Wed | Jan 16, 2019

Whither people power?

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Portia Simpson Miller's People's National Party rode a wave of popularity for a landslide win in the 2011 general election with the tag line, 'People Power'. - File

Norda Seymour Hall, Guest Columnist

'People power' is a potent phrase that we ought not to dare exploit for political expediency. Rather, we should coalesce around it to change the negatives in our socio-political system.

The people power revolution of 1983 in the Philippines was a lengthy civil resistance against electoral fraud and state violence. In Jamaica, people power was one of the catchphrases used in the general election of 2011. Yet here we are in 2014 listening to the general secretary of the ruling party admitting that vote-buying may have been done in the December 1 Westmoreland Central by-election on the party's behalf to secure a large victory. If it is so, whither people power?

You may not be sold on my allusion to the people power revolution as the basis to understanding the term, so let us check out the game definition. The people power game is an interesting one on the Internet. Players understand the term 'people power' as outlined by the people power game website:

"People power is about politics, about strategy, and about social change. As a leader of a popular movement, you fight against tough adversaries who control the police, the army and the bureaucracy, even the media. The only weapon in your hand is your strategic skill and ingenuity."

Have we been able to use the only weapon in our hands? Let us look at the NHT saga, for instance.


The NHT board is like a sacred bull, not to be meddled with by anyone hired to oversee the pen.

The Outameni (or Orange Grove) saga rambled on centre stage, leaving us puzzled as to why after 52 years of Independence in an era of 'people power', such a bullish comedy of errors could display itself untamed and for so long.

Despite endless calls from many quarters of society that the board should resign, nothing has changed.

O, the high and mighty have tried to tame her - standing in the heat of the sun, bearing placards - a feat few 'AC office executives' in Jamaica would endure in this era of rapid ozone depletion.

Then there is the articulate minority on Twitter, whose utterances have been despised and rejected by the defenders of the sacred bull. The response to them hinted that the word 'minority' can expose the weakness of the word democracy.

If you think the few elected 'people power' representatives with divergent views had any better fate, think again. Their views on the sacred bull cannot sway those hired to oversee the pen.

The really sorry ones are those elected to oppose. They have stood in Parliament raving about the inappropriate actions of the sacred bull, but to no avail. Their loudness has merely annoyed the fine sensibilities of the leader.

Who can forget the media? Thinking investigative journalism can tame the bull, they went on a vendetta to secure questions from all angles - only to be told that they ask too many questions and then be dismissed with rudeness.

The PSOJ head, in all his glory, did not shake the administration one bit. No negative view of the board, no well-reasoned piece published in this or any other newspaper, no front-page story is as strong as the loyalty between long-time allies - you may prefer the word 'friend' or 'Comrade'.

No philosopher is smart enough to explain that you don't step aside because you think yourself wrong but rather because you want an atmosphere of transparency for those empowered to investigate - you don't step aside simply because you think you are wrong but because the public perception of your actions cripples your usefulness and effectiveness.

Why am I rambling? This has been said before!


Only strategic skill and ingenuity will earn any of us any power to change the present state of affairs in Jamaica. We want social change, we want to be heard, but do we understand the politics behind the diverse sacred cows around? Only with the right understanding can we develop the appropriate strategy to change the order of things.

Those hired to oversee the bull pen become hirelings, because of you, the people. First of all, you will have no 'people power' without a system in place to recall your workers - elected representatives - before their contract ends.

The power of your hirelings remains unchecked if you don't have true separation of powers in the leadership structure you commission. Finally, you must ensure that your economic power remains in your hands, increases, and benefits all classes.

Do not continue to allow a system where the elected take more than the fair share of wealth from the middle class through unfair taxation practices. If you do, you will altogether lose the most potent socio-economic group to maintain checks and balances in the society. Instead of people servants, you will see an increased disposition among the elected to ignore your voice.

Lack of economic power cripples growth of people power. It is what incentivises vote-buying and other exploitation of the dispossessed in the lower class. This, coupled with a weak middle class behaving like lackeys - muted out of fear of offending the elected servant-turned-boss - and a manipulative upper class are ingredients for a failed state.

Let us work then to achieve more people power! Strategy is everything.

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