Lambert Brown, Guest Columnist
ON TUESDAY last we celebrated Peace Day all over Jamaica. On Wednesday, it was the day to celebrate the struggles and achievements of our Jamaican women and their counterparts globally. Yet, on Wednesday, an elderly woman, Mrs. Vilma Mais was brutally murdered after completing her daily prayers at Stella Maris Church in St. Andrew all this in the middle of the working day. Her peace and that of her family, friends and church community was shattered. This was the second murder of a church member in the precinct of a church this week. Only a few weeks ago there was the attempted arson attack on a church on North Street, Kingston. Neither the churches, their members nor their precinct are safe anymore. As a nation, we have broken the barrier shielding the sanctity of the Church. Our slide down the slippery slope of self destruction is well and truly on in earnest.
Another barrier that we have disastrously broken is that of the protection and caring for our children. We no longer treat each child as our own, but instead, the murderers among us are unsparing in aiming their death blows at the beautiful flowers of the human race - our children. Not long ago, we protected our children, living the reality that it took a village to care for a child. We use to do that relatively successfully. Regrettably, in one week recently we murdered seven children. Our schools have become unsafe and a danger zone for our children and their teachers. Unfortunately, these recent murders of our innocent children is a continuation of an alarming trend, which seems to go unnoticed by our authorities who are so jaded that complacency have become their habitat. What is appalling about all of this, is that our security forces seem unable to track down these perpetrators in a timely manner, if at all. The criminals continue to win. Crime continues to pay, and we, the Jamaican people, continue to cower, living in fear and great uncertainty not knowing who will be next.
It is against this background that we reflect on the breaking of another barrier. This time the ascendancy of Portia Simpson Miller as Prime Minister-designate. This is definitely a broken barrier that is being welcomed across the length and breath of Jamaica, with hope for positive changes in the lives of the majority of Jamaicans. By the 30th of this month 'woman a run this country' as the Team Portia
campaign song proclaimed. Not only the gender, but also the class barrier was broken in the election of Portia Simpson Miller as the first woman to lead the PNP and as the first female head of government since Universal Adult
Suffrage was granted 62 years ago in 1944.
For the first time, a woman from the bowels of the working class will lead
Breaking those barriers was not an ordinary feat. Going beyond the ordinary to deliver the extraordinary is the burden that the soon to be Most Honourable Portia Simpson Miller continues to face. Personally, I am confident based on my knowledge of her discharge of ministerial duties locally and overseas, that she is more than capable of leading this nation to restore the protection of the vulnerable among our people and in particular, our children and women. I suspect that those who are hoping that the euphoria of the masses with her victory will soon subside may be in for a big disappointment. The grass roots have longed for the day when those who labour hold the reign, and they will seek to protect and assist their revered leader from defeat. The problems Portia will face may well come from her own party, and the middle classes who abhor a grass roots leader rising to the top seat in Jamaica House. She still has many more barriers to break down if she is to succeed in her new role.
One year ago on International Women's Day (IWD), a group of middle-class PNP women held a luncheon, not for Portia as
president of the PNP Women's Movement or vice-president of her party, but instead, to declare a man an 'honorary woman'. This year on IWD, Portia celebrated her electoral victory at the Ranny Williams Garden Theatre, these middle class women were conspicuous by their absence. They seem to have forgotten that IWD is about celebrating the struggles and successes of women. For Portia to be able to fulfil her mission of uniting the Jamaican people, she will have to reach out and win over a significant section of the middle classes and the upper sections of the society.
It appears to me, that this imperative was not lost on her. On Wednesday night, she signalled to the nation this intent when she called women from varying social background to share the platform with her at the IWD rally. A brilliant symbolic action by the women, where downtown and uptown came together and even JLP women were standing in unity with PNP women. More barriers were being broken down under the leadership of the women. Interestingly, the Prime Minister-designate jokingly noted that the women from the grass root had dominated the upper class women on the platform.
In reality, there will be tensions among the social classes, jockeying for a piece of the economic and social space. It is these tensions that will test the mettle of Mrs. Simpson Miller in the coming months. Michael Manley had to face these issues, I suspect that Portia have learnt well the lessons of the 70s and will not repeat the mistakes made then. The fomenting of class struggle never worked then, nor will it work now either. However, the provision of opportunities for wealth creation by the ordinary people, so that they may break down the barriers imposed by poverty must be an essential part of the new Prime Minister's mandate.
I believe that in breaking down the barriers to wealth creation, we put in place the foundations to returning our country to the 'good ole days' when our children, the elderly and churches will be safe again. Portia has played her part in breaking down negative barriers. All classes and social groups must commit themselves to 'Jamaica First' and collectively crush the barriers of division, greed and snobbishness which retard and deny us the prosperity that is ours as a people to achieve.
What better time to do it than this moment, when the barriers, like the inhibiting shell of the egg, has given way to the birth of a new day in our history.
Lambert Brown is president of the University and Allied Workers Union and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.