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Middle Class and Politics
Posted: Thursday, March 12, 2009

By Derren Joseph
March 12, 2009

Last month, I was reading an article on the Economist Web site: It is still available, and is called the Burgeoning Bourgeoisie, and is about the new 'middle classes' in emerging markets.

What first attracted me to it was that it was a relatively positive article, especially given the not-so-positive economic news that tends to monopolise the headlines these days. This special report is saying that for the first time in history, more than half the world is middle class. This is thanks to the rapid growth in the emerging economies. The piece gives us an update on the competing definitions of middle class-absolute versus relative definitions of middle class.

Personally, I was drawn to the definition from Brazilian economist Eduardo Giannetti da Fonseca, who describes members of the middle class as 'people who are not resigned to a life of poverty, who are prepared to make sacrifices to create a better life for themselves, but who have not started with life's material problems solved, because they have material assets to make their lives easy.' In giving an example of this new 'middle class' in political action, the article looked at India.

Last December, just a week after the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, thousands of young, English-speaking professionals gathered in Mumbai, New Delhi, Bangalore and Hyderabad. They were demanding a new security law, a ban on criminals holding parliamentary seats, as well as urging people to vote. Apparently, India's professional classes have long been considered indifferent to politics and less inclined to vote than the poor. Now social-networking Web sites were full of memorials to the victims and proposals for further political action.

Visiting 'home'

Most who followed the Obama campaign would have noted the way technology was exploited. My cousin Kwesi was one the many foreign-based Trinis who visited 'home' for Carnival. Despite the festivities, we spent some time talking politics and technology over the Carnival weekend.

Apart from being a political science graduate, Kwesi worked for the past couple of years or so in the Obama campaign machinery, and in the final stage was actually based in that key swing State of Ohio. Synchronising the door-to-door canvassing with Internet and SMS tactics definitely was not easy. Now we come to what I see happening here in Trinidad and Tobago. The Internet is becoming increasingly popular as a tool for not just expressing political points of view, but also for mobilising support.

Future elections in T&T will definitely see the Internet playing an important role. My friend Bose tells me that in the UK they use the Net for everything in politics, including sensitising members, raising funds, stimulating debates and many other uses. In the UK, Bose sees the Net enabling the Labour Party to reach the important student and middle class populations where victory in the 2010 election lies. In T&T, there is, of course, Facebook, which last week was our nation's No 2 Web site (according to

MPs on Facebook

You may be amazed by the number of MPs and senators that are already on Facebook and keeping in touch with their constituents. But also spend some time on Google, and you would be surprised by the number of sites and blogs on local politics. Of late, I have even been noticing more videos being hosted on YouTube, where young local political analysts are posting their opinions for others to view. Thanks to the Government's education policies, more Trinidadians and Tobagonians are enjoying tertiary education than ever before in our nation's history.

Thanks to TSTT's Blink, Flow, as well as a host of smaller Internet service providers (ISPs) like Cablenett and Green Dot, home users have faster and cheaper Internet access than ever before. Even those who may not have Internet access at home can check their e-mail at a neighbour, library, school, community centre or Internet cafe. I do not know what percentage of our population is considered 'middle class,' but I am guessing that (depending on the accepted definition of course) it may be higher than expected.

But beyond the 'middle class,' our population has greater access to more information and is more technologically savvy than ever before. As always, I end by saying that despite our challenges, we are so blessed to live in this beautiful country. We need to remember and acknowledge just how much uplifting work is being done all around us. Let us continue to have the audacity of hope in our country, as we move towards Vision 2020.

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