Articulate minority? Stand your ground. Be like our national heroes.

Every Jamaican ought to think carefully about what Minister Robert Pickersgill said a few days ago when it was mentioned that opinions critical of the NHT and its purchase of Orange Grove/Outameni experience were being expressed on social media. “No ordinary Jamaican not speaking about it…Twitter? Twitter is ordinary Jamaican? Ordinary Jamaicans know anything about Twitter?” Pickersgill said. He added that Jamaicans on Twitter are an “articulate minority” and the outcry was “politically motivated”.

Now, it’s worth noting that Mr. Pickersgill in PNP chairman, and that Jamaica is not a one-party state. His party may be in government, but it is not the guardian of all legitimate views in the country.

Each person can take a view on what was said and what it means. Some may care, some may not. That’s free choice.

Those who are able to express themselves are articulate. So, that could be any one of us. It’s quite an ordinary thing to do, and very common.

Each opinion is a minority one, until joined by enough supporting views to become a majority. But, even if the opinion never reaches the level of a majority, it is still significant. That’s one of the joys of living within a democracy.

When opinions are expressed about political issues, then naturally, they are politically motivated. That cannot be a problem. That’s not profound or something from which to shrink.

The sense of the remarks many get is that being an articulate minority and being politically motivated are somehow wrong. That cannot be a valid criticism of anyone. It’s exactly what the minister/chairman is. So, it seems like a self-defeating criticism. Some would say it verges on a non-statement, being words without much real content.

What is really important is much more than the medium being used to express opinions. Yet, somehow, that seems to matter and is being trivialized. If a person expressed his or her view to another just passing in the street, the fact that few others did so in that place cannot make the view good or bad. Imagine a radio or TV broadcast. It’s not significant because of the medium. At worst, no one could tune in, so the speaker only has a sure audience of the production team at the broadcast station. At best, everyone could tune in. But, if no one else agrees with the opinion, we have just another articulate minority. What matters is the content of what is in the broadcast.

The sense that being articulate is a problem can easily be taken as an insult to those who strive to make the most of themselves by education. Can it really be the case that remaining inarticulate is what people should strive for? Is that the view of a Cabinet minister who thinks well of his country’s attempts at progress? Maybe, our Minister of Education should weigh in.

I mentioned to someone that each Jamaican voter is an articulate minority, and is very much an ordinary person, and should be proud of it. Until each vote is joined by others of the same type, all we have is the view of the articulate minority. In fact, our electoral system of first-past-the-post ensures that many governments can be formed based solely on the views of an articulate minority, not that of any majority. In that sense, this articulate minority status is dangerous.

Take a look at voter turnout in Jamaica over the last 60 odd years. Because of the age and other limitations on who can vote, national elections have been decided by no more than about one-third of the population. Just look at those who voted, relative to those registered to vote, where the proportion is tending to decline. We see that governments are being elected by a minority of the registered voters–an articulate minority.

The 2011 result is the latest such instance. Most Jamaican people did not vote for the current government.

We may lament the 53 percent voter turnout for being low, but the 47 percent who did not bother to vote were the inarticulate majority, and who gave a hoot about them? The winning party was ecstatic that it could claim the articulate minority as its base for victory. Each voter was, of course, politically motivated. (A cynic would say that the motivation was simple greed in some cases, where votes were encouraged by favours given by politicians.) When the articulate minority supports your view it’s acceptable?

So, Minister Pickersgill can think about having gone full circle.

I often say that when people are faced with significant opposition to their views they clutch at what seem like convenient straws. These straws are often very poor cover. It seems like we have another example.

My parents were both educated in Jamaica and put their time then into working for their country. They voted and were glad for that privilege, whether their votes went to a winning candidate or not. My father often told me about the time when his mother could not go to school and could not vote. Both things were very different from what he and my mother experienced. He was so glad to have seen that change. My grandmother was part of the Jamaica that had no political voice. The country came to reject that situation.

The implication that some small body of intelligent people expressing themselves is a problem has little merit. People who can think for themselves and are not afraid to share their views are always a threat. But being a threat is good, not bad. Unless, those in power don’t want opposition.

More important, Jamaica is full of such people and justly proud of it. Think of our national motto: out of many, one people. That’s what the articulate minority produces.

Our national heroes are many examples of what the articulate minority looked like and what it could do. Do we want to reject Marcus Garvey for being in the articulate minority? Sam Sharpe died for being the articulate minority.

Many whom we now see as icons in our society were of the articulate minority. Rastafarian beliefs are very much that. Bob Marley is not classed officially as a national hero. His articulate minority views captivated our nation and then many other places. Reject him?

As the country moves towards rethinking its position on marihuana, do we want to just dismiss that articulate minority view that now seems to be the one that prevails?

Many Jamaicans see themselves as Christians. Without wanting to seem irreverent, the pillar of that faith was a member of the articulate minority.

Is this kind of person and his position on what Minister Pickersgill is heaping scorn?

If so, I’d be very worried.

Author: Dennis G Jones (aka 'The Grasshopper')

Retired International Monetary Fund economist. My blog is for organizing my ideas and thoughts about a range of topics. I was born in Jamaica, but spent 30 years being educated, living, and working in the UK. I lived in the USA for two decades, and worked and travelled abroad, extensively, throughout my careers and for pleasure. My views have a wide international perspective. Father of 3 girls. Also, married to an economist. :)