Kingmakers preferred to kings who are takers
Easter and its religious significance tell the story of leadership and the perils of a society divided between its nationalist impulses and truth. The tragic end in the Easter story is of course about hypocritical leaders, their vanity love of power, and of blind supporters who would kill their true leaders while following nationalist propaganda.
It would be nice if it could be said that was 2,000 years ago, and that we can now just celebrate it as a historical event from which we have all learnt. However, too often we have reminders that the same pattern continues.
I recall many years ago while attending university at the New York Institute of Technology and living in Harlem. Most people have heard of Malcolm X, but unless you lived in New York, you may not have heard of a man whom I met as “Minister James 2X”, who was also called “the Voice of Thunder”.
He preached at Temple No 7 on 127th Street and one Sunday he talked about visiting a poor community in New York, where outside of this church filled with poor — and just as I would say it, he said poor Black folk — was parked a Mercedes Benz. He said he didn’t have to guess whose car it was because he was damn sure it was no state senator visiting every Sunday, and everybody else walked to church or took a subway train because they could not afford a car.
Then he recalls seeing a sister, Joan, dressed in her best Sunday apparel and heading to church clutching her fancy handbag. He said he knew in that handbag was a little brown envelope with at least 10 per cent of her weekly pay from a salary that left her broke, owing bills month after month. Along with that brown envelope at times was a little cash because sister Joan was looking for a blessing; there were many sister Joans, he said.
The Voice of Thunder went on about how the reverend preached long and hard and worked up a great sweat with his sermon, and had to wipe his brow with a clean handkerchief given to him as a gift from one of the members. His shirt, also given by one of the members, was also soaked. Someone yelled out, “Rev is tired and needs a vacation.” Sister Joan and many others emptied their entire purse that day, looking for a blessing. The Voice of Thunder said he understood that the poor, tired reverend, after dropping his suit off at the dry cleaners, drove to the airport in his Mercedes and took a vacation in Hawaii.
It sounds like a parody, but this happens. Years ago in the labour movement, if a leader were to attempt to live on “Trimingham’s Hill”, they would have been proverbially hung, drawn and quartered. That ended with the first Premier and since then the leaders have moved farther and farther away from the people they represent. They don’t even have to pretend to be labourers any more. I have learnt from my grandchildren to use the word “bling”; some of them are “bling-bling”.
I admired “Jack” Sharpe, who rode his Mobylette to work as premier. There is a tale of him stopping one day at the Friendly Store in Warwick. A tourist was talking to him and he was directing the tourist. When he left, the tourist asked someone who that fella was and was told he was the Premier, the leader of the country. Also, I have many regards for a deceased friend, Lee Lovette, who as a lawyer wrote the patent for the first mobile phone and had lived in Tucker's Town, but moved out to be closer to people. He lived on Burnt House Hill and helped young children in sport. Michael Douglas and wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, both world-famous actors, live off Longford Hill. Please tell me where our leaders would live if they went to the United States. Most know it won’t be near Harlem ...
This is not made-up stuff. We have people who are too poor and cannot afford rent, who are paying homage to and willing to fight for leaders who said they are fighting the oligarch, but live in castles bigger than the ones of those they say they are fighting against. No, it’s not “I go to prepare a place for you that where I am you may be also”.
Leaders who want to get as far away from the hood as they can are fenced off and gated, if possible, with no intention of raising the lot of the poor. Or the other argument is we have to respect having our leaders arriving at the top and being successful. No, I respect those who want to push their people there first. I prefer kingmakers rather than kings who are takers.
What is the difference between them and the Pharisees of 2,000 years ago who displayed their garments of gold while collecting from the poor? What is the difference between them and the reverend with the Mercedes-Benz parked outside a poor man’s church? Is it not true also that these leaders despise those who would dare speak the truth?
That should have been the Easter message; it makes no sense lamenting an event of 2,000 years ago only to repeat it blindly today.