Give a man a spam, and you’ll feed him for a day. Vote a man to scam, and you’ve ruined us for a lifetime.
That’s my take on the popular saying, “Give a man a fish, and you’ll feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, and you’ve fed him for a lifetime.” Sadly, the current political climate in Chuuk State, FSM including my own Northwest region has become so divisive that it is no longer able to unite people around the biggest need in our state and our region which is educational reform. Our people are now enslaved by a new form of political reality known as “stomach politics” perfected by scamming politicians and voters who enable them to scam Chuukese children into oblivion.
The concept of “stomach politics” is the common practice in Chuuk of practically buying votes with food. It is expected for politicians to blanket an entire village or island with sacks of rice, coffee, and sugar. It is done in the name of development and through the lenses of the culture of reciprocity, but practically it is simply buying votes.
The spirit of electing leaders to unite the electorates around the promises of progress is now flawed. We have lost that spirit. Instead, we have become slaves to our own ignorance, trapped by our own small-mindedness, and guided by our growling bellies. What is lost in the electorates’ desire for handouts and the politicians’ self-centeredness is the long-term and much harder work of reforming our educational system which demands visionaries.
Politics has misled some of our leaders to make unwise decisions based on selfish ambitions. Even some of our traditional leaders have lost the sacredness of their role as True North compass for their people. Instead they have let the empty promises of ambitious politicians and the possibilities of receiving financial remunerations for their endorsement to cloud their judgments.
Most politicians in Chuuk are chasing after social status and financial gains rather than public service. The position of a politician is no longer a means to the end of affecting political and social progress. Politicians will do whatever it takes to divide and conquer. That may be a justified approach in larger communities where anonymity is synonymous with elections. But in a small clan, in a small village on an equally small island everyone knows everyone, there is no such thing as anonymity. Consequently, people are openly for or against candidates. No one focuses on the issues. People simply sway to whatever side their candidate is on regardless of what they stand for.
The problem now is that the voters no longer look for the political leaders who are genuinely for educational reform. Discussions about the role of leaders, parents, and community during political campaigns are practically useless. People are promised “projects” which are politically motivated gifts such as food, boats, sewing machines, and even the good ole cash.
Absent among these projects are the needs of the schools. With politicians vying for their own electability and with communities divided among them, a united front for educational priorities and reform is near impossible. The most important need in our region and our state, i.e. educational reform in fact has become the last priority as politics continue to divide people. If there was ever any hope of unifying people it must be around the issue of educational reform. We must begin to ask political candidates for their understanding of and concrete plans to support educational reform in Chuuk. How familiar are they of the current Chuuk Education Reform Plan being implemented by the Chuuk State School System? How much funding are they willing to put up from their own local revenue to support the Compact-funded initiatives? What are they prepared to do to ensure community involvement in the decentralized education services?
I call on the new generation of educated and liberated Chuukese voters to rise up from the empty promises of political rhetoric. Challenge the political leaders by asking questions during those campaign sessions. Educate yourself so that you can vote with your brain and not your stomach. Sure let the politicians come bearing their usual cases of Hormel Spam and their extra fancy Calrose Rice to feed the people’s hunger. But meet them halfway with your Chuukese brain power and your extra dose of Chuukese warrior spirit to challenge their commitment to reform. Do it respectfully, but courageously. Let’s rise up by putting an end to the ever growing scams of stomach politics.