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It’s time to walk the talk

Sunday, September 20, 2015
Ira Mathur

What a week it’s been. At home, we’ve had a new government, led by Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, that has begun its term in office with thanks to the people and praise to God for victory; the opening of the law term; bought time to mull over Jack Warner’s extradition papers; witnessed the third double murder for the week; and the senseless murder of several teenagers including a schoolboy.

Elsewhere in our region, there was the 8.3 magnitude earthquake in Chile, forcing a million people out of their homes and killing at least eight.

Europe is reeling with the impact of the refugees of the Syrian civil war—made worse with Hungary’s decision to seal its border—a tough move that is rippling across Europe. The statistics are staggering. Some million Syrians are jostling for humanitarian aid, six million are displaced, and three million have fled due to the war.

In America, thousands of Twitter users including President Obama, Nasa scientists, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old who was arrested in a Texan school for bringing a homemade clock to school.

Yes, it feels like a lot. Still, I believe the week belongs to leaders of nations and faiths who have the power either to bring hope, or to millions of people. In the UK, last Saturday, on the same day that thousands marched across London in a movement that felt almost like a festival with drums, music, and chants of ‘say it loud and say it clear, refugees are welcome here,’ Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the British Labour Party.

One UK friend wrote on Facebook: “God, I'm so *&*£ happy these days. It's also great to see how many of my friends feel happy too. Giddy, in fact. Today—I go to Islington Town Hall to hear the Labour pre-conference debate—a first. I have become politically active again, after ten years of utter apathy and depression. I may even volunteer for the big Labour annual conference in Brighton next weekend. Historic times.”

Despite strong resistance within the party itself and predictions of doom without, almost overnight thousands of people joined the labour party.

Corbyn condemned conservatives as “poverty deniers,” said austerity was a “political choice,” and a more equal Britain was “not a dream.”

This leadership is good news for hundreds of thousands of people in Britain. A 2014 report by the Institute for Fiscal studies shows that up to 23 per cent of Britons live in ‘relative poverty’, the highest since 2001. Many who have been long disenfranchised here feel a sense of hope again with Corbyn’s win.

In a world paralysed by terrorism, war and poverty, the much beloved Pope Francis has openly committed to improving relations between Christians and Muslims, praying as he did in Istanbul’s historic Blue Mosque and visiting the Hagia Sophia—powerful symbols of the Muslim and Christian faiths.

In Havana, Pope Francis was expected to broker the rapprochement between US and Cuba which commentators say will revive the Vatican’s status as a “diplomatic powerhouse.”

This weekend, Pope Francis is ‘expected to nudge, prod—perhaps even shame—the worlds only superpower to act on issues ranging from global warming to immigration to racial and economic inequality.’ Then there is President Obama who, unfailingly, stands up for the vulnerable and the voiceless throughout his time in office. Obama’s Twitter invitation to 14-year-old Texan student Ahmed Mohamed, who was arrested as his invention was considered dangerous presumably because he is Muslim, went viral.

It read: “Cool clock, Ahmed. Want to bring it to the White House? We should inspire more kids like you to like science. It's what makes America great.”

Obama wasn’t just changing the fortunes of a talented 14-year-old who went from handcuffs to the Whitehouse. He was sending a powerful message out to people worldwide about standing up against bullies, against ethnocentrism, against bigots, against racism. He was telling millions of ordinary boys like Ahmed who feel they don’t have a voice, that they are heard.

Social media has helped change the landscape. Bullies are called out. And not just by presidents. This week, an anti-bullying online lobby threw a party for an overweight man who was ‘fat shamed’ for dancing on Facebook.

This brings me full circle to leadership in T&T. Although some may feel defeated, more than half the country feels a surging hope for T&T. I hope in the end all of us feel that hope. I hope our leader, Prime Minister Dr Rowley, follows and echoes the example of Obama, Pope, and Corbyn, who all spoke for the dispossessed. I hope he follows the countries who open their borders for refugees, the strong online community that speaks up for the bullied and voiceless.

Dr Rowley has said he considers his appointment as prime minister as “an assignment to have responsibility for all of the people of Trinidad and Tobago, to manage your affairs.”

Now that reality has set in with the spate of murders in the country, including a school boy and several teenagers, its time to care for every neglected family and child, it’s time to walk the talk, the trend of hope.


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