Jamaica first, again!
Lance Neita, Contributor
Oddly enough, it was a non-Jamaican, Kaiser Bauxite's general manager, Ed Coyne, who introduced the Jamaica First programme back in 1981 as an antidote for post-election rancour to a nation polarised by a bitter election campaign the year before.
Coyne launched the programme at a luncheon meeting of the Ocho Rios Kiwanis held at the Jamaica Hilton on January 8, 1981, two months after the long and acrimonious campaign won by the Jamaica Labour Party (JLP).
Wounds had been opened, lives had been lost, and there were strong ideological differences which spilled over after the election into continued division and animosity. The nation needed to settle down and get back to work.
The bauxite executive felt strongly that Jamaica First could be one of the keys to that healing, and when he walked into the Hilton that afternoon he was well-prepared with statistics, slogans, and 25,000 bumper stickers to kick off the project.
"Time is running out for us to start the rebuilding process," he said, pointing out that the country needed to unite to build a better society, put an end to political hatred, and get the wheels of production turning.
Jamaica First seized the imagination of the country as a channel for national unity, with the stickers appearing on vehicles, buildings, schoolbooks, handcarts, T-shirts, and the message highlighted in the media, on talk shows, and even in tourism promotions.
It was the most sustained attempt by a private-sector company to foster national pride and unity. The Gleaner described it as commendable and deserving of support, "although not to be seen as cosmetic concealment of real problems".
"Do not expect partisan feelings and bias to disappear overnight," warned the editorial of January 10, 1981. "We do not share the view that party loyalty and national interest are mutually exclusive, but where such interests conflict, the country must come first."
The wheel has turned full circle. Jamaica once again faces a crisis where the values of loyalty and commitment to country have been emasculated by the iron grip of partisan politics. Party loyalty and national interests are once again in serious conflict. Every major issue that is now before us raises suspicion of some political bias influencing arguments for or against. Debates on the economy are neatly compartmentalised into what the People's National Party (PNP) thinks and what the JLP thinks. Opinion or judgement on the extradition affair depends on your political leaning.
A divided nation
To say that we are a divided nation today is an understatement. We are divided on almost everything, and we are finding it difficult even to agree to disagree.
Politics alone is not the problem. Good ideas are being sacrificed for personal ego building. The competition for attention is stiff. Benefits are scarce, andeven if 'rain a fall, dutty tough', to paraphrase Miss Lou.
If we ever needed to come together in a united approach to problem solving and real nation building, the time is now. Jamaica has been through hard times, bad times, worse times, good times. Through it all, we enjoy our moments of triumph when we find ourselves united around a single cause.
1981 was not the first time that Jamaicans were challenged to put Jamaica first. Both Alexander Bustamante and Norman Manley gave full support to a Jamaica Manufacturers' Association campaign in the 1950s to foster national pride and ownership.
Speaking at a JMA exhibition at the Catholic School, Duke Street, in 1954, Manley said that in the process of nation building we have to put petty differences aside, forget and forgive political partisanship and jealousy, and look to the future, putting your country first.
As Coyne said in Ocho Rios, "We have the most powerful and self-healing motto to inspire us, 'Out of many, one people'." At that time, he had challenged other business companies to join Kaiser in a massive campaign to articulate a programme that "hopefully could develop into a national mood".
Who will now take up the challenge? "There is a bottom line to all this," reminded Coyne. "It's called Jamaica, land we love."