On July 4th 1946 a baby girl was born at the San Fernando General hospital to Dhanpatiya, a female labourer of East Indian descent and her partner of African descent whose name was not recorded. This child, Mohanie as she would be called, entered this world during a time when strong divisions persisted between afro-Trinbagonians and indo-Trinbagonians, two groups that were both brought to this land and exploited beyond imagination. Due to the racial tensions of the day, Mohanie was not seen as the blessing she was but rather something to be ashamed of because neither of her parents’ families would have accepted a child that would bring unwanted attention and shame to their name, and as hard as it may have been, Mohanie was abandoned at the hospital. However, Florence Montenegro, an employee at the hospital, alerted her friend - Gertrude Louis, who had no children of her own, that there was an orphan at the hospital. Gertrude, lived at 124 Independence Avenue and once she received this news, she made her way up to the hospital and adopted Mohanie, who later became known as Marlene Florence Edwards - Edwards being Gertrude’s maiden name. Marlene moved from home to home within Gertude’s family until she became of age and began to lead a life of her own. Marlene ultimately had one daughter, Tamara Edwards, who then had three boys of her own, of which I am the eldest.
I stand before you today paying homage to my grandmother, Marlene, for the sacrifices she made allowing me to have this very moment and those of her adopted family who offered my grandmother an opportunity at life thereby paving the way for me to be the person I am today.
Racism has the undeniable potential of breaking apart families and destroying lives. Had it not been for Florence’s ability to look past my grandmother’s race and instead see the humanity in another human being, I may not have been here right now, nor my mother, neither my siblings. In Trinidad and Tobago today, 73 years later, we continue to experience some of the same experiences my grandmother had as a new-born. We need more people like Florence, who see beyond racial lines and recognise humanity in others by first displaying humanity. I am grateful every day that I celebrate life in this beautiful twin-island paradise. Within my veins run the blood of my East Indian and African ancestors, but culturally I am more. I am shaped by the influence of the First Peoples, the Europeans and the Asians, the Syrians and the many others who inhabited this great nation. I am often reminded of the pain of the past and the possibilities of the future. I am Trinbagonian! My conviction is stretched across Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, traditionalism and a belief in human effort and natural reaction. I am firmly planted in Trinbagonian soil but my imagination stretches over the five oceans and seven continents of the world. This is what it is to be a modern citizen of this great Republic!
I am filled with joy and hope by your very presence here this afternoon. You have restored my faith in the people of this country. You have demonstrated that there are those among us who will give an ear to something different and who are not allowing themselves to be victims of tradition. You are open to the idea that better is possible when we demand more because we expect more and deserve more. For this my Progressive People, give yourselves due recognition.
A Country of Immigrants
Trinidad and Tobago has a turbulent and tormented history that is still visible in the scars the nation carries today. Our history speaks of genocide, suppression, oppression, exploitation, classism, racism, sexism and discrimination based on religious belief, culture and tradition. Our history has been largely written by those external to us, who only saw our country as an opportunity for wealth and domination. Today, that narrative continues to be managed by those external to us. This narrative must be controlled by us, we who are descendants of the first peoples, as well as the descendants of immigrants; slaves and indentured labourers, of colonists and of royalty, we come from the elite and from the worthless, from the oppressors and the oppressed, the dreamers and the dream crushers. This is our history and what has led to who we are today. However, what we should all agree to, is that today, as has always been the case, we are a people equal in the eyes of our God whom we recognise individually and so we should be a people equal in our own lines of sight.
Development in Trinidad and Tobago
The only way we can achieve true development is by first developing ourselves. Not just through formal education or having the wealth to maintain an externally sought after image. It’s about fixing the internal, maturing to the point where we as a people can remain focused on a common goal for our country. The energy industry has brought us significant wealth and countrywide development, however it has also done great harm to our society. We are a people who have lost our way. For many of us, morals and values have decayed, replaced by an affinity for more or a greed almost. Our leaders have done very little to divert us from what appears to be an inevitable rock bottom. Our development must be shaped an understanding of the need to incorporate the latest technology in everything we do, to develop the agriculture sector because it is important to feed ourselves, to develop sustainable employment by revolutionising the public service so that we can get more from our government and spend less time fighting up with a simple government service because of bureaucracy. Billions of dollars have passed through this country and while I can seem some development, I must ask ‘where de rest of the money gone?'
Looking For Leadership
There is an unquestionable leadership crisis in Trinidad and Tobago. This crisis is not about a lack of leadership but rather a strange understanding by many of what leadership is. There are those who believe that an effective leader is one who holds on to power for as long as possible and whose strength is characterised by her or his ability to instil fear and demand respect by forced means. Those persons believe that leadership is manifested in the way an organisation crumbles in the absence of the leader because she or he is the lynchpin of said entity. My friends, that is not leadership, well at least the kind of leadership that will cause this country to progress. We need leadership that knows how to step down when necessary, we need leadership that believes in succession planning, we need leadership that is inspiring and that is empowering, that motives and creates other leaders. We need the kind of leadership that will stand down when mistakes are consistently repeated so that another perspective may be given an opportunity to do right by all involved. I want to say to you today, have no fear, the kind of leadership we need exists among us. We can find that leadership in our homes, in our schools, in our places of worship, we can find that leadership sitting next to us in a taxi or in the cubicle beside us, that leadership can be found in our health centres and supermarkets, it can be found in our courageous service women and men, in both our experienced and our budding professionals, this leadership that I speak about is all around us, but we must take the time to recognise it and harness it . Stop looking for this leadership in the loudest voices or the most eloquent of speech, stop looking for it based on physical characteristics which we have no control over and stop looking for it in those who we feel are strong by the virtue of aggression, ignorance and arrogance, for arrogance with a smile is still arrogance.
So you may wonder, ‘who do I represent?’
I represent a generation of citizens who have been branded way before we were given a chance. A generation of citizens who have rejected the ways of those who have come before us and skewed what it means to be a leader and a servant. A generation of citizens who seek to not be just leaders of tomorrow but who are leaders of today and masters of the future, who seek to empower other leaders, for this is the manner in which we build a successful nation.
On October 16th 1991 I was born at the San Fernando General Hospital right over there. Now, I know what you’re thinking…”he’s a Libra?”...Yes I am! Independence Avenue, which runs right in front the Hospital, is where I called home. The sounds of police sirens, fire trucks and ambulances were familiar tunes, as well as the melodies of the steelpan coming from Hatters Pan Yard which put me to sleep every night. I attended Open Bible Kindergarten and then San Fernando Boys’ R.C. which is right behind you. It was on this very promenade I waited every afternoon for my granny to come pick me up in her blue Bluebird, blue being her favourite colour. I attended San Fernando Secondary Comprehensive School and know too well the afterschool walk along Todd Street, on to Prince of Wales Street and then to Coffee Street where I would stay with mummy at her Hair Salon until she was ready to leave or until I was too bored. San Fernando has given me everything. I grew up in the St. Paul’s Anglican Church over there and spent countless vacations attending Vacation Bible School lead by Miss Manning who is a figure we all feared. I even had my first real job working at Bhima’s Herbal Store in Carlton Centre, which is still there and I’m grateful that my first boss, Calvin Latroy is here to celebrate this moment with me. Now I can continue to sing praises of this great city of mine but we’d be here for quite some time. I just hope that you understand why it was important for me to embark on this new journey...here, and why I can’t speak about myself without speaking about San Fernando.
Over the past ten years I’ve been actively involved in this country that I love. As an established youth advocate my first interaction with youth work was in 2009 when I was selected as one of fifty young people to attend the Commonwealth Youth Forum in Port of Spain. There I met young people from all across the world who were active in their communities. I was inspired, and it was then that my youth advocacy began, because I came understand what youth development means and the impact it can have on our world. At the UWI, St. Augustine where I completed my undergraduate degree, postgraduate diploma and now my Masters’ I served on the Guild of Students and fought for students’ rights and led protests for safety and security on campus and to ensure that students were not disadvantaged. Many of you know me today as ‘de boy from UWI’. At the UWI I gained more than an education, I gained the skills necessary to look at complex issues and find real solutions through proper representation. In 2016 I launched the Trinidad and Tobago Youth Convention as a means of bringing young people together to discuss not only issues but rather to share their solutions with the government of the day, as well as the private sector and civil society. This has been an annual event and has impacted on the imagination of hundreds of young people.
I have travelled from Cedros to Matelot, Rio Claro to Carenage and everywhere in between, including the length and breadth of beautiful Tobago over the past couple of years visiting community after community, school after school interacting with the young people of this country. Attempting to motivate them and give them the skills they need to simply be heard. In 2015 I was elected as Vice Chairperson Policy, Advocacy and Projects of the Commonwealth Youth Council. This young boy from South Trinidad, a small dot on the map, sat as one of nine Executive members of the biggest youth council in the world. You, my friends, produced that. In 2017 President Anthony Carmona called on me to serve in the Senate as an Independent Senator because of my work. I am the youngest person to have severed on that bench and the first piece of legislation I debated and voted on was the successful attempt to end child marriages in this country, because I believe that society’s duty is to protect our children, not to leave them disadvantaged. I now sit as a member of the first ever Procurement Board of Trinidad and Tobago which has the huge responsibility of stamping out corruption by ensuring that the state’s ability to source and spend on goods, works and services is done above board and with the interest of the country at heart always. For twenty-seven years, I have been told that I have done well for myself. I am experienced, I am committed and I and able to provide good leadership. But I’m not an anomaly!
They may still think that I am too young but need I remind them that Dr. Eric Eustace Williams - Entered the Legislative Council in 1956 at age 45, Mr. George Michael Chambers - Entered the Lower House in 1966 at age 38, Mr. A.N.R. (Arthur Napoleon Raymond) Robinson - Entered the Lower House in 1961 at age 26, Mr. Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning - Entered the Lower House in 1971 at age 24, Mr. Basdeo Panday - Entered the Upper House in 1972 at age 39, Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar - Entered the Upper House in 1994 at age 42, Dr. Keith Christopher Rowley - Entered the Upper House in 1987 at age 38, I entered the Upper House in 2017 at age 25, therefore I am of age to be a Member of Parliament.
Young People and Their Role
We often tell our young people to dream big, that they can be anything they put their minds to, that they must be the change they want to see. However more often than not we contradict ourselves. We want our young people to dream big but not be too ambitious, we tell them they can be anything they put their minds to yet we warn them to be realistic - that some things aren’t for everyone, reserved for only a few, we tell our young people that they must be the change yet still we don’t seem to like the change they want and so we brand them as being rebellious, as disruptive and reckless. For years I’ve been caught in the conundrum of deciding to either tap into the potential that I’ve been told I have or to lay low and keep my head down while going with the current of the status quo, because as George Orwell notes, “the further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” Have we not equipped our young people with the skills to lead? If not, why have we invested in education, allowing it to be accessible to all from Early Childhood to Tertiary level? Why have we made investments, limited as they are, in sporting and cultural programmes, the largest beneficiaries of which are our youth? Why have we put in place On-The-Job training, as underdeveloped as the programme is, for our young people ages 16 – 35years? Why have we done all of these things and more if the intention was not to allow our youth to take up positions of leadership and servitude whereby they can serve their communities, country and region? Are these things for show? Are these things instituted because we had some extra resources and didn’t know what to do with it?
Let us not be mistaken, the youth of today are far more advanced than any generation before us. We have greater access to education, we experience current affairs the world over in real time, we are far more socially conscious and are more concerned with how decisions affect the planet and lives of the people on it. Find me a three year old who does not know how to use a tablet to play a game or watch a cartoon on YouTube. This is the generation that will make the greatest impact as we are in a time when we have to choose whether, as a people, we will continue to be shackled by the desperation of a time past or freed by the ability to decide on the purity of the future we can accomplish by working together - a common purpose, a common vision, a common narrative.
So let’s not gamble with our children’s future. Let’s not have non-youth speak on behalf of youth and decide what’s best for them. What we need is youth for youth, all day every day. We need our young men and women entrusted with the authority to make the decisions we have been empowering them to handle.
There are approximately 20,000 births every year and currently roughly 265,000 young people under the age of sixteen. Sadly, too many of these youth today are simply existing, and not doing a very good job either. We see it on the news, we see it online. It’s everywhere trying to convince us that this generation is doomed to fail. We can’t escape it or the stigma it brings. We need to inspire ourselves to achieve, to remind ourselves that this country needs us – our skills, talents and creativity.
We also need empowerment. Empowerment is giving yourself the power and confidence to conquer what is rightfully yours. This power and confidence is what is going to move us from inspiration to action. To do this, we need to educate ourselves and be aware of what is taking place in the world. We must step out of our comfort zone and chase after what we want; read, network, ask questions and learn from our mistakes. We need education to gain power. Empowerment makes the dream come true and allows us to become not beneficiaries, but the partners of development.
We need partners of development in every facet, every sector, every industry of our twin island state to get the economy going. We ought to diversify, create growth, make development happen, structure curbs on corruption and create the conditions for better governance. If we achieve this, I believe Trinidad & Tobago would be in a better place.
There are many things that concern us, including availability of good jobs, cost of living, educational opportunity, responsive health services, affordable leisure options, the educated underemployed and brain drain. We must be the generation to reinstate lawfulness, patriotism and security for all citizens. We need youth to be a shining example in their communities to show that a life of crime and violence is nothing more than a long-term death sentence. We need youth to demonstrate that a mind is a terrible thing to waste - knowledge is power and power is freedom! We need youth in this recession to understand that unemployment does not have to be your destiny but you can use the vehicle of entrepreneurship to develop your own power and write your own destiny. We must strive for a society with competitive business but also with compassionate business leadership.
We need youth in culture and the arts to employ their imagination. Did V.S. Naipaul, who grew up in Chaguanas, Diego Martin and St. James not win a Nobel Prize? Did Derek Walcott not talk about our potential for greatness when he delivered his Nobel lecture in Stockholm?
I call upon the young people to keep creativity alive so that the world doesn’t forget that our Carnival is the greatest show on earth! Did we not feel great when Penny became a queen? When Wendy came after that? We must remember these things. It is part of who we are.
We need youth in our healthcare, to revolutionise the system, ensure that the elderly and sick have access to proper treatment, and hospitals are driven by compassion not profit!
We need youth to excel in sports on the international stage. Were we not once passionate about our cricket and the West Indies team? When Keshorn Walcott took gold in Javelin of all things? We can and must continue to display our unique and exceptional appreciation for sportsmanship, physical prowess and national pride.
We need youth in science, technology and innovation to propel economic development, to invent, think and create new mechanisms to allow future generations to enjoy a prosperous standard of living.
We need youth to preserve and care for our environment so that our children and grandchildren can enjoy it just as much as we did. To maintain a clean earth where human activity, flora and fauna can flourish. We must strive for a society where environmental conservation and ecological protection as important values.
And finally, we need youth to remind the world what humanity is. What the human experience is about - Feeling, communicating, appreciating, striving, producing, building and caring. Celebrate our differences. A sustainable nation cannot be built on divisive politics but on collaboration and diversity. Diversification; absorbing the skilled and strengthening intellectual application of knowledge and ideas, creativity, innovation and human imagination so that competitiveness is enhanced.
We need to engage with each other, engage with humanity. It is so important for young people to engage whether it be their peers, their community, country or the world. To be engaged is to be involved. This requires confidence and the building of trust. Without sincerity, there can be no trust. Without authenticity, no spirit or energy. Building connections between individuals who trust and engage each other will be a powerful asset for national development, especially if we are to make the breakthrough to achieve sustainable development led by innovation, knowledge and increased productivity.
Whatever the harsh realities of this country, whatever the level of social deterioration, the level of psychological trauma, the young people of this country must act. We must do something or allow hope to slip. We must strive for a society where our young citizens, all our citizens, have a voice in a participatory democracy.
Why is 2020 so Important?
So Why now?
Trinidad and Tobago is at a defining moment. As we look around us we cannot help but be concerned not just for the present but also for the future which seems dark. We have heard the horror stories of public facilities not having basic necessities such as toilet paper and water. We have public servants working in unsafe buildings and students who are under threat at our schools and campuses. Our borders are not protected, leaving us exposed to the drug trade and to the mass influx of immigrants who are desperate for stability and protection
The Progressive Partys Beginnings
You, the people of this country have been seeking out political representation that understands leadership, governance and respect for the basic dignity of all. This representation must offer a holistic vision for our country that is premised on the dreams, hopes, aspirations and collective efforts of all our people. Over the years you have either settled for representation that has consistently fallen short of meeting this criteria or many of you have given up altogether on the belief that such representation exists.
However I am here today to tell you that this is a political organisation that can provide the light which you have been so desperately seeking. The Progressive Party is an organisation which seeks not to build its foundations on the failings of other political organisations but rather harness the potential and strength of the people of Trinidad and Tobago which have been overlooked for far too long. Our prerogative isn’t to simply remove a government...that’s short term thinking. We want to provide the best representation possible, we want to unite this country, and we want to ensure that this nation’s prosperity is felt by all...not just some...but by every single citizen who has the honour of calling this place home. You my friends, deserve better. You have paid your taxes, you have been largely compliant when the government has told you to cutback or expect less, and you have shed your blood, sweat and tears to get this country working. But what has all this been for if when you need you country the most, when you need your government the most, you are sold out in favour of foreigners and a small grouping of the population. This must change today!
The Progressives, as we are known, represent Centre-Left politics or Progressivism. This type of political ideology believes in social equality through the provision of equal opportunities, while demanding that there be personal responsibility for things within the control of individuals. It means that all hands must be on deck in order to move forward, not the majority of us carrying the load while some sit on the side-lines watching on. We see policy and legislative reforms as the vehicles through which social improvement can take place. The Progressives believe in small to moderate government that focuses on facilitating the endeavours and aspirations of its citizens in a reasonably regulated environment. Government should not be dictating what you do. It should be asking you how can it make your life and the life of all citizens easier, without of course creating a welfare state or a supporting unproductivity. The Government must support the work of the private sector, not be in competition with it and must encourage civil society to help fix our brokenness, not break civil society through unfair regulations.
In 2017, I registered the party’s symbol, the Guiding Flame, with the Elections and Boundaries Commission. At this point I had been approached by members of both political parties to join, but I could not because my morals and values did not align. I want to put my support behind something that was genuine and progressive but for me, this was neither Red or Yellow. So I decided to do something bold, something out of the box, something that we expect our youth to do. And as an aside, for those who think we copied your parties names, please do your research, we were registered before them.
The Guiding Flame represents the burning desire of our people for better. It represents the resilience of the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago and the passion that we place in all that we do. The flame represents as well the light in the darkness we experience from time to time - the assurance that better must come.
The Progressives call upon all citizens to help shape this organisation into one which can truly be the voice of the people. We seek not to impose anything on the population but rather fulfil the wishes of the people. With a diverse team of independent thinkers who all agree that national development and unity are interdependent, this is how we hope to guide the nation!
A Vision for Trinidad and Tobago
Our vision for Trinidad and Tobago is simple...PROGRESS. We’ve been wanting change for years but all we’ve gotten is exchange. Change can be good or bad, but Progress is always positive and always moving forward. The Progressive Party is adamant that constitutional reform is necessary. All political parties, politicians and prospective candidates must collectively agree on the amendments we need. The Executive, Legislature and Judiciary must be separated. We cannot continue to have one eating out of the hands of the other. We cannot have the same Members of Parliament holding themselves accountable as Cabinet Ministers. We cannot have the Judiciary walking on eggshells to ensure that its gets a proper budget. This just isn’t right.
We need progressive policies and common sense legislation that is responsive to the needs of our people today. Your Member of Parliament’s job is not to fix roads and build drains. Your MP’s job is to represent your view in the Parliament every time she or he debates a bill. How many times has your MP come and asked you how you’d want her or him to vote on a bill? We see our MPs standing proudly and representing their parties but what about the people? We must change this. We need referendum in our law to ensure that when MPs fail to make decisions on our behalf in our best interest, we can make those decisions on our own through a democratic vote. We also need the right-of-recall, done properly, so that we can hold our MPs accountable. They must answer to the people of this country who put them there, not just their political leader.
We must seek to improve the lives of our citizens and that means quite a number of things but I'll only touch on a few today.
Rather than closing our borders, we must protect them from the illegal influx of illicit drugs and illegal immigrants. In order to do this we need a wide ranging policy that even tackles issues way before they happen.
There must be a safe living environment for our citizens. People should not have to live in fear by virtue of where they choose to reside. There must be a police presence in neighbourhoods, developing the ongoing work, by building relationships between police officers and the citizens.
We want equitable, accessible and comprehensible health programmes for all citizens. People shouldn't be dying in emergency room waiting areas. If we pride ourselves as a nation that provides free health care it should be of quality.
As it relates to education, as a state we must provide resources to students with varying abilities to ensure equity for all citizens. There must also be the right training for citizens to allow them to access or even create quality jobs later on that will see them becoming self-sufficient.
We live in a world where technology is much more than we could have ever imagined. However we have not fully embraced it. We must ensure that citizens are exposed to Science, Technology, Engineering and Math in a way that not only treats with present day issues but anticipates future challenges.
Food security is important and we must return to a thriving agriculture industry, especially considering that we have the knowledge. If we are not able to feed ourselves, we will perish in the face of global conflict.
In order to stimulate economic growth we need to actively engage with the business community but also consult with the consumers to ensure they have the spending power necessary and can rely on the state to protect their interests and investments. One-off jobs will not suffice but rather the development of industries that can offer longevity.
Moving to the community, the return and restructuring of the community centre not simply as a space to hold events but as a source of support and resources to build the community is important. We must ensure that every citizen is connected to their government and to each other.
The Road Ahead
The Progressives shall contest the 2020 General Election in each and every constituency that is viable. We are not here to play games as that has been our reality for far too long. We are a serious party, with serious supporters who are serious about the people of our country.
You can visit our website progressives.tt to read more about the party and our upcoming events. You can also sign up for membership, to volunteer and to even donate. And we are also on social media. We will walk the communities of this country and find you wherever you are to get your feedback as we build a people’s manifesto. No longer should you expect a political party to give you a document and tell you to accept that. You should be a significant part of the process as it's for you and should be by you! At the moment we have a draft constitution on our website and we want your feedback.
We want you to select the candidates to run for your constituency. They should not be imposed on you so we shall have a national call for candidates but this will be led by you in the community. So no longer will you have to vote for someone you don’t know anything about.
How are we to be financed? By you the people. We want you to commit anything you can. This entire event was organised by sponsored or donated items. We do not have a major financier. Therefore we are in no one’s pockets. We want to be accountable to you at every step of this journey.
We also have no former politicians who are members of the team. These are new people - refresh faces who want to help build this country and so it is open to all with a similar view.
A Call To Action
As we move forward I call on every right thinking citizen to ponder long and hard about the kind of Trinidad and Tobago you would like to see. Know that we cannot achieve discipline, tolerance and production as a nation if we are not willing to individually be disciplined, tolerant and productive. The journey for a better country begins with each of us taking that first step. Do not wait on your neighbour to first take action when you have the capacity to be a trailblazer. Step out of your comfort zone, open your mind to challenges to the status quo, do your small part to inspire a big difference. This beloved country of mine must not only allow for every creed and race to find an equal place but every man, woman and child, every class, every gender, every age, every ability… challenged or not, every dreamer and doer, everyone despite your last name or origin. This is a country for all its people and for all its people this country belongs. Let us make a vow to ourselves and to our children, our neighbours, our brothers and sisters, our ancestors, that from today we shall put our differences aside, along with our selfish ways and pessimism and instead work to achieve the common good of our twin island republic. May we continue to be blessed and find favour with the God to whom we pray so that our days may be long and fruitful and our country may progress, led by an eternal guiding flame!
I thank you!