a declining sugar industry supporting an estate labour force by means of an exploitative task work system [and] with wages so low that in many cases... it barely exceeded the rate introduced after Emancipation.”
By the middle of the 1930s the Jamaican society was caught up in the anxieties of social, economic and political change. The need for a political party dedicated to the cause of the working class became very obvious. Pioneers like H. P. Jacobs, Edith Dalton-James, N. N. Nethersole, Vernon Arnett, W. G. McFarlane, Rev. O.G. Penso and William Seivright, were among a group of largely young professionals infected with a restless urge for change. It was Norman Manley to whom they turned to provide the intellectual leadership.
At the launch of the People’s National Party on September 18, 1938, Norman Manley admitted that the series of uprisings had forced him to stop and take a check of the political situation. Among the things which struck him forcibly was that “the democratic institutions of this country have long since ceased to lead public opinion or to inspire confidence in any quarter of this island”.
Manley was adamant that the Party’s name include “People’s because it was intended to serve the masses of the country.
“It is perfectly true that the interests of all classes of people are bound together. But it is equally true that there is a common mass in this country whose interest must predominate above and beyond all other classes, because no man is democratic, no man is a sincere and honest democrat who does not accept the elementary principle that the object of civilisation is to raise the standard of living and security of the masses of the people.”
He was just as determined that it be called “National” because it had to be seen to be about the development of Jamaica as a whole rather than any single component.
The Party was conceived as a political vehicle that could embrace all those who were committed to the building of a nation and sought the long-term well-being of Jamaicans rather than an easy band-aid.
He spoke of the growth of progressive ideas in the country, and “most markedly the growth of opinion among the young men of this country, of the dawn of the feeling that this island should be their home and their country”.
What were the underlying principles governing the Party’s formation?
Firstly, it was to have members abide by the principles and objectives of the Party. To it they owed their loyalty rather than to individuals in its leadership.
Secondly, the Party had to be democratically structured and built on a spread of Party Groups.
Thirdly, the Party had to undertake the task of educating the people of Jamaica “of the true position they should occupy and what they should expect of their democratic institutions.”
Fourthly, the Party needed to be united around its principles and such unity can only be achieved through discipline and self-sacrifice.
The formation and growth of the People’s National Party was nurtured in a period of great intellectual fervour and activism in Jamaica. It was through journalism, with the publication of progressive ideas in the Public Opinion; the arts and social agenda with people like Eddie Burke, Leila Tomlinson, Henry Fowler, Tom Girvan, Philip Sherlock, Roger Mais and Edna Manley. that broad based support for the Party’s leading role in the pursuit of the right to self determination would flourish.
W. Adolphe Roberts, Rev. Ethelred Brown, Rudolph Burke,
C.T Saunders, Aggie Bernard, A.G.S. Coombs, Willie Henry, helped to spread the message in our towns, our hills and valleys and abroad.
The process towards self-determination began with the granting of Universal Adult Suffrage in 1944, with the People’s National Party championing the cause to end the grim realities of colonial trusteeship and begin the march towards constitutional decolonization. The outcome of our first general elections under Universal Adult Suffrages remains one of the great ironies of our history.
The dispiriting effects of colonialism had provided a natural instinct for persons to look towards messianic leadership, especially when there were no institutions of support for the people, and where the opportunity for leadership and government would have been destroyed under crown colony.
FOMENTING THE NATIONAL SPIRIT
The PNP saw its role as the fertilizing agent to develop that national spirit and to build a political consciousness that imbues the hopes and aspirations of a society based on principles of equality and social justice.
So the Party set about to build a movement from the ground up, through strong grass-roots Party structures, political education and thorough research. The aim was the building of vibrant community leadership and people empowerment.
Those early PNP pioneers symbolised the idealism and commitment of an army of young men and women who understood the importance of laying the foundation for the building of a movement which could take responsibility for the development and progress of Jamaica.
From 1945, N. W. Manley had foreseen the need for a youth organisation as an important requirement to infuse constant energy and purpose in the Party. During the 1945 Conference Manley said: “I have preached all the time for a strong youth movement and I will go on preaching it”.
This is because the renewal and change necessary for the “the building of the nation and the shaping of the society, must hold out constant hope for a reinvigorated youth population, ideally organised and structured in a youth movement.”
THE BUILDING OF A NEW JAMAICA
In the elections of 1949, the PNP won the popular vote but the JLP gained a majority of seats. Internally, the Party was badly fractured by combustible tensions.
The PNP was not about ostracising any class, nor seeking to promote racial disunity. It never saw the construct of the Jamaican society on the basis of an ideological ‘class war’. This has to be a central point of our analysis so that it is not overshadowed by the smoke-screen of propaganda. We should not fall prey to the popular stream of a radicalised politics, mooted in romanticism rather than objective reality.
I am obliged to stress this point because I believe it is at the heart of our assessment of the YO’s role in the Party. We have to ground our analysis in an understanding of the nature, purpose and objective of the PNP. We have to explain why it remains the oldest political party in the English-speaking Caribbean, a testament to the endurance of its philosophy.
After the painful convulsion in 1952, which resulted in the expulsion of four leading Members of its left wing, due to perceived differences in ideological orientation, the Party proceeded to extend its popular outreach and consolidate its organizational base – to build the movement from the ground up, through strong grass roots Party structures, political education and research.
With its first national victory at the polls in 1955, the PNP won a mandate to build the new Jamaica of which so many of our social pioneers had dreamed.
It was a response from the people to be rid of a colonial mentality and regime which had denied a sense of self-worth and a chance to promote self-reliance through self-government.
The time had come to build a New Jamaica.
The focus on planning for economic development became a central theme – the emphasis was on production, led by agriculture. One slogan was ‘every acre has a use – every acre needs a man.’
The question of land reform had both a production and egalitarian emphasis. It was a plank to achieve the economic and social desirability of the Party’s socialist reconstruction of the Jamaican society.
For the very first time, the doors to the best education were opened wide to all classes of Jamaican children as thousands of free places were offered in secondary schools on the basis of competitive performance.
Norman Manley, erudite and sagacious as he was, never pretended to be the sole repository of all political wisdom. “No man has a prerogative on brains, no one man understands all the problems of this country. Once you are decided upon your fundamental principles, power can only be achieved through unity, and unity can only be achieved by discipline and self-sacrifice.”
Despite several political defeats and disappointments, he maintained to the very end his belief in the “instinctive wisdom of the uneducated Jamaican to know what is good and right. Hence his abiding commitment to the political grass-roots of leadership in the country” as reflected in the group structure.
As a consequence of this, the PNP never became “leader centric.” There was no pledge to follow Norman Manley till we die. Indeed, when the Party adopted the slogan, “Have faith in Manley, The Man with the Plan”, those who conveniently coondemned it as heresy, “because one should only have faith in God”, failed to see any inherent contradiction with their own mantra of idiosyncratic leadership.
We must not manipulate a historical account in the interest of partisan one upmanship by charges that Norman Manley engaged in a Federal Diversion.
Bustamante was entitled to change his mind on the Federal experiment – but let us not forget that he had previously endorsed W I Federation without reservation and was pivotal in the founding of the Caribbean wide Democratic Labour Party. It is only after the stunning election defeat of July 1959 that the JLP withdrew its bipartisan support and Norman Manley displayed his remarkable democratic credentials and full respect for ‘people power’. Once the Referendum had taken place, the verdict was accepted. “We will face one future and we walk on one road together.”
Whatever claims maybe made from political rivals or mean spirited people, no one should decline to confer on Norman Washington Manley his due as the Architect in Chief of Independent Jamaica.
Uncertainty had ended. Manley had paved the way for us to “be united as one people with one destiny.”
REVERSING THE CHANGE
The birth of the PNP YO took place at a time of social and economic discontent among the vast majority of the population. Despite the rapid economic growth which followed the 1950s, the Jamaica of the 1960s witnessed a period of maldistribution of wealth and income.
We witnessed the migration of the rural poor to the city, an ever growing social malaise, the breakdown in social life, and increasing anti-social behaviour. The Corral Gardens outrage, the Chinese Riots and the Walter Rodney demonstrations, all pointed to the resurgence of a deeply entrenched social and cultural way of life, reminiscent of a colonial past.
Unemployment doubled to 24 percent during that period, and was higher among the age cohort 15-24 in the face of a demographically growing youth population.
There was also a popular radicalism which emerged during that period, a heightened black consciousness which was either expressed through a militant and sometimes dogmatic approach to political action, or the African-based spiritual ideology of the Rastafarian movement and the promotion of a way of life that rejected the symbolism and culture of the existing ‘Babylon system’.
The process of change in the 1960s seemed to be in reverse gear and certainly antithetical to the true meaning of self-government.
So that by 1969, the leadership of the Youth Organisation would naturally be symptomatic and representative of the disparate streams of contending political forces and ideological tendencies that were both a reflection of the variegated and contradictory nature of our economic and social underdevelopment, and the restless urge for radical change in post-Independence Jamaica.
As the main progressive forces coalesced around a common goal, the PNP began to reflect a melting pot of ideological tendencies under its banner. As to be expected, the Youth were at the forefront in the march of progressive politics. There were those in the PNP YO who saw their role as specific to the youth of Jamaica and as such their interests would at all times predominate over any other Others saw their role as the arbiter of the Party’s adherence to its democratic socialist principles and defending the interest of the youth in that context.
When the PNP came to power in 1972, Michael Manley immediately set about the task of putting into place policies and programmes to advance the interest of the majority of the people. It advocated a more activist role in international and regional affairs by promoting closer cooperation with the Third World through foreign policy initiatives and support for multilateral bodies like the Group of 77, the UN, the Non-Aligned Movement and the ACP Group.
It was a period in which the PNP understood that the responsibility of leadership could not and should not ignore the pernicious influences of contending global forces. Nor should its assessment of post-Colonial society ignore the socio-cultural dynamics of the various classes in Jamaica. The Party’s Manifesto provided the roadmap. The PNP’s performance in the first three years in Office was a tour de force and successfully embarked on a path of social reconstruction.
Last Sunday, we observed Bastille Day – which for many historians spawned a new era of democracy. During the 70s, the poetry of Wordsworth at the time of the French Revolution, said it all –
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive
But to be young was very heaven.”
Much of the YO’s criticism of the Party in government was about pace and some was directed to ensure that the Party honored its commitment to addressing the economic and social structures of the society in order to bring about equality and social justice.
Our Party’s structure was established to facilitate contending ideas within the parameters of its philosophy. Democracy is rooted in its objectives, for it was only through the free and frank exchange of views and the facilitation of open dialogue that the Party could thrive.
Whatever radical ideas emanated from the Youth Organisation must first of all find free expression in the forums of the Party, and secondly must be subject in the final analysis to the true test of our democratic tradition. I can proudly say as a Party that we continue to score high on both counts. The intensity of the debates of the 1970s and 1980s, the positions and counter-positions which occupied hours and hours of discussions, reflected the intellectual ferment within the Party as a healthy expression of our democratic process and living testament to the creed of people power.
It is in that context we must judge the role of the PNP Youth Organisation over the years. Its positions and decisions, however radical and idealistic, have always been afforded full and free expression within the structures of the Party.
That must always allow the discharge of its unique role to advocate a position that reflects the views and advances the interests of that important section of the population which is its solemn duty to represent.
The leadership of the Party may differ with them, at times even vehemently so. But however much the Party’s leadership may perceive the position of its youth arm as unacceptable or impractical, the avenues of free expression must on no account be stifled to prevent a vigorous exchange of ideas. If we are supremely clear as to our position, confident as to our approach and committed to the cause, then we cannot shy away from the battle of ideas and the persuasiveness of contending arguments.
No matter the age, there is always a price to be paid for political opportunism. Only grave diggers start at the top.
Many young and ambitious adolescents who wish to climb hurriedly to the top of the ladder, in a Party bereft of ideological content and without the benefit of sober apprenticeship, soon discover that once they challenge the internal status quo, their path is blocked and they are thrown under the bus.
The PNP is proud of its record to stimulate the flow of ideas and to welcome pulsating contests for political office.
Yesterday’s revolutionaries often become tomorrow’s models of orthodoxy. Several of those who were once rejected by the Politburo for ideological impurity have eventually found their niche as captains of business while others suffer little discomfort sitting in their bureaucratic chairs.
Every arm of the Party or affiliate of the Party, must accept the supremacy of the Party’s constitution. Its principles and objectives must override all else if the unity and purpose of the Party are to be maintained within a plural and democratic structure.
If at times, there appears the semblance of chasm, the source and cause can usually be traced to breaches of discipline or departures from established procedures. When there is a breach of Party discipline, the constitutional provisions for hearing and sanction must be applied.
Over the years, the Party’s leadership has accepted the sincerity of the YO position. The Youth Organisation has every right to resist any attempt to compromise on the Party’s principles and objectives, or to complain when it seems too slow in advancing the agenda for social and economic change.
There has been and will always be complex issues, highly contentious, where differences of view inevitably appear. They have been and will always be issues which test to the very limit, the Party’s capacity to maintain its enduring principles and to define its objectives within the context of national aspirations and exogenous factors. A dynamic youth arm can only enrich the debate, strengthen our resolve and help in advancing the greater cause of this noble Party.
The YO, during its life-span, has never shunned the debate which is essential to a Party anchored in principles rather than the eccentricities of leadership. It has pushed for programmes of political education. It has represented the interests of the Jamaican youth within the broad framework of building political consciousness and articulating the Party’s philosophy in clearly defined language among the youth population. Over the years, successive members of its leadership have advanced the cause of youth within the Party and the Government.
Invariably, youthful impetuosity has always to be tempered by experience, which is neither a reflection of ideological impurity nor a descriptive reference to ideological weakness or vacillation. The truth is the idealism and exuberant nature of youth are essential to create a proper balance with experience and pragmatism in a dynamic Party.
The PNP has endured for 75 years because it has a clear mission which it has never abandoned, but has remained conscious at all times of the contemporary realities which can never be ignored.
The prevailing orthodoxy of a unipolar world was mainstream thinking in the 1990s. There was the need to structurally adjust our economy to meet the imperatives of globalisation.
New paradigms had to be constructed and conveyed in contemporary rhetoric. History will record that the Party rose to that task. The policies pursued by Michael Manley and the PNP, on the Party’s return to power in 1989, and subsequently under my leadership were always guided by the compass of equality and social justice. We remained focused on the development of a quality society and reaped the huge advantage of being a Party committed to the People and our Nation.
THE DANGER OF APATHY
Right across the globe, questions are being posed with respect to structures of government, systems of good governance and the levels of individual involvement in political organizations.
People want a stronger voice – a greater say – on matters which affect their daily lives and yet are hesitant to become engaged in the political arena.
The world has grown increasingly restless. Interactive structures and institutions which have taken centuries to take root in shaping social identity are now exposed to losing their place to new forms of association – some of which exist almost entirely in virtual space.
Any political Party, which fails to ride the sweeping tide triggered by the tremendous spread of information technology in the digital age does so at its mortal peril. The strategic use of social media, moving us beyond traditional methods of political organization, can be a powerful tool in averting political apathy.
There is mounting evidence globally that social networking sites are already transforming democracy, by allowing the man-in-the-street, and their political representatives to communicate and interact in ways never before thought possible.
The flows of online communication exploding into civil and political unrest and movements as we have seen in various parts of the world – Brazil, the US, the UK, Egypt – demonstrate the significant role of the Internet and online social media in national and global political change.
Undoubtedly, to remain effective these have to be used strategically as part of the arsenal of communication tools so that there is no room for apathy.
Today, each person has the ability to be an active participant in the political process, to directly impact the process. Virtually everyone here now has at least one cell phone which in today’s smart media era has more reach and power than the mainframe computers of yesteryear and also challenges the reach and effectiveness of traditional mass media channels.
Users accessing social media networks range from toddlers to adults and the elderly, every one of whom has an opinion and is no longer content to accept the message. Those sending messages are now judged by the promptness and relevance of their responses to questions. Our youths today are demanding to be seen, heard and inspired politically. This is not a time for apathy.
Social media channels are now proving to be the best way to connect with our communities because of its viral nature, ease of use and low cost. The challenge, however, is how to utilise the best strategies that would achieve the desired outcome.
However, while we charge ahead with social media and all the bright opportunities offered, we must not abandon the true and tried grass roots networking strategies which allow us to physically introduce ourselves and our programmes to those in our communities.
For the YO to remain relevant as an important political and social vehicle it also needs to draw on its collective genius to achieve the kinds of change you see as essential in moving forward. You must keep ahead of the curve and make today’s youth, who are heavily engaged in social media, return to full engagement in the political process.
PURSUING THE MISSION
Of course, there is a major difference between perception and reality – on both sides of the political divide – but the outcome of young talented citizens opting away from the Political process through voting and membership is a worrying development.
The challenge that the Party must overcome and which the Youth Organization, the patriots, the Women’s Movement, the Outreach and Recruitment Commission, the Policy Commission face – the entire movement included is how do we – having recognized this challenge – retain our position of prominence and of relevance among our nation’s youth.
This “mission” has to be among the motivators within our minds and strategies as we commemorate our 75th Anniversary. As much as we conclude that our way of being, our Constitution, our Culture within the Party and how we organize have served us positively over the 75 years – we must also accept and understand that we also need to embrace a permanent commitment to transform and to achieve relevance and utility for our youth.
For me, and at the vantage point from where I participated, it is no longer either or, it has to be both. We are correct to celebrate and commemorate our history and our achievement. But that commemoration must not only be born out of nostalgia.
It must be guided by a desire to continue to deliver on behalf of the people of Jamaica, credible developmental options and programmes that will achieve the value propositions set out in the Vision 2030 document.
Our commemoration must be undergirded by the Progressive Agenda which restate in the modern context our commitment to Participation, Accountability and Responsibility.
Our commemoration must be aligned with the abiding philosophy of the Founders and Pioneers that the People’s National Party will “unswervingly aim at all those measures which will serve the masses of the country.”
While it is true that we have continuously delivered on this tenet of who we are – it is equally true that the needs of the masses of the people to become equally expressed within contemporary have also changed.
The issues of access and of representation have largely been resolved. But no one can deny that the issues of equality and of justice are at best “works in progress”.
Moreover – the definitions and understandings of what justice, equality and access mean are also changing to reflect the plurality of today’s society and more so of today’s youth.
Such dynamism is a feature of human societies. However, the pace of the change has never been greater than it is today and by tomorrow, with the next generation of innovation, that pace will quicken significantly.
What therefore are political organizations to do and what therefore is the role of young people within a political party? Political Organizations by their very nature are in the business of leading social, economic and therefore human development. There cannot be an alien process to determine the Agenda items for the populace as to their understanding or opinions of what social and economic development is.
In other words – the process to articulate a vision and a response (a manifesto or other tome) that would resonate with the populace must begin with, include and end with the active participation of the populace. To remain ahead of the wave, youth are of necessity a key component of the process. If we are to achieve credibility of message, of vision and of execution of policy there has to be an in-built information capture system which is not limited to virtual or vicarious relationships but must again achieve popular membership across all strands and segments of the Jamaican Society.
I could put it another way. Before we can walk the walk, we need to be able to talk the talk. But to talk the talk, we need to understand the language of the youth and of the people. We need to understand their motivations, their challenges and their own idea of self actualization. But it is not a one way street approach. We must also infuse their motives and ideas with our principles and our own vision and understanding of the Quality Society we seek to achieve on their and our behalf as set out in Vision 2030.
It is this conclusion that provided the Genesis of Declaration 75 and the Transformation Process – both of which must be treated as living legacy elements of the 75th Anniversary Commemoration.
We intend Declaration 75 to be a tangible outcome of the Transformation Process that seeks to document where we are as a Party with respect to where the critical mass of the population requires us to be. Ultimately, political organizations exist to work in the service of the citizenry – we therefore need always to understand the products and services that society requires of us. As long as we can continue to advocate for the attainment of those agreed products and services, and lead the articulation of those needs – while successfully advocating for the attainment of those ideals – we would have retained relevance well into the future.
That “mission” will however evade us if we continue to allow our membership to shrink and for increasing numbers of our citizens to see us as inimical to their way of life or an impediment in their own drive to fulfill their dreams.
If it hasn’t yet become clear – let me make it explicit – the role of young people in politics, - the role of the Youth Organization within the People’s National Party is inextricably linked to the survival and continued success of our National Movement. The relationship has to be symbiotic.
Similarly, the Youth Organization as it reaches its own maturity must begin to appreciate that it too faces challenges of relevance, of attractiveness and of credibility. It must also be introspective and begin to outline new ways of organizing itself and communicating on behalf of Jamaica’s youth. Thousands of Jamaica’s youth, here and abroad, are filled to the brim with ideas, innovation and proposals for our country’s development and are not opting to contribute those through the YO or the Party.
We must grapple with the reality that an expansive and boundless constituency of young people with promise and potential are remaining on the periphery of politics to the detriment of our movement and our country’s capacity to achieve the quantum leap that is required to close the equity gap.
I have attempted in this first public lecture to address the central question – “Conscience or Chasm” – within a historical and contextual framework, hopefully without indulging unduly in “lexical semantics”. I have spent considerable time in tracing the Party’s roots, which so wide and deep, and its ideological origins because I do not believe any of its branches can be entitled to the right to be the conscience of such a democratic Movement.
Neither do I think the YO would still be alive at 45 if there had been such a gulf or breaches of such severity that it would not have been dismembered long ago. It has been more of a catalyst than a chasm.
I have therefore concluded, instead, that the YO has been and must continue to be the vanguard, to ensure that the torch which was let 75 years ago is never extinguished, that the synergies which exist must be nurtured and nourished.
In politics, as in life, everything has a cost. The Party with a clear ideological framework must be prepared to pay the price for dialetics – if only because its absence comes at an even higher cost. For without any binding agent – a political creed – the personal conflicts and bitter squabbles are bound to be frequent and likely to recur through outbreaks of internecine warfare.
As we mark this milestone of pour 75th Party Anniversary, and the 45th of the YO, let us draw strength from the rich legacy of our forebears, the noble traditions which have been entrenched and the mission of full emancipation on which we have embarked and move beyond today and march onward tomorrow.
What better way can there be to end than by adopting the words which our Founder uttered at the Ward Theatre on that historic Sunday, September 18, 1938 –
“If we start aright, if we never desert our own principles, if we believe in what we are aiming at, if we appreciate those who regard this country as their home, those who believe that a real civilization is possible for people of mixed origins, if we never allow people to deflect us from our goals, those who would like to continue to live in the feeling that Jamaica is the grandest little country to make their living in, and the nicest country in the world to visit – if we can do those things and be true to what we believe in, true to the ideals we have started, and if we can combine that with hard work and practical intelligence, and with a readiness to do that work and show that intelligence in our own affairs, then I believe we will have created a movement which is like nothing else started in Jamaica, and make of this country a real place that our children will be proud to say “We come from Jamaica.”