Strong showing from Comrades at conference
Party rallies troops in anticipation of local government elections
Nearly an hour into the start of the public session of the People’s National Party’s (PNP) 85th annual conference, organisers were crestfallen, and many faces reflected worry at the small numbers in the arena, with more empty chairs than bodies.
But during the devotions, led by Bishop Dr Donovan Knight and portraying the PNP as the biblical Moses who would deliver the children of Israel, the first vuvuzela sounds thundered inside the National Arena. The sermon of deliverance was interrupted by the sounds, which began as a solo, then became a duet, then a choir, a mass band, and an orchestra.
The sounds did not stop and neither did people stop pouring in. Led by Comrades holding a banner showing the face of St Mary Central Member of Parliament Dr Morais Guy, they poured in from the entrance of the arena, and in minutes, it was standing room only on the floor as well as upstairs.
Despite the air-conditioning and multiple fans, the heat inside became thick, heavy, and unbearable.
When party President Mark Golding arrived, a massive crowd accompanying him surged forward from the back of the arena, pushing those inside forward. It could have become ugly very quickly if one person fell.
Outside in the heat became a better prospect, but there, too, was full.
It was there The Gleaner met Junior Johnson, one of an estimated 13,000 persons attending the conference.
“Excellent. Upbeat. Crowd looks so good. Is the largest one I have seen since Comrade Golding became party leader. We have an excellent chance of retaining power, but the people need to beat the ground. Go in the voters face,” said Johnson from St Mary South East.
It was during this interview that the light afternoon showers fell, forcing some to seek shelter in their vehicles or under several tents placed strategically outside. Still, a majority refused to leave the area near the location of the big-screen television, even in the rain.
David Henry, 76, said he was Jamaica’s first Festival Song winner in 1962 with a song called Helena (Cerase) on the Prince Buster label. According to him, he has been a PNP supporter since he was a little boy, trudging through the bushes in St Mary with PNP founder Norman Washington Manley.
“This party has a record and history of advancing the cause of the downtrodden. Is not now, it’s decades, and the party has never stopped doing that. This is the biggest crowd I have seen since Portia. I am not saying that it is bigger than Portia, but this is a sight to behold,” he said.
According to him, the issue of Golding’s race and heritage was a non-argument, and a man’s skin colour was not important to him.
“It’s the colour of his heart. Every PNP leader bears a heart of good for the masses. And that’s why I love that party,” he said.
Henry noted that the PNP lost the elections of the 1980s because Comrades were unable to get food to feed their children, and they were also afraid that Michael Manley would be killed by Central Intelligence Agency operatives in Jamaica.
In the belly of the throng outside was 74-year-old Desmond Barrett from Kingston.
Barrett was wearing a red T-shirt bearing the photo of the late Michael Manley.
“This shirt is nearly 50 years old. I have been coming to conference every year to support my party and my leader. I support all the leaders of my party – from N. W. Manley to Mark Golding. All people need to do is go out and vote, and bring back the PNP to power,” said Barrett.
Still, another Comrade, who did not wish to share his name, said he was very energised.
“I wish the party could have a conference like this every week. Oh my God! Look at people!” he said.
Robert Pickersgill, the man revered as ‘chairman for life’, was among the large crowd inside. He said the party must get full marks for the event marking its 85th anniversary.
“Look, man. I give them an A. The décor, the music, the speakers, what they had to say. It was a rally of Comrades, and I am very happy they had the tribute to Portia,”
Pickersgill said at the conclusion of the three-day event.
Assistant Police Commissioner Gary McKenzie was head of the ground troops manning the proceedings at the arena.
“We have adequate coverage in terms of security coverage, in terms of security presence, as per responsibility. So far we have had no major incidents. We have been able to monitor the situation, and based on what we are seeing, persons have conformed with our directions and the guidelines that have been established for the conference,” he told.
The Gleaner minutes after 2:00 p.m.
Speaker after speaker rallied the crowd, which appeared to be among the largest in recent years. They travelled from Negril to Morant Point in orange regalia associated with support of the party.
One woman, almost in a trance, kept wailing, telling no one in particular what she believed was required of Comrades.
“If PNP sit back and allow Labourites to win dis, dem a nuh PNP. If PNP sit back and mek we continue fi suffa, dem a nuh PNP. PNP people, don’t sit down a oonu yard. Get out and go an’ vote them out,” she moaned over and over.