Mark Ricketts | The garrisonisation of Gordon House
The last few weeks have been horrible for Parliament and parliamentarians, underscoring a level of tribalism that has assumed cult-like proportions. This is expected given the way we have weaponised the party colours of orange and green.
PNP MP Denise Daley, before apologising days later due to public outcry, proclaimed that green people are not tolerated in her constituency and would be asked to leave. Her strident comment was as outrageous as that made previously by a Ruddy Spencer, minister of state, decked out in his partisan green shirt, who said party supporters can expect preferential treatment at the Rural Agricultural Development Authority (RADA) now that a Labourite is chairman. He, too, under public pressure, eventually apologised. Both comments by members of Parliament attest to tribalism and garrisonisation in their worst forms.
The word 'garrisonisation' is not in the dictionary, but readers associating it with the word garrison get a sense of its meaning, understand its ugliness, its horror, its cruelty, and the extent to which it has changed for the worse for much of Jamaica.
Following Independence in 1962, many people were displaced and large tracts of land cleared to facilitate garrisons that turned out to be the most pernicious form of land-use policy tied to party affiliation ever designed by politicians.
Political garrisons emphasise location by pulling together people of the same party within a defined space such as a constituency. This way, they are one in their togetherness and their thinking and do not have to keep looking over their shoulders as "they know they are safe among the residences in which they live," as Edward Seaga, former MP representing the garrisons of Tivoli and Denham Town, noted.
As garrisons became a way of life in the inner city, orange and green reinforced public expressions of party allegiance and patronage. Enforcers, vigilante groups, and militias were recruited to ensure obedience, compliance, uniformity, and security.
Dressing, labelling, and branding were undertaken with such militaristic fervour that it wasn't just the colour of the outer garments that defined a person's allegiance, but an emerging mindset of hate, vengeance, intolerance, and systematic intimidation of the political opposition. Colour substituted contempt for arrogance, disdain for defiance, and vendetta for aggression.
Looking at the people's representatives in Parliament, some with a tinge of green or orange on their blouse and skirt, their tie and shirt, and women regaled in orange or green dresses, with matching shoes, there is a comedy and childishness to it all, but there is cruelty as well. Colour-coding alters the mind and makes normal men and women assume a righteousness to their cause and a messianic flavour to their proclamations. Oftentimes, the party wins, Jamaica loses.
BEHAVING LIKE HOOLIGANS
In a democracy, the thrust and parry of competitive party politics can produce a spirited debate as occurred in Parliament regarding the Banking Services Act. That is good. However, the horrors of our tribalism, spawned by our garrisons and the mindset that comes with it, can produce behaviour so low as to warrant the Speaker of the House comparing the behaviour of some lawmakers to that of hooligans.
During the week, there were vulgar accusations across the aisle, boisterousness, obscene finger gestures, and MPs on the verge of coming to blows. Righteousness and vitriol, aligned with party colours, undermine reason and civility.
On the horizon is a PNP pledge of going to war if the JLP reverses a now-accepted custom where opposition leaders chair select committees of Parliament in order to blunt the overarching power of Cabinet government.
Under our system, the Cabinet with majority legislators in the House can pass almost any piece of legislation. However, there is likely to be more diligent oversight of governance. If the Opposition chairs these select committees, two of which the Government wants to retake and chair. Why does the ruling JLP need to arrogate such excessive power if minimal checks and balances improve governance? The answer is: partisan politics, not nation building.
Colour amplifies tribal politics and garrisons. What would be nice is if the PM and the leader of the Opposition agreed in a joint statement to emphatically and finally repulse the garrisonisation of Parliament by discarding colour as a symbol of party attachment in the House.
Can you imagine the impact this message would send to the party faithful if Peter and Andrew, and other members of their teams, neutralised colour and dressed in accordance with what they thought appropriate, including green and orange?
With anaemic growth and murders in the first quarter continuing its year-over-year increases, the country has to be bigger than the party, and the key to success is the quality and judgement of those who are in charge. If MPs Daryl Vaz and Dr Dayton Campbell, who nearly came to blows, can come together and apologise profusely for their boisterous behaviour, there is hope that ending the garrisonisation of Parliament could reduce partisanship and tribalism in the wider society.