Some thoughts re-cycled -on "Martyrs", being political, Croal Street
By A.A. Fenty
June 11, 2004
It might be my indisposition - or plain intellectual or journalistic laziness. I apologise - up front. Because today, I'm forced to merely re-cycle excerpts of columns past. You judge how relevant they still are.
Martyrs? Caught young People's Progressive Party (PPP) "hardliners" Mr Moses Nagamootoo and Mr. Clement Rohee on State Television, last Sunday afternoon, I did.
The two politicians were paying glowing tribute to four "July Heroes". Four persons were singled out for this honour as having "given their lives in the long "struggle" for the "restoration" of democracy in this country. Named were Michael Forde, PPP/PYO activist, the "Ballot Box Martyrs" Jagan Ramessar and Parmanand Bhola Nauth and Catholic Standard photographer and Priest Father Bernard Darke, who all died in the month of July of different years before 1992, now touted as the "dawn of a new era".
Remember that in June the Enmore Martyrs are commemorated every year, I listened intently to the two PPP stalwarts recount and glorify (almost) the deeds of those who struggled for a cause - which cause, by its very nature and intent was really the eventual removal of a government. As a public relations, party campaign event, I rate the discussion as a first-rate effort. It was transparently a PPP pitch to institutionalise the commemoration of events which would bring to the fore, to the national consciousness, the real or perceived wickedness of one regime and the heroism of those who struggled against it, suffered and died. (Mrs Jagan, is contributing to that programme in her own effective way, of course). And as one who contributed - and may one day still contribute - to the cause of politicians who say they have the development of the country, the greater national good at heart, I can't fault the PPP for this element of their strategy.
That does not remove my right - or the freedom of any other interested party - to disagree with concepts, certain information or facts, as presented from time to time. Today, however, I feel moved to mention my concern with the use of this description - "Martyrs". My understanding, in consonance with the dictionary meaning, is that a martyr is "one who undergoes penalty of death or suffering for any great cause", and characterised by extreme and severe sacrifice, born of the relentless belief, held individually or severally, in a good or just cause. (O.K. I know that what is held out as "good" or "just" varies according to perceptions and positions held).
So as the two PPP politicians on the television show dubbed all and sundry "martyrs", I myself was reluctant to agree with the attempt to martyrize. I could go as far as the category and status of "Hero", but full fledged martyrdom, like sainthood, is another matter. Impulsive or spontaneous actions cannot always be blessed as pre-meditated, long-held plans or beliefs which result in deliberate decisions to offer up life or limb. So I go, albeit conditionally, for local "martyrdom" for the Enmore Sugar workers and, perhaps, Father Darke.
I have a gut feeling however, that Father Darke himself, busy with his calling and photography, won't care for the accolade. But then that shouldn't be left to him. And pardon me for committing this sin of virtual blasphemy I heard years ago from a U.G. lecturer and his young research student: some of the Enmore Martyrs were quite inebriated when they demonstrated their fatal protest. To be more serious though, we must guard against cheapening, devaluing our heroes and institutions. Not all heroes can be elevated as martyrs.
And, Heaven forbid, we are in real danger of creating separate PPP "martyrs" and PNC "martyrs" in this society as against truly national martyrs. Already, I hear talk of the (McKenzie/Demerara River) Sun-Chapman Martyrs - passengers who accidentally died when a bomb blew up their river-craft. On well, I suppose various groups are entitled to their own favourite, manufactured martyrs. What say you?
Not "Political"? I have a mission here. It's to persuade all Guyanese over eighteen to acquire and maintain an interest in things "Political". Become aware. Empower yourself with an understanding of the political process, the power of the politician and with just what makes a nation tick.
I bristle quietly inside when I hear normal, educated persons - many a time pretending to be "Christian", "professional" or "indifferent" - declaring that "I'm not political", or "I'm not interested in politics". The artist, the Jehovah Witness, the magistrate, the housewife, the maid, the athlete and the chic young model, must all understand that "politics follows you from the cradle to the grave" as Hubert Nathaniel Critchlow aptly put it. The price of cooking oil, Clarks shoes, guava jelly and hair-conditioner and gel is most times determined after a politician, somewhere along the way initiated or influenced the economists, manufacturers and importers, in terms of overall policy and programmes.
The politician, in government and in power especially, through his/her good or rotten decisions and policies, plays an intrusive, all-pervasive role in our lives, our existence. Whether we acknowledge it or not.
Along Croal Street The democratic process demands that we play our role. I'm not advocating that everyone becomes a political activist or worker. Not even a supporter or member. But do, become aware of "things political". Because those "things" are aware of you! And if "politics is a dirty game", who is to clean it up?
The recently publicised school-girl street brawl and the Education Ministry's tentative steps at investigating or arresting student truancy prompt me to offer, a few long-withheld comments.
For years I have observed with displeasure and foreboding the negative "mini-bus sub-culture" and the related behaviour of the city's young people along Croal Street in the capital, Georgetown. Especially of course between 3 pm and 7 pm in the evenings. From schools, public and private, and from extra lessons, the students congregate under the guise of awaiting transportation. But they are really socialising on a public street. Nothing wrong with that in itself but it's when you hear the conversations and observe the body language you shudder at what the future - and Guyana's - portends.
Mind you, as I hurtle towards sixty, with the wisdom of hindsight and all that my working-class Catholic Primary School/Government education benefited me, I'm open-minded enough not to direct all the blame and causes, related to the shockingly low morals and standards of behaviour, to the youths themselves! Not at all! Where are the parents, guardians and teachers? I'll return to this question but, up front, I direct your attention to one of the primary problems - as I see it. Today's "parents and teachers" are themselves like the errant students. They are in the main, under-35, rudderless, untutored in parenting, cosmetic in their understanding of religious or moral values and themselves victims of the harsh political and economic times. Their children and students merely mirror their attitudes to living the modern life.
Appreciate too, the maxim: "Every generation gets the youth it deserves" which, being interpreted, means that the environments created and the behavioural examples set by society's adults determine the character and behaviour of the teenagers and adolescents. This simple truth is not often appreciated when we berate the younger ones for their inappropriate or objectionable exhibitions. It might help to remember, as one song reminds us, that the youth do not own the record companies that churn out what passes for music. The youth do not own the rum and beer shops. They don't make the clothes or weapons. Nor do they dominate the politics. Get the drift? So what is to be done?
Take Croal Street, South Road, North Road or any of the Bus Terminals where the young congregate in the afternoons. I'm not being ridiculous when I suggest that a few trained male and female policemen, members of Parent-Teachers Associations and officials from the Human Services Ministry should join the Schools Welfare Services Division in a long sustained campaign to monitor and alter the behaviour of youths on the road.
Along Croal Street - long the street which housed lawyers' chambers, the crucibles of what could be termed our "legal system", now emerging as another primary location for commercial concerns - watch the students linger too long for special buses, observe the out-of-school youth mingling to cause trouble. Search the bags and "waists" and find weapons or extra clothing, even noxious substances. Listen to some vile conversations, admiration and sometimes, the longing to become like bandits or to migrate. Then you wonder why there is no or little patriotism. You fear for our literacy levels. Then you search for reasons.
Well, it is true that our educational levels and standards of parenting and morals have all plummeted. Political behaviour and certain leaders' exhortations recently have fuelled all-round disrespect for any authority. Realise that for every student who wins an award for excellence, or just graduates, there are about fifty who can't read. It's frightening! How can the illiterate think for themselves? Reason and analyse? Remedial and adult education classes for literacy's and Guyana's sake must be mounted throughout this land.
Or else. Despite the clean uniforms, expensive boots and loaded book-bags, we'll be producing a society of sub-literates, ignorant morons given to crime, violence and self-destruction. Let's clean up all the "Croal Streets" of Guyana. It can't be too late!
Until 1) Whatever became of the remigrant (vehicle) scam, involving two ministries?
2) Coming next week: All for her son
3) This week's Sunday Stabroek advertised a vacancy for a phlebotomist. It's a good paying job. I'm sure you're qualified for it.
Why not apply?
'Til next week!