‘Use our freedom wisely’: Opposition Leader's 2015 Emancipation Day Message
Emancipation Day is a celebration of the end of the system of enslavement through colonial government and plantation economy. As the generations pass, the meaning of the day may become less relevant, may be even academic as time places distance between us and our past.
The purpose of the holiday is for us, collectively, to recollect our history, learn from the events, honour the sacrifice of our forebears, and reaffirm our commitment to making a better future.
So, let us recall with respect, pride and veneration, Sam Sharpe, Paul Bogle and George William Gordon, whose struggle, blood and ultimate sacrifice led to the reading of the Emancipation Proclamation. Oh, what a joyous time it must have been for our great-great-grandmothers and fathers to hear the words signalling their freedom. Today, let us celebrate in spirit with them.
The act of emancipation did not mean the end of struggle. The passage of laws could not by themselves overnight dismantle centuries of slavery, of deprivation, of poverty, and violence.
It would take decades to build institutions to replace a colonial government, plantation economy, and an unjust society. We were free, but without the means to truly capitalise on our freedom.
At the end of the slavery, British plantation owners were compensated to the tune of £20 million. Those who were enslaved received nothing. This was the unequal basis on which the new society and economy would begin.
Today, 177 years since Emancipation, Jamaica has one of highest levels of income inequality in the world. Almost 20 per cent of our people still live in absolute poverty and we have not been able to make literacy universal or ensure justice and security for all Jamaicans. Having said that, let us acknowledge that while we have not reached as far as we should, we have come a long way.
We have a strong democracy, a very free press, an amplified voice on the world stage through our music, culture, art, and sports, but also through an incredibly talented diaspora that represents Jamaica in the centres of power.
Unfortunately, the high levels of cynicism, apathy and disengagement of a large segment of our society, especially among youth, threaten the efficacy of freedom to bring change. Freedom means choice, which includes the right not to participate and exercise choice. Here is where freedom requires social responsibility.
Non-participation in our democratic system is not a wise exercise of choice. I encourage all our youth to participate and articulate the future they would like to see. Use your freedom
to hold the government to account. This is the best way to honour the forefathers who paid the ultimate sacrifice for you to live in a free society.
The challenge, therefore, as we reflect on Emancipation, is to use our freedom to accelerate and catalyse the building of a fair and just society, a strong and growing economy, and an efficient and accountable government.
Let us use our freedom to secure justice for all Jamaicans. Let us hold our government to account for efficiency and growth. Let us use our freedom to ensure education for all our children. Let us use our personal freedom to lead healthy lifestyles. Let us chose to resolve conflict peacefully instead of by violence. Ultimately, with our freedom, we choose our future. Let us choose to end poverty and secure a future of shared prosperity.