Tuesday, February 07, 2023

On Being a Grassroots Activist in Western Jamaica

As a resident of Montego Bay, Jamaica, I have seen the amazing work being done by grassroots activists in my community and around the world. These change-makers are truly the backbone of local empowerment, working tirelessly to address social, political, and economic injustices. They are the ones fighting to modify unfair laws, promoting peace, human rights, and equality, and responding to emergencies with unwavering courage and determination.

As an activist in Paradise Acres and Norwood I have experienced firsthand the challenges facing grassroots projects and civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country. Despite the tireless efforts of those who seek to create positive change in their communities, the obstacles are numerous, from the walls that separate bureaucracy from grassroots initiatives to the lack of government support for social entrepreneurship. Not only that but, grassroots activists often face tremendous challenges. Corruption, lack of funding, and a lack of support from allies that can make it difficult for these change-makers to sustain their efforts and continue to make a positive impact in their communities.

Before I dive too deeply into this discussion let me clarifying what I mean by grassroot activism. Grassroots activism is a bottom-up approach to social and political change that empowers individuals and communities to address their own issues and bring about positive change. In Montego Bay, Jamaica, community-based organizations and civil society groups are on the front-lines of these grassroot initiatives working towards creating a better future for the people of Jamaica.

Montego Bay, located on the northwest coast of Jamaica, is one of the island's largest cities and a major tourist destination. The history of Montego Bay is intertwined with Jamaica's colonial past, with the city serving as a hub for the slave trade and later as a center for the export of sugar and other crops. Despite its rich history, Montego Bay continues to face numerous social and economic challenges, including poverty, unemployment, and crime.

Paradise Acres and Norwood Montego Bay are two communities within the city that are particularly affected by these issues. Despite the difficulties they face, local residents are taking action to improve their communities and address the problems they face. The thing about grassroots activism though is... it is heartbreaking work and in my Caribbean island of Jamaica, it is a land of both breathtaking beauty and heart-wrenching tragedy. For those of us who call this place home, heartbreak is a familiar feeling, as we've lost friends and loved ones to all manner of circumstances.  In the words of the great Bob Marley "Good friends we have, oh, good friends we've lost along the way, In this great future, you can't forget your past So dry your tears, I seh ."

But one loss in particular still haunts me - the death of my friend Rasta Errol.

Errol was a member of the Rastafari Coral Gardens Benevolent Society, an organization established to provide care and support to the marginalized Rastafari community in the aftermath of the Coral Gardens atrocities of 1963. I had last seen him at a seminar for capacity building and an RCGBS meeting, full of life and energy as he discussed the future of the organization and the community it serves. But just a few short days later, while walking in the People's Arcade, he was viciously attacked by a group of men with knives and died while undergoing treatment at the hospital.

This tragedy is not just a personal loss, but a devastating blow to the community as a whole. It highlights the ongoing struggles faced by Jamaica's marginalized groups, and the urgent need for organizations like the RCGBS to continue their efforts in providing support and protection.


But it is not just the Rastafari community that is facing challenges. Civil society organizations (CSOs) and community-based organizations (CBOs) in Montego Bay and across Jamaica are also grappling with bureaucratic hurdles and confusing legal parameters that limit their freedom of association. The nonprofit industrial complex (NPIC) in Jamaica has been criticized for its lack of support for these organizations, with the state and its partners seemingly more interested in giving money to abstract concepts and causes than to the people who desperately need it.

I have seen the barriers that exist between activists, donors, and ally organizations, like international NGOs. Donors and allies often struggle to connect with grassroots groups and understand the unique challenges they face. This can lead to limited funding and resources being directed towards organizations considered to be more stable, trustworthy, and less "controversial." Meanwhile, the limited resources available for grassroots activists often come with excessive requirements and foster competition between groups, rather than supporting collaboration and cooperation.

This situation is not sustainable. Activists are forced to become more and more resilient, but they cannot continue to carry the weight of their causes on their own. They are asking for change, for a world where their work is recognized, resourced, and supported. It's time for us to stand with them, to understand the importance of their work, and to provide the support they need to continue making a positive impact in our world. 

I believe in the power of grassroots activism. I believe in the strength of community-based organizations that are truly driven by the people, for the people. I believe that tearing down the walls between bureaucracies and making the internal bureaucracy more flexible will lead to more resilient communities and a better future for Jamaica and its pan-African heart.

I also believe in the power of social entrepreneurship, which I see as a way to address large-scale issues in a sustainable and effective manner. But this requires a change in thinking and action on the part of the government and its partners, and so far, discussions on this topic have not taken place at a significant level.

So in sharing my experience I am calling upon all those who care about the future of Jamaica and its people to come together, to centralize our efforts, and to fight for a better tomorrow. Let us honor the memory of all those who have suffered and died in the face of injustice and inequality. This is a call to action for all of us who believe in the power of grassroots activism to bring about positive change. By breaking down the barriers that stand between grassroots activists, donors, and allies, we can create powerful, empowered alliances that will help bring about the change we need to see in our world.

I am out here and on the front-lines seeking ways in this movement, bringing together community to work towards a common goal. Through collective action and a shared commitment to change, we can support and uplift the tireless efforts of grassroots activists everywhere. In a world that is more challenged and politically divided than ever, unity is essential. By coming together in solidarity, we can ensure that grassroots activists are valued, resourced, and supported as they work towards a better future for us all. Join the revolution, and work towards a world where change-makers on the front-lines are recognized, resourced, and supported!

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