A wastage of our grit and our guts


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Category: Trinidad Society Date: 15 Sep 02


The September 11 attacks moved Americans to grief and horror - and moved our nation to war.

They revealed the cruelty of our enemies, clarified grave threats to our country, and demonstrated the character of our people.

At a moment of great testing, the spirit of men and women in New York City, at the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93 became the spirit of our country.   The terrible illumination of these events has also brought new clarity to America’s role in the world.  In great tragedy, we have also seen great opportunities.  We must have the wisdom and courage to seize them. 

America’s greatest opportunity is to create a balance of world power that favors human freedom.  We will use our position of unparalleled strength and influence to build an atmosphere of international order and openness in which progress and liberty can flourish in many nations.

----US President George Bush on September 11, 2002


One Year later, more than 3,000 deaths later, while living under the constant threat of terrorism and plummeting stocks, that’s how the American leader summed up the traumatized country.


Here at home, one non-functioning government later, many kidnappings later, unemployment that feeds rising crime, a limping health sector, a tottering education system, the swelling numbers falling under the poverty line, the rising functionally illiterate people, the hopelessly self interested politicians, how can we sum up this country?


People are pelting comments like rain.  Even the ole talk is less light-hearted.  Despite the projected mini oil and gas boom, we don’t plan too much ahead.   We pronounce, not discuss.  It’s fight or flight.


A political party activist: “Panday lost his chance to unite this country and Manning, too, missed that bus.  Mottley may do it for us, but by now we know once they get into power, people don’t count.”(flight)


A prominent businessman waiting for his Chinese takeaway one evening: “With all the kidnappings, my brother doesn’t even want to leave his house these days, even for work. (flight) I can’t live like that.  I just came back from Florida from visiting my family.  I like it there. I feel safe there, but despite everything, I couldn’t wait to get back here” (he gestured towards the pink twilight) because this is home.  Where else am I going to? (flight)


The father of two grown-up children: “When my kids say they don’t want to vote because they are disillusioned, I tell them get a party card: get involved, because if you do, then you will always have a voice.  You will not be among those who have given up.”(flight)


A vegetable vendor in Maraval: “Business is really slow.  We are not seeing so many of our customers.  They’ve gone away.”  “But maybe they will come back when it’s safer.” (flight)


The news editor of a radio station describing the last sitting of Parliament: “Well in about 10 minutes Mr. Manning announced elections.  Outside, people from both sides shouted at one another for a while, and it was over.  No, we are nothing like Guyana or Jamaica.” (flight)


A university student: “The tone of the political advertising is calamitous since it is feeding fear and outrage and polarizing people.  Politics is not about people, out quality of education, health care, employment, crime, or over the fact we live either in moving jails (our cars) or stationary ones (our offices and home) but about political expediency.”


A sportswoman: “I still run in the Savannah in the afternoon.  People still ride their bicycles, listen to music, work, hold exhibitions, play basketball, plan weddings, go on hikes, and fall in love. I refuse to see my country through the myopic and distorted lens of criminals and politicians.”


After speaking randomly to these citizens, I was filled with shame over the waste. 


We are a bright, articulate people with plenty guts: a people who despite being worn down, are stoutly resisting the dismal spectre of a country being led by politicians who continually pour our rivers of plenty - our human and natural resources - down dirty drains either because they lack the imagination to think big, or are drunk on power.


In the past we used to say confidently: “We’re no Guyana…we’re no Jamaica,” but now we falter because although we are not either yet, we’re on a slippery slope that can lead us there.


Consider this: If the American media are able to instill a fierce nationalism and sense of identity in the people of their sprawling country daily, why can we not do the same?  Their cry of “freedom” unites them.  What is our battle cry?  We don’t want to vote out of fear or rage, or spite.  We may be small but our people are heroic, and will not settle for that paltry, cheap sloganeering.


The media must set the agenda for unity, democracy and development.  For a country in crisis (and we are on the cusp) developmental journalism is required.  The divisive, petty voices must be edited out, to be replaced by the clear ring of the voice of the people.


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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur