By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
January 04, 2012
Some time this month, Linius Rogers’s motion that instructs the male members of PNM to wear their balisier ties in Parliament, municipal and city bodies and at official functions will come up at the PNM General Council for a discussion and a vote. As a member of the PNM, I support this motion unreservedly because it is a way to keep us true to our roots and a sign that we are a distinct political formation in Trinidad and Tobago.
In presenting his motion, Rogers harks back to the historical significance of the balisier thereby capturing its centrality in the social and political life of the PNM. He says that the party constitution specifies that “the emblem of the movement shall be the balisier on a background flag of black, brown, yellow and white symbolizing at one and the same time the movement’s roots in the local environment and its inter-racial solidarity.”
Noting can be clearer. Anyone who wishes to displace this living symbol of the party should be prepared not only to demonstrate why it is no longer symbolic of the party and, more importantly, what one wishes to replace it with. The wearing of the balisier tie represents the centrality of balisier in our history and our approach to governance. Thus, it seems blasphemous to suggest, as one party member has, that while he extolls “the virtues of Eric Williams he was not wearing his brand, the Balisier tie.”
Such a statement represents a fundamental ignorance of the importance of symbols in the lives of human beings and organizations. To us in the PNM, the balisier is it the symbolic rock upon which the PNM stands. No committed Christian would say that while she supports the virtues of Jesus Christ she does not care about proclaiming the mystery of Christ’s birth. No one would want to stop wearing of the cross, the symbol of Christianity, because Christ died two thousand years ago.
As I understand it, there are those in the party who believe that wearing the national flag is a worthy, and perhaps a more patriotic substitute for the wearing of the Balisier tie. Logic suggests that the national is precisely that: a symbol which any citizen is free to wear as the members of the UNC-led government have chosen to do. However, wearing the national flag as a party symbol suggests their no-whereness and absence of rootedness in the political landscape; a symbol of their thrown-togetherness.
On the other hand, the balisier is a symbol of our political rootedness in our time and place. It suggests that we in the PNM have a particular perspective on government; an approach to governance; and a set of core values that guide our deliberations. It suggests continuity. In fact, the only reason why we are in the Parliament or in any municipal council is because citizens who voted for us expect us to expose a party vision which is not necessarily contradictory to a national vision.
So that when a member of the PNM stands in Parliament or in a Regional Corporation and espouses a position, the inference is that he espouses a party position. As members of the PNM, we believe that our approach to the issues at hand, a party position, is superior to that which is proposed by the other party and which conduces to the overall well-being of the nation as a whole.
Any political initiative in any country begins as a party rather than a national initiative. That is why citizens support one party as opposed to another. President Obama presents a health policy. It does not begin as a national policy. It begins as a party initiative – a Democratic rather than a Republican initiative. Social Security, for example, was a Democratic initiative before it became a nation program, welcomed by most Americans eventually. The same is true of our National Insurance Scheme or our Old-Age Pension.
So while we are it, let us get away from the notion that wearing a balisier tie in Parliament makes us less national in our approach to our politics. In fact, one would hope that once we arrive in Parliament we not only display our PNM credentials but we take credit for building the nation which is why Mary King admitted that a UNC, national flag-wearing party, are following all of the proposals of a PNM, balisier-wearing party. Wearing a balisier tie did not make us less national in scope or perspective.
It is wise, therefore, to remember that no one man or woman has any right to scuttle a symbol that has undergirded the living vitals of a party. No one has any right to scuttle such a symbol because, as political leader, he or she must have the unbridled right to make such an arbitrary decision as a symbol of his leadership prerogatives. It is fallacious to argue that if we, as a party, choose someone to lead, he or she must have the right to desecrate those values and symbols by which the party has lived throughout its existence.
Change yes, but it must be congruent with the values and virtues of our party.
We are a party. We have survived because we have stuck to several core values which Rogers outlined in his motion. We will continue to survive only if we understand that man shall not live by bread alone but is informed also by his aesthetic and emotional desires.
The baliser is not only a member of the heliconias flower family but has acted as “the rallying call for members of this great party” and the emotional center of who we, the PNM, are. It continues to represent our tenacity and commitment to freedom in spite of all of our shortcomings. To me, the balisier remains an outward sign of our inward and spiritual graces and the talisman of our political beliefs which is why we should not be afraid to wear our Balisier ties in Parliament or anywhere else that is appropriate.