70-year journey of empowerment
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
IT MIGHT have appeared to be the worst of times, but as it turned out, 1944 signalled that the best of times were yet to come.
It was a time when momentous events marked the onset of a new dawn for ordinary Jamaicans, toiling for centuries under the weight of colonial rule.
It was a time when descendants of slaves were being accorded the right to vote under the mantle of Universal Adult Suffrage.
It was a time when 'bread and butter issues' consumed Jamaicans.
But it was also a time when Norman Washington Manley's vision for his country was extraordinary, even by his standards.
Manley's vision was summed up in these words: "I say that the mission of my generation was to win self-government for Jamaica, to win political power which is the final power for the black masses of my country from which I spring. I am proud to stand here today and say to you who fought that fight with me, say it with gladness and pride, mission accomplished for my generation.
"And what is the mission of this generation? It is ... reconstructing the social and economic society and life of Jamaica."
Jamaica the winner
It didn't matter whether Manley would be the victor or conquered in electoral contests emanating from Universal Adult Suffrage. Equipped with a razor-sharp mind and armed with an acute sense of self, Manley was inspired to ensure that Jamaica - the land of his birth - was the winner.
For him, it was of paramount importance that Jamaicans play a pivotal role in their development by helping to shape their destiny.
He was convinced that every Jamaican should have a say that would be the first important step to greater things.
Although empowerment of the masses was initiated by Marcus Garvey, it was Manley and Alexander Bustamante who, in the 1940s, led Jamaicans through the rocky terrains of the local labour landscape.
Manley was the legal luminary of the day and Bustamante, a self-styled labour leader with an uncanny ability to command attention.
If Martin Luther King, Jr, the great civil rights leader in the United States, claimed to dream for racial equality, then Manley, Jamaica's great advocate engaged in a somewhat similar struggle, could claim a vision.
In that struggle, Manley was unrelenting. Long before 1944, he signalled that he was firmly aware that Universal Adult Suffrage would begin the empowerment process of the subjects of colonialism.
The people would, after many centuries, finally have a say in how their lives were governed.
Being the visionary that he was, Manley saw the signs of impending change on the socio-political horizon and stood firm on his commitment.
Blessed with that pre-science and supported by a team of like-minded allies, he established the People's National Party (PNP) in September of 1938.
That was six years before Universal Adult Suffrage was entrusted on the people of Jamaica. It turned out to be a significant step in the journey towards self-governance and more - Independence.
Bustamante, an erstwhile member of the PNP, formed the Jamaica Labour Party in 1943, a year before Adult Suffrage became a reality.
Those moves would set the stage for a series of electoral dramas on the country's fascinating political landscape for the next 70 years.
Having been accorded that initial say, to choose whom they want to lead them, Universal Adult Suffrage signified that one of the final vestiges of colonial controls had been ripped asunder.
While Bustamante claimed the first two election victories in the aftermath of adult suffrage, it seemed natural that Manley would become Jamaica's first premier.
With each leader blessed with different gifts, Bustamante, the workers' champion, emerged as the first prime minister in the fledgling democracy that was post-Independence Jamaica.
Integration hope crushed
Democracy shone in the inexorable journey into Independence when Jamaicans were called on to have their say on the fledgling West Indian Federation.
In the grand irony of politics, Jamaicans voted in favour of Bustamante and the JLP's rejection of Federation that crushed Manley's hope of regional integration among Caribbean states.
It was Manley and the PNP who energetically ushered Jamaica into Universal Adult Suffrage, but it was Bustamante and the JLP who entered into Independence.
It was also a time when the products of slavery began to make their presence felt, signalling the beginning of significant occurrences in the international sphere.
Led by Manley, Jamaica soundly rejected the racial ignominy called the apartheid system in South Africa.
In so doing, the little country yet to acquire Independence initiated one of the most far-reaching decisions of the time.
Manley led the developed world to do something that the super powers of the day baulked at - breaking diplomatic ties and imposing sanctions on South Africa.
It is, therefore, significant that even as Jamaica commemorates the 70th anniversary of the attainment of Universal Adult Suffrage in 2014, it is also celebrating the 20th year of renewed, refreshing and revitalising relationship with South Africa.
This bond of solidarity with South Africa was forged in 1994, after the wall of the iniquitous system tumbled and Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid hero, was released from prison to re-emerge as South Africa's first black president.
A Force in Sport
Jamaica also made its presence felt in the international sporting arena only 12 years after Jamaicans were empowered under Universal Adult Suffrage.
The country's name was indelibly etched into the halls of greatness in the international arena of track and field when Herb McKenley; Les Laing, Arthur Wint and George Rhoden scorched the track.
For it was in 1948 and 1952 that historic accomplishments of the starring quartet took the world by storm.
Manley and others of his time had a vision for people participation.
Today, the PNP, true to its penchant for wordiness, glibly calls the people power.
Did Manley and others who battled for people power fight a lost war?
Have the people of Jamaica surrendered their rights/power, or has Jamaica lost its way?
Have the people been bamboozled by those who succeeded Manley and the men and women who took the bold steps to control their destinies?