Since our September 3 elections I have heard and observed a number of operatives in civil society and the press express concerns and long lamentations on their belief that all of a sudden our democracy is in crisis. The night of the election I heard two party operatives of the PNP, two media managers and a civil society leader spell out a future which saw Jamaican democracy in dire straights. On one hand the low voter turnout meant that the government did not have a mandate because enough people did not vote. Another person remarked that Jamaican democracy was in trouble because the Jamaican populace had accepted that corruption is a feature of our democracy. The civil society leader argued that a landslide victory with the incumbent JLP was the greatest threat to Jamaican democracy.
With one election, what had before been described as a consolidated, if not quality democracy was in trouble and serious trouble at that. What then makes a democracy viable? Is it the number of persons who vote in an election? Is it the presence of political leaders who sometimes raid the public purse for their personal benefit? Is it the margin of victory in a general election?
Democracy is only democracy when we know and respect its safeguards. A democracy is not just the interplay between leaders in elected office and the citizens who support their agenda. The judiciary is an important part of a country’s democratic arrangement. The media which should seek to find the truths and represent without fear or favour and civil society in its full length and breath.
Our democracy is not at risk. The JLP’s margin of victory does not put our democracy at risk, there are enough checks and balances within our system to ensure the sanctity and protection of our democracy. We do need more Jamaicans to vote in our elections, the political parties and the Electoral Commission of Jamaica (ECJ) need to turn their attention to developing strategies for voter education towards encouraging full participation in elections. Democracy is more than elections. It is us, the people engaging our country and our collective well being. Election is how we choose leadership for our democracy. I am a firm believer in this democracy that the people of Jamaica have evolved. One election will not question its integrity.
I dabble in the news. I am not interested in Journalism as a professional option. I do like the work of journalists because I believe in some principles that a good journalist is also committed to; 1) speaking truth to power; 2) the democratization of society by ensuring that the opinions and experiences of the voiceless and disenfranchised are aired; 3) journalists are story tellers and stories are powerful transformative tools if they are told the right way. I am also aware that there is a certain way that society demands information which can pressure journalists to court sensationalism and tell their story with such intrigue and drama that it can misrepresent the truth and put people at risk of all kinds of discomfort. The journalist then must be committed to certain key principles; to not be in a hurry to break news; to properly research a story and the implications of a story; to ensure that they tell their story mindful of the principles of ethical practice. It is care and regard for the subject of the story that will guide a journalist to double and triple check and to ensure that they are committed to justice, accuracy and fairness and not just with the ‘sensationalist tendencies’ that can undermine the credibility of journalists, news stations and the misleading of a public which has located trust in an entity or a journalist.
The Society of Professional Journalists notes the following “Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” (https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp) Over the last twenty-four hours I have not been able to get the phrase “ethical journalism” out of my head. For someone who ‘dabbles’ in the news, who respects the work of journalists, who loves information and who believes in the power of voice and representation, I see journalists as ‘superheroes’ in this quest for a more just, fair and equitable society. My proximity to the news and to journalists has changed over time. I now know the difference between a reporter and a journalist; my distinction. Because I believe that a good journalist is not attempting to be a ventriloquist, a good journalist understands the potential impact of his or her story and then reports it fully conscious that they are also in the business of politics. Neutrality is never present in a story, those who claim neutrality, in my opinion, are but seeking to walk away from the consequences of their story. Reckless journalism is like walking into a building of people shouting fire and then trying to stand aside pretending innocence in the resulting chaos and stampede.
I believe a good journalist is a good researcher who has a responsibility to delve into the story they are telling, to cross reference, check and double check. Journalists also have a responsibility to give accurate context, to describe the substance of a story. They should know that when a story is taken out of it’s original context the intent of the journalist is to mislead and misrepresent, to impose a political outcome that was not intended at the original telling of the story. This is when the journalist and his or her intention must be called into question.
I had a conversation with a journalist/reporter yesterday, Saturday June 20, 2020. A journalist who took information that I shared in response to a question, in a space that was suppose to be safe, in a space where people are usually vulnerable and because of that vulnerability are treated with care and their information shared with concern; that journalist told.me she had no obligations to check with me the subject of her story, she had no responsibility to assess the impact of her story on my life and livelihood. She could record my voice and tell my story without consulting with me, without verifying with me, without any concern for my safety and wellbeing. I was left speechless after her statement, I was done. What more could she say. She has a platform, she can do what she wants and to hell with me.
What of a journalists ethical responsibility to minimize harm? How can a journalist tell me that they have no obligations to me after they choose to tell my story without my consent? This is not ethical journalism, It is the misuse of power! Journalists must at least balance the need to tell a story with the potential impact of the telling of that story on the lives of the people in the story. What’s the point of telling the story if in the end the subject feels victimized? Journalists must also hold themselves accountable and they have an obligation to make the necessary corrections to their story to ensure that the different sides to a story are told with the same level of care.
Jamaica is remarkable in its rankings on press freedom. My fear is that an unchecked press will do as much harm to a people and a society as a press facing restrictions in its level of freedom. Sensationalistic journalism has the potential to undermine the credibility of news and the power of the story. If a reporter’s only intent is to grab attention and to startle or thrill their audience then they are playing to the most unsophisticated and the basest instincts in their audience.
As I ‘dabble’ in the news I am aware that those who call themselves journalists need to hold themselves to high standards of fairness and care. That good journalism doesnt at all look like sensationalism, that there are good, honest journalists in Jamaica who care for their story and the people they tell stories about.
Like everyone else I have been gripped with fear. I have been anxious, sometimes afraid and just filled with worry. I had somehow expected that we would have been past the worst of this by now. When the first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Jamaica, I approached it with the same attitude I would a hurricane. Make your preparations, set your mind to deal with the consequences and just wait, it wont be long.
This is not what I expected. I feel as if I have been waiting on the arrival of a disaster for two whole months. Almost as if someone told me we were going to experience a category five hurricane, three months in advance. I have visited the supermarket much more than in necessary. I made sure my lamp had kerosene oil and I had candles and batteries. Then I said to myself, wrong disaster and went to the pharmacy to buy vicks and cough syrup. I bought extra disinfectant, extra lysol, extra hand sanitizer and finished my usual supply plus the extra and then I went back to the supermarket for more. Still, I am waiting on the disaster.
My mind found it hard to accept that this is it. I use to get into my car and just visit the pharmacy to check out the over the counter medication just in case there was something I could buy that would work against COVID-19. Finally, I had nothing else to do on the road and I had to sit down. I watched Netflix, Amazon Prime, YouTube, regular cable, too much news. I baked and cooked too much, of course ate too much and couldn’t sleep. My plans to read novel after novel, finish the corrections for my PhD research, all fell by the wayside. All I could do was wait.
In many ways I am still struggling. Trying to get out of the mode of sitting and waiting for my version of the disaster. Trying to pull myself out of my wait and my incessant worry. Meditating, getting back to my yoga practice. Writing even for a half an hour. Forcing myself to imagine best case scenarios. Looking for the silver lining, finding my rainbow. Some days are more hopeful. My happy moments are now longer and occur more frequently. COVID-19 will no doubt take a toll on all of us. But I have this feeling that we will survive. It will be an important part of the human story not the end.
I am approaching another weekend. I am making it my intention to look forward to the weekend. To Sunday and the start of the week. I promise to notice the days.
Too much if you ask me. In many ways I am recognizing that this question, which was posed by Prof. Munroe in my Democracy class in graduate school, requires an even more complex and nuanced answer than I had attempted at the time. Beyond the idea of Tacquville’s democracy; elections and easy change of government, is the reality of how we actually live in a state which calls itself democratic. My conclusion; sometimes democracy needs too much to survive.
Over the last month or so we have come to recognize more and more that there is need for equality and equity in order for a democratic state to mount a successful response to a national health challenge. COVID-19 has brought into stark relief the dangers of a socio-economically divided state. It has demonstrated that a state with deep seated inequalities is not likely to survive a pandemic with its credibility intact. Mind you these inequalities are not just socio-economic. I am also seeing deep political divides along party lines, the kind of partisanship which seeks to undermine not uplift a democracy.
I believe that for democracy to survive it needs economic equality and development and it needs personal financial stability. People who are hungry are less likely to observe the desired ‘democratic etiquette’ i.e respect for the other, obey rules of order and generally participate in the requirements of good citizenship. This is not surprising, and I am not suggesting that this is a new discovery. Maslow’s Need Hierarchy perfectly demonstrates that there are some core needs which need to be met before we can access the qualities which contributes to the making of the good citizen.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that our response to keeping the Jamaican citizen safe is impacted by the state of our housing stock. Urbanization and urban sprawl has undermined the response. People who live in communities with inadequate housing, precarious access to water and poor roads find it difficult to take the necessary precautions to protect themselves in times of difficulty. I have always wondered what we mean when we talk about ‘housing solution’ in Jamaica. The NHT often announces a number of ‘housing solutions’ in a parish or across parishes, not homes but housing solutions. Overtime I have observed that those housing solutions are but sleepers, places where members of a family go to after work to sleep and turn up for work the next day. Not homes, with space for family engagement, not homes which give families the space for privacy and perhaps individual dignity. Housing solutions, more an assembly line concept of providing homes.
Democracy needs social cohesion to survive. It needs solidarity and openness and an agreement on the common good for its legitimacy to not be questioned. The Tacquvillian concept of democracy is too often seen as the standard indicator that democracy is alive and well in a state. Indeed, if we are not careful we become fooled into thinking that the health of our democracy is measured every five years more or less depending on our election cycle.
Democracy needs democracy to survive, it also need economic growth, it needs equity and it needs equality.
So many things to consider about this COVID-19 virus. This epidemic that has imposed itself on the world in such a dramatic fashion. As a Jamaican woman trying to stay healthy and positive through this pandemic my thoughts tend to drift very often to either imagining a worst case scenario where the numbers of people who have contracted the virus is so severe that hospitals are totally overwhelmed, to one where Jamaica has managed to do what the rest of the world has not managed to do successfully; we do so well at managing the crisis that there are no deaths and the numbers of Jamaicans who contract the actual disease is so low that Jamaica is seen as an example to the world of how to manage a health crisis. In earlier versions of my made up story, there are no deaths associated with the outbreak of the disease. Of course this was before the announcement of the first death. The announcement of the first, and so far only, Corona Virus death was hard for me to digest. I preferred my second option.
So like most Jamaicans (I would imagine) my daily, hourly, minutely perhaps constant thoughts are focused on the disease. This constant mind loop of imagination and suppositions about this disease has been panic inducing and has caused me to sink into a kind of obsession with wanting to digest any and every COVID-19 information. The stories are unrelenting, all.my What’s App goups are filled with robust discussions on different angles to understand why the spread, hownthe spread, what to do about the spread and so on. There are suggestions as to strategies to stay disease free, how to build immune systems, and ways to make sure you stay away from people who might be already infected. The memes and the jokes are constant and of course everyone has an experience and or an opinion which must be shared. Frankly, its overwhelming. People know way too much for a virus less than a year old and there are too many potential treatments and miracle drugs around. Frankly, I think the world needs to dial it down a little. The media is way too hyped up on reporting the numbers and looking for the next shocking angle, governments are playing too much politics and frankly in the hyped up noise we are not hearing enough from those who have learnt enough to give us ideas as to how to navigate the pandemic. I believe that the turnabout will come when we start focusing on the mundane some more, because to be honest we have started. Washing of hands for example is the most powerful response. The other solutions are equally simple; stay home, especially if you feel ill, keep your home clean and limit the number of guests who visit, in fact if they were being mindful they would know not to visit. Bleach and water, simple enough, keeping yourself clean also means being disease free, keeping your home clean seems such a simple invocation these things are not alien. We should have been doing them anyway. In some cases we were already we just need to tighten up. It’s the social distancing part that is hard.
I want to invite people over. I want to go to places and do things. All of a sudden I have this sudden urge to travel. I yearn for an airport and the promise of a few weeks in a new place. Before COVID-19 I had become wary of traveling and hated planes, now I find myself really disappointed that the trips I had planned would not happen as I had anticipated. My mind is playing tricks on me I realize. I am now considering social distancing. I write about that later.
I am a teacher. I was trained at the Bethlehem Teacher’s College. I appreciate very much the rigour of my old school teacher’s college training. It was rigorous, it was lonely, it was difficult. I did graduate over twenty-five years ago, so much of my experience is perhaps dated and no longer has relevance in today’s classroom. However, as I engage the classroom and students from time to time and as I speak to teachers I get the feeling that not much has changed in terms of teaching and classroom management.
I spent a lot of my time when I was learning to be a teacher concentrating on learning about how children learn learning skills. How they learn reading skills, how they learn mathematics skills, how they learn language skills. My teacher’s college called me a generalist, a primary school teacher. I can teach children to read and build mathematics skills. I was taught to teach them to be curious about life and to ask questions about their environment. Teachers like myself were taught to encourage our students creativity through music and dance and art. I learnt to play the piano, the drum, to teach skills of design and self expression in art. I learnt how to teach children to play so they would learn team work, to listen to each other to work cooperatively and to listen for instructions and to follow instructions.
Science was about experiments and coming up with creative ideas to teach children to experiment with the world around them in Religious Studies we learnt about engaging students in conversation about morality and right and wrong. We had conversations about religions and the idea that if children are exposed to religious and moral teaching early enough, we can mold them into the people and citizens we want them to be. In fact I will never forget Valrie Tinglin’s invocation from the Catholics “give me a child before he is seven years and I will make him a Catholic for life.” We spoke at length about the importance of those formative years. My math methods teacher Yvonne Kong who taught us that Math is a practical subject and we must never go before our students without materials, that we must be engaging children in the development of fine motor skills as we teach them math. I spent months on my Math kit. Everything around me became a proxy for teaching Math. Mrs. Kong wanted us to tell children that Math is all around them, in the kitchen in church and on the streets. Math she said is a lived and living experiment.
Leroy Phillips was our music teacher. I loved music, he taught us to play basic accompaniments on the piano so our classroom would be filled with music. The arpeggio, folk songs, Jesu Joy, the Xylophone, the Congo drum, the tambourine, the recorder. I loved my music methods classes, as student teachers our skills and senses were groomed and trained and we were taught to ensure that our children could bring music across every subject area. They could make music for social studies, for math. Teacher’s College and teacher training were about getting children to wake up everyday through music and movement . Challenging them by exposing them to difficulty but training their minds for problem solving.
I remember Mrs. Pearline Williams who taught us Child Development and Chid Psychology invoking the idea that classrooms must be places of play. She reminded us constantly that “play is a child’s occupation.” We knew that children needed to play, we knew classroom management was best achieved when our students wanted to learn and were intrigued. When they were motivated and excited. We defended our profession in classes with Rhona Anglin and Beverly Little. Looking at the history of teaching; globally and locally and asking and answering if teaching was a profession, if teachers were professionals and making suggestions as to how we maintain the sanctity of our profession. We looked at legislation and policies that defined and governed our professional practice and we examined the role of the teacher and the evolution of teaching.
I am a teacher. I am proud of the rigour I was subjected to during the years I studied in Teacher’s College. I didn’t even mention teaching practice. But perhaps I should end by saying this. I was never able to put my training into practice when I left teacher’s college. The classrooms I encountered were hot and difficult to maneuver. They were dirty and the benches were unwieldy. I didnt have space to set up my reading corner, my music corner, my math corner. I couldnt take my children outside to engage their environment, firstly, outside was dusty and hot, there were no trees or grass for us to sit under in quiet repose while we read and told stories to each other. The three school compound in Montego Bay sometimes broke out in gang warfare as Boys school and Girls school children would throw stones over the walls at each other. Teachers didnt send children out for break time because they sold bag juice and cheese trix. Principals wanted their schools to be quiet and orderly. Parents wanted their children to get high marks in tests. I was taught classroom testing and evaluation but it had nothing to do with the standardized testing which now defines classrooms. In teacher’s College we were encouraged not to teach for a test. More and more the primary classroom is only important because it is a precursor to some standardized tests.
My professional organization was only concerned with the politics of the teaching enterprise. Every week there was another quarrel with the ministry and some principal some where was flouting a rule. Conditions in the classroom worsened and I decided this wouldn’t work for me. I liked teaching, I love some of the children, I didnt like most of their parents and my older colleagues had become cold and stodgy. I remember my last attendance at a JTA regional meeting in Montego Bay and Helen Stills, who was the then president of JTA, humorously asking teachers to not be like “porridge, studgy and hard to pour” but to instead “be like cornflakes ready to serve.” I remember making a promise to myself to leave teaching. After five years in both primary and prep schools, I did not like teaching anymore.
I remember in one of my engagements with a woman who really saw teachers as paragons of virtue and teaching as the ultimate profession, Dr. Jassette Smikle, who asked us to not teach unless we love our children. Teaching she said is an act of love. At Bethlehem the motto is “Mihi Cura Futuri” My Care is For The Future. It is a very sustainable development approach to life and living. Dr. Randolph Watson, principal of Bethlehem Teacher’s College when I was a student teacher, always spoke about us as young teachers not putting ourselves in compromising positions. Teachers and teaching have been compromised, by conditions which make effective teaching impossible; poor policy and legislative environment, severe shortage of resources for facilitating learning, unsuitable classrooms, overcrowded schools, ineffective school leadership, parents who have no parenting skills and send unreachable and unteachable children to school and a professional organization that has let down the side. Schools and teaching are in crisis, have been for a long time. I remember a discussion we had in Mrs. Williams class at Bethlehem we debated the troubling truth that sometimes children learn inspite of us and not because of us. I want to ask that question of Jamaica and the education system. Are children learning because of us or inspite of us?
I didnt want to think of today I wanted to walk though it. I knew I would have to step a little higher than normal and laugh a little harder and listen more intently to everything and everyone. I tried hard to not think to just do. All day I focused on what people said and did. I just stayed outside of me. If I sat fully in myself today, I would not have made it past 10am.
I didnt succeed. I kept having to leave the room to breathe. I kept having to remind myself to breathe. I kept telling me to calm down. To slow my heart rate down. In the moments when my heart started to beat its steady and loud tu-dums. I heard every sound. I even tried getting angry. I wanted someone to piss me off. My heart wasnt in it. My heart wanted to mourn you Mummy. I wanted to cry and rail and demand you back. I kept thinking, it’s been two years. She can come back now man, Jeez. It’s been two years Mummy. I still want you back.
I wanted to scream. No one was hearing, no one would hear. It was just me and you and our memories in Barbados. Mummy I really want you back. I dont want to leave you. I dont want to move on. It doesnt get better with time. It doesnt get easier.
From very early in Jamaica you learn that as a girl, as a woman, your body is not yours. Somehow, you learn that you were born for men and boys to practice their masculinity on. You were a part of their coming of age story. Young men started practicing to be abusive in groups. These were the same boys you went to school with, or the older teen boys that were your older brother’s friends. It was the young men who you watched as an eight year old girl as they reached puberty and started to mature as young men. It might even have been the older men who were your father’s colleagues. It doesnt matter, Jamaican men figure that a young woman should be the subject of their amusement, their need to prove themselves to their friends, to their peer group, their brethren on the corner.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when I recognize that abusive behaviour towards women was accepted as part of the national identity of Jamaican men. I am not sure if it was when I turned ten and men in my community started telling me “I was ready to go on the cutting table” or if it was by the time I got to 12 and they said “how old yuh be now?” I responded 12 and they said “Anything past 12 is lunch.” I didnt even understand what that meant. Or perhaps it was when they told me that my headlights looked good; referring to my breats when I was 14 years old. By the time I got to sixteen, I was touched, groped, felt up, pulled into corners; I was told at least twice a day what men wanted to do to me. I remember going to visit my sister at her business place in my school uniform, I was about 14 years old and on my way a man crossed the street to stand in front of me and explain in detail what he wanted to do to my 14 year old vagina. I was left speechless, I had never heard those things before. I felt unsafe and afraid and violated. I was suppose to help her that day. I quickly took the bus and went home. I couldnt go anywhere else. After the fellow who had verbally assaulted me walked away from me, he went to his friends and obviously told them what he told me and they all began laughing. I was looking back and running at the same time. They were happy, he had proven himself to be a man. This is what men do, I imagine, they terrorize women and then go to their friends for validation and vindication. They call it normal male behaviour.
I remember sitting in my office and one of the graduate students who assisted me in the delivery of the leadership programme left for her class in the Faculty of Humanities and Education. Within a couple minutes she was back sitting in my office, I asked her what happened, and she said miserably, I cant do it today. When I enquired what exactly had happened, she told me about the group of young men who were gathered at the bus stop just outside of Mary Seacole Hall who narrated her walk and described her body in detail and what they wanted to do to it. That day she went to class late, she sat and waited until the men had left and went to her class late.
I remember one day I was teaching in one of the N rooms at UWI. I was just walking over to Mary Seacole and was heading for the walk way. Some men were there standing, they seemed to have been making deliveries. They obviously saw me walking in their direction and moved to the walkway and stood on both sides. I had encountered this before I knew what they were up to. They stopped talking and started to stare at me. I assessed the situation and thought I would walk through the carpark instead. But then I decided, I was going in for the confrontation. I walked up to the four men and I began to cuss. I realized that I was as angry as hell. I got in their faces and I was intent on blasting each and everyone of them. I could see the absolute shame on their faces. I wanted to slap all four of them. I asked them why they thought I didnt have the same rights to navigate public spaces. I asked them what exactly made them more impo6and more valuable than me. I asked them how they thought I felt when I saw the four of them deciding to intimidate and scare me. I asked them what they were getting out of it. They said nothing. They could say nothing.
I have a solution. Since the government is incapable of helping women to deal with men’s violence and attacks on us, women must learn to fight. Women must learn to defend themselves. We are going to have to learn to throw stones, to carry knives and be able to use them in defense of us and our children. We will need to apply for our gun licenses and resort to other kinds of self defense. Men are saying they cant help being violent to us women. We must know that we have the right to self-defense. This country is officially stating that women are at risk. Men have stated that they intend to kill. There is agreement among numerous men from all quarters that women will be killed. Women need to start thinking through how they will defend themselves. Part of that of course is voting out or not voting in the political party which seems less interested in the well-being of women. We have to learn to stand in defense of us.
I was warned about the women who keep the keys to the patriarchy. The women who keep the rules. The ones who tell you to be careful, the ones who remind you of the protocol, even when they hold on to your tongue. Those women who say they must caution you.
Those women who ensure that patriarchy is protected and safe and secure.
The women who stand guard at the doors of institutions that marginalize and undermine women and who tell those of us who struggle in the trenches that our ideas and opinions, our experiences are a lie, a misrepresentation. The women who tell you the truth they want you to write.
Because that one woman gets to sip tea at the foot of the patriarchs. So she gets to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.
I have been told to stay far from those women. To walk around them and try not to encounter them and run like hell when they call your name. Because when they set sight on you. It might be the last of you because they hit hard. They hit to kill.
I have learnt to fight fire with fire. Because you cannot cower, it’s either kill or be killed. The carnage will confirm their lie that women dont get along and they will point to it. Pretending as if it wasnt a war fought for them.