These columns have regularly lamented the failure of leaders in all sectors to think innovatively, act with empathy and set minimum standards for conduct in public life.
My heart therefore soared to hear in song: “Who set the standards in my T&T? I really wish somebody here could tell me. Is just the same thing again and again. Like we leaders don’t use their brain.”
The accuracy of this Helon Francis commentary was exemplified during Carnival itself and days immediately following.
There were “same thing again” divisive contestations in which citizens immediately took sides regardless of the facts or without even knowing them or considering the strong nuances: San Fernando Mayor Regrello versus the Police, Cop versus White Girl, Attorney General Al Rawi versus the media and the clearly spoken ISIS word of his boss.
And then there was the most troubling example of all. East Port-of-Spain erupted, residents versus “Babylon;” those events occurred in the vicinity of Renegades panyard from which the melodious strains of What you fighting for, musically entwined with the hymn Let there be Peace on Earth, had recently entertained “imitation royalty”—middle class and poor alike—in a temporary zone of peace and oneness.
My reference to Babylon is not intended to disrespect the police on the frontline. It is to underline the depth of our divisions and dire lack of objective justice, to which our leaders have never applied thoughtful social development strategies—preferring in some cases to have ambiguous relationships with the criminal elements, both high-strata and low-strata.
Fifteen years ago, I warned explicitly that we were heading toward “the simple breakdown of legal control in the face of anarchy and banditry.”
In a Trinidad Express column published on 19 May, 2003, I exhorted that citizens should “pressure the Government whoever they are to take back control of the resources of the State from cronies and pardners, armed and unarmed. That is a political job. It is not the job of the police. Their job is to attack with urgency and integrity the drug trade that underlies the gang murders.”
Here was my prediction: “If any Government does not act independently of the criminal element in the society, whether they are grassroots bandits or the devils in disguise in our Westwood Parks, the regulation of society in the interest of the common good will eventually become impossible. The laws of the land will have legal validity but will cease to be effective.”
In winning the Calypso Monarch title, with his composition Change the Change, young Helon Francis scaled the heights of socio-political commentary, which King Austin’s Progress established more than 30 years ago.
Perhaps Helon even surpassed those heights for this reason: In the course of his lyrical declaration, he deftly and accurately applied the principles of it to Trinidad and Tobago’s pitiful unreformed and adrift condition.
Helon and Aaron “Voice” St Louis are not saviour acts. Their work is just that—hard work—matched with ambition, smarts, scepticism about the dependency syndrome, humility and an unerring feel for the vibe on the ground. They cannot revive a style of calypso product rejected by the market; they must stay focused on the new market they are building.
The Helon standard for change is set out in many places in the kaiso. His injunction against doing the same thing again resonates strongest. We have indifferently permitted our leaders to make the same pointless and frequently nasty responses, many content simply to keep their heads in the state enterprise feeding troughs.
“Stop changing ministers and change what we teach them.”
This line exposes the futility of our shallow practice of democracy, by which we merely exchange Bim for Bam and vice versa every five years or so. It is a prescription to change the futile exchange that the electoral system delivers.
Our spineless movers and shakers should examine the Helon standard for change, adopt it and promote it as the true game-changing standard for the conduct of public business.
More than the prize for winning, keep him real. Give him the legacy of implementation of the new methods of change he has articulated.