this month a politician whispered to me: “What’s the word on the
ground? What are people saying about the upcoming election?”
hesitated, a thousand thoughts crowding my mind and murmured something
non-committal, since it wasn’t the time and place to be earnest.
should have said this:
involve people at all? Why don’t you all go ahead and do your thing,
without pretending it’s about people? What’s this catfight for power
got to do with the boy who skips school to sell oranges by the traffic
it got to do with the woman who sits in the maxi taxi with lines of defeat
on her face, wondering if she will be able to pay her mother’s medical
it got to do with the young boy who sleeps with his gun in his hand
because that’s the only hope he’ll ever have for a piece of the
goodies he sees flaunted every day by the people in power?
the election got to do with the impoverished pensioner shuffling in the
grocery, the dying child waiting to be seen by a doctor?”
I should have asked the politician, “should the people do when asked on
December 10th, to choose - not between manifestos, health plans, or which
education system is going to get 17-year-olds away from slashing throats
for $100 into university, but between ethnic groups and personalities?”
I should have asked, “should we bother to vote, or pretend you all
represent us because it is our experience that when you people get into
power you are too proud to be accountable.”
bother when criticism, no matter how constructive on the impact of a
politician’s policy, will be taken personally, construed as an attack on
his or her entire party, on an entire race?”
I didn’t ask him, “does the waspish exchange between politicians, the
personality-bashing, got to do with the families living like animals on
the Beetham? What do your rallies and loudspeakers have to do with the
destiny of the baby boy I saw there seven Christmases ago, his stomach
bloated with malnutrition, flies hovering over his face?”
I wanted to ask, “does the scuffle over who gets more air time have to
do with the ragged Beetham children who don’t officially exist because
their parents hadn’t the few dollars to register them?”
has politics got to do with the wretched prostitutes in Curepe with scabs
on their legs and lesions on their mouths?”
with disillusionment, I turned to Fr Paschal Tiernan, a Dominican priest
at St Finbar’s Church. I am no Catholic, but when you get the chance to
hear an intelligent man whose entire vocation is devoted to giving hope to
the hopeless, faith to the faithless, you listen.
just a few days of campaigning left, Fr Tiernam has this advice for the
tell me the truth. Don’t try to manipulate me with lies or ways that are
operate with a deep sense of justice and work towards the common good of
the people of this country. Put the everyday well-being of people before
statistics, economics, trends. Never dehumanise people by quoting numbers.
You cannot have a policy whereby you allow people to suffer for the sake
don’t play to the media. Don’t highlight self-interested statements.
Stick to the objective truths.
media, too, must not cater to politicians. Media houses are abdicating in
their social responsibility by choosing sensationalism over balance and
the citizenry lacks social and political responsibility. As someone put
it, politics in Trinidad and Tobago means three minutes in a polling booth
to people. It must mean more.
only way to create a real democracy is by educating the masses, making
them conscious of their social responsibilities so that they will be wary
of a campaign that uses race, or personalities to win votes. They will
demand a campaign that has more to do with improving the quality of life
of all people, that will develop, rather than split the country into
finally, this vibrant and humane Dominican priest showed the way forward
so that the missing link between people, (think of kidnapping gangsters,
of the 17-year-old bandits, of sick children treated carelessly in waiting
rooms of hospitals) and politicians is crafted, through dialogue.
literally means: I speak while you listen, then you speak while I listen.
We have no dialogue. We have politicians shouting at people, without
listening to them. There are very few opportunities for people to speak to
politicians who will listen,” he said.
that, I say to all our candidates, rookie and veteran, is the word from
the ground. We are not as unknowing or indifferent to our fate as you
heads are emerging from the sand to watch your las lap. Surprise us.
Restore our hope, our faith. Put the people first.