Interest groups or lobby groups are essential to human, social and economic development. Oftentimes they are the informed voices of reason, diplomacy and change. Developed nations tend to have more powerful lobby groups than do developing nations, especially smaller states.
Regardless of country, interest groups typically have one goal – to make the state more amenable to their cause and interests, particularly the constituents they serve.
Minority populations require more lobbying than the rest of the population since they are affected duplico by socioeconomic struggles. Access is a necessary condition for effective lobbying – access to the legislative, executive and judiciary. Access will only be achieved through two mechanisms: power and money. Power may come in several forms, such as numbers, class, prestige, family, friendship etc. And money may be clean, dirty or conflicted. Such characterisation creates the impression that interest groups should follow the modus operandi of political parties.
In my opinion, despite similarities, interest groups are supposed to operate differently from political parties and garrison communities. Sadly, as a budding LGBT human rights activist I’m realising that some of us see interest groups as mini political parties. Mini political parties characterised by the clientelism Carl Stone articulated and the plantation theory of George Beckford et al. Interest groups, like political parties need funding. Interest groups, like political parties serve constituents. Therefore, what results on occasion is the conflict of being accountable to financiers (who sometimes want to dictate programming and methodologies to be employed in fulfilling the organisation’s mantra) and meeting the immediate, medium and long-term needs of constituents.
Some leaders of interests groups subscribe to Stone’s theory. So with monies from financiers, they provide band aid solutions to constituents (who will, in turn, endorse the organisation) while financiers are promoted, by demonstrating the progress, impact and positive influence of their money and support.
Other leaders subscribe to Beckford’s ‘ill-progressive’ plantation theory, so interests groups are operated and structured much like the sugar plantations of the past. Constituents are not a part of the decision making process, and programmes instituted are primarily those that reach higher numbers in atomic ways, regardless of qualitative impact.
And still others are managed with love, respect, sternness, prudence, accountability, and empathy. I prefer this kind, because with this type of management financiers cannot dictate programmes of action. Constituents are provided with visionary sustainable solutions and there is collective responsibility on all fronts.
Recently there have been calls for the resignation of the Executive Director of J-FLAG because he refused to claim that on a daily basis mobs were hunting us (LGBT persons) to kill us. Because he said on international television that progress was being made and Jamaica was experiencing pockets of tolerance. Were those statements false? Absolutely not, in my opinion! Did they represent the lived realities of all LGBT persons in Jamaica? Certainly not! So tell me that his response should have been more comprehensive, that, I can accept.
The reality on the ground in some spaces and communities is one of constant dodging of assault and battery and it is not safe for some. Not all LGBT persons can live with a little human dignity in their respective spaces – and they would be better off as recipients of asylum in safer spaces. We need to be able to tell all the stories. Help those who need to migrate while making Jamaica safer for those like me who want to stay.
My life as a lesbian is certainly not as bad and psychologically challenging as it was before. If it wasn’t for the strength of community I would probably remain partially closeted for the rest of my life. I became twice as bolder after participating in a workshop facilitated by J-FLAG which taught me how to tell my story as a form of advocacy. So I know firsthand that progress is being made.
If there is anyone out there who is genuinely concerned about the interests of my community I suspect they would not promote hostility, selfishness, divisiveness or anything absent humility and cooperation.
Human rights advocacy ought not to be competitive. When it becomes a competition, we begin to fight for scarce resources to the detriment of our constituents. I want my community to unite. Let us benefit from each other’s strengths and address the weaknesses among us. Let us use appropriate fora; and if we must disagree, let us do so with love, respect and honesty. This is a selfless mission. There is so much more that we can achieve if we make unity the sine qua non of advocacy.
And let me just say to my boys (you know yourselves) I will dedicate my time, mind and brain to making Jamaica a better place for you and generation next.