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Canon Knolly Clarke: Working class feel marginalised
Retired Dean of the Trinity Cathedral, Canon Knolly Clarke, has reversed the stance he took last week when he said there was a lack of democracy in Trinidad and Tobago. But the 77-year-old cleric, who last year celebrated 50 years in the clergy, is claiming that the working class is feeling marginalised, that they were not getting a fair share of the benefits due to them by democratic institutions.
In a melancholy mode, he says his cousin, late musicologist Pat Bishop, wanted to do so much for the society, but she was sidelined by influential people who were against her…putting stumbling blocks in the path of what she wanted to achieve for her native land.
Q: Canon Clarke, we haven’t seen each other for a very long time and it is good to know you are still around with your long-established social activist tag still alive.
A: (A gusty burst of laughter in the porch of his Oasis Gardens, North Post Road, Diego Martin, home Wednesday afternoon) Well, I am trying to be aware of things and to see what little contribution I can still make.
You know I am tempted to ask if you are still living in this country, based on a startling statement you made over the weekend.
(Voice lowered and with a sort of suspicious glance) I did not know that I made a startling statement. What did I say?
To quote the Guardian of yesterday’s date: “I am concerned about the lack of democracy and the lack of the democratic process in this country...”
Well, it depends on what you mean by governance.
Democracy means to me, that people are given the opportunity to benefit from the largesse of our country and one of the challenges we are facing is that too many people feel marginalised.
Don’t you believe that a stranger visiting this country for the first time and who is not aware that we live in a democratic state may think we exist in a dictatorship?
What I am saying is yes, we go out and vote every five years, an independent judiciary and so on. We have the institutions, but institutions must deliver the goods and a lot of people don’t feel that we are benefiting from the institutions. It is not that we do not have democracy.
Very well. Before going further, my dear friend, are you still a supporter of the People’s National Movement?
(A slight frown while thinking about the question) Who me? I am not a supporter of anybody right now. If I am supporting anything, it is one more akin to the labour movement and not even...
Not even MSJ. Although that is the party I will lean to but I want to see the working people benefit more. Trinidad and Tobago has enough for the working people to benefit from the many things that we have.
Canon Clarke, you know I have always had a problem with this working-people label. Doesn’t this suggest that employers don’t work too?
Of course, they work too. The working people are the ones who have to very well work for their meals, their food...
The business class do not work for their meals and food too?
Yes. But the businessmen have the wherewithal to invest and to benefit a lot more than those who labour, that’s why I used that word “working people.”
For one who has been in the struggle, apart from your pastoral mission, are you satisfied that we have made good progress, as we celebrate 50 years of independence this year?
(A sharp response) After 50 years, we should be well on the way for a healthy society.
Are we on that laudable path?
Well, not now. How could we be when up to yesterday the Minister of National Security was lamenting—and give him credit for being honest enough to lament the untenable state of crime in our country—that the murder toll was too high, and I would like to see the energy of our young people being redirected from the destructive path it has taken.
They don’t seem to be so divided when it comes to the commission of heinous murders...?
Yeah, we want them to change and that is why yesterday the cadets put on a wonderful show, which demonstrated how our youths can apply their energy to positive pursuits when society gives them that opportunity. It was a glorious and creative moment that I think was overshadowed by the gloomy address by the minister, but I don’t think he meant to have done that. He was trying to capture the audience. And that is one thing I affirmed Mr Chambers for, that he wanted a national service in this country where all the young people of this country...
You are aware, Canon, that that proposition did not fly and would never fly in this country, given our ethnic and cultural backgrounds?
Is that happiness? Is that good? That we are so divided, we cannot come together for this purpose? National service is to serve the country. Just as you are saying that every school should have scouts, that’s national service: Girl Guides, scouts, cadets and so on.
Ok. From your vast experience, why so many young people have accepted the path of violent, anti-social and deviant behaviours?
Well (A heavy sigh and shrugging his shoulders), we had violence in my time but, of course, not at the level we are experiencing today. The point is it all began in the home. There is an Ashanti proverb which says, “The ruin of a nation begins in the home.” That is why the Girl Guides, the scouts and the cadets are needed more today because they all teach young children to be disciplined, to be caring and to love.
No one can disprove your point that it all begins in the home and obviously, family life to a large extent, particularly in some clearly-defined areas, has broken down. How would you go about restoring the kind of family-life values that existed in the good old days?
Well, this is one of the things the men and women of goodwill will have to do. For instance, the Anglican Mothers’ Union, the Roman Catholic Families in Action, they work assiduously trying to restore families, and the Hindu and Muslim communities, also. It needs more than one… all the different communities and stakeholders must work together to bring about the transformation of this society.
Is it too late, Canon Clarke, to halt this terrible downward spiral?
No. No. We are human beings and I have great faith in our resolve to stop this vicious trend. Yes, things have gone bad but on the other hand, we have to work assiduously to bring it back. It is not only for the priests.
What about our political leaders?
I don’t belong to PP, PNM, MSJ or any of the political entities and I would love to hear politicians say, “I am working for the well-being of Trinidad and Tobago.” Can we get politicians to think in those terms?
How can we get them to unite for at least some of the most pressing national problems, instead of bad-mouthing each other, all with the purpose of gaining political office?
(Another heavy sigh) You see that is what I mean by you have democratic institutions but you have undemocratic behaviour. Because democratic behaviour is for people and if we have the PNM, the PP, the MSJ…yes, alright, we want our seats and all that. But if we have all of them coming to say “when we get into government, we govern. We don’t want to put someone in a government position simply because they are loyal to us...”
While that is laudable in the real world of….
(Interrupting) You see what you are saying? In the real world! What is the real world?
When you would like to have someone who you know will carry out your policies, instead of trying to undermine your agenda?
And that is the problem, if they would carry out your policies (sarcastically), we would be a better place...
You would prefer to bring in a non-supporter to push your agenda?
It is not a non-supporter, it is a person who might be very very positive towards the well-being of the society and a good example of this was my cousin Pat Bishop. She is dead now, she was somebody who worked for the well-being of the society. But there were people who were always against her, they became a stumblling block to her... (Pausing with head bowed)
Do you want to elaborate?
(Furrowed brow) No, I don’t want to do that, but what she wanted to do for…they did not agree with the agenda... (Speaking softly) They did not like her very much, or sometimes they sidelined her, as we continue to sideline many people today.
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