By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

“Do not pursue what is illusory — property and position; all is gained at the expense of your nerves decade after decade, and is confiscated in one fell night. Live with a steady superiority over life — don’t be afraid of misfortune, and do not yearn after happiness; it is, after all, all the same: the bitter doesn’t last forever, and the sweet never fills the cup to overflowing. It is enough if thirst and hunger don’t claw at your insides. If your back isn’t broken, if your feet can walk, if both arms can bend, if both eyes can see, and if both ears can hear, then whom should you envy? And why? Our envy of others devours us most of all. Rub your eyes and purify your heart — and prize above all else in the world those who love you and who wish you well. Do not hurt them or scold them, and never part from any of them in anger; after all, you simply do not know: it might be your last act before {some grave misfortune}, and that will be how you are imprinted in their memory.” — Chris Hedges, “When Fear Comes”.

“Jomo, some people don’t know what is poverty. They don’t know what it means to wake up hungry. Dem men know how to cook food for their dogs.” — A Ghetto youth.

“Freedom only for supporters of the government, only for members of the party — however numerous they may be is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who think differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristics, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege.” — Rosa Luxemburg.

The chatter over my “Unity and Development” column of Jan. 12, 2019 is really a tempest in a teapot. The disclosure that unemployment is a major problem is not news. The 2018 IMF report speaks of high unemployment especially among our youth. In 2004, Kiara Consultants pegged poverty in St. Vincent at 30 per cent. Beginning in 2008, the entire world suffered the economic and financial meltdown of international capitalism. We cannot truly claim to have fully recovered. Therefore, the poverty numbers could be higher but certainly not less than 30 per cent.

Everyone would agree with these basics facts. Depending on where one sits, the clear and definitive response to “Unity and Development” was that Plain Talk should not be such a messenger. Others said recognition and acknowledgement that poverty and unemployment are high is to indict the governing party. We all know that SVG is a nation of listeners. Clearly, only a few persons bothered to read the column. And most of those who read it stylised it to suit their interest.

To speak truth to power is a lonely and hazardous pursuit. In 20-plus years as a writer in local newspapers, Plain Talk has never backed away from saying it as it is. There is no chance that this plain talking, truth-seeking defender of the least among us will be bent into a form unrecognisable to himself.

It is in the public domain that 6,000-plus persons were hired for the Christmas cleaning programme. This is just about 6 per cent of the population. However, if we subtract all Vincentians from ages 1 to 16, and another 10,000 to account for retirees, 6,000 street cleaners make up a much larger percentage of those in distress. Now what is really wrong with bringing this problem front and centre? Why do so many of us prefer to talk about everything else except issues that touch and concern the lives of our poor and vulnerable, the voiceless and those who have not yet learn to question?

Before Dr. Martin Luther King broke his silence on the war in Viet Nam, some of his strongest allies urged him to remain silent about the war or at least soft pedal any criticism. As Michele Alexander, the New York Times columnist, wrote, “They knew that if he told the whole truth about the unjust and disastrous war he would be falsely labelled a communist, suffer retaliation, severe backlash and alienate some supporters.”

But Dr. King did not waiver. He rejected the rationalisation and argued “my conscience leaves me no other choice… A time comes when silence is betrayal. That time has come for us in relation to Viet Nam.” And for us regarding the plight of the poor in our country.

Alexander went back to King’s speech of 60 years ago because she wanted to make the point that as a public intellectual she was breaking her silence on the horrible and criminal treatment of Palestinians by Israel. She said of King’s decision, “It was a lonely, moral stance. And it cost him. But it set an example of what is required of us if we are to honour our deepest values in times of crisis, even when silence would better serve our personal interests or the communities and causes we hold most dear. It’s what I think about when I go over the excuses and rationalisations that have kept me largely silent on one of the great moral challenges of our time: the crisis in Israel-Palestine.”

Whenever we are forced to make important decisions, we ought to follow Chris Hedges wise words: “Do not pursue what is illusory–property and position; all is gained at the expense of your nerves.”

Speaking truth to power is nothing new to Plain Talk. All our adult life was spent on the barricades defending the poor. When my constituency office was burnt twice and my car tires slashed, I neither buckled nor bowed. When threats to my life and person came following mad opposition to this or that column, I stood firm except for bringing these to the attention of persons of power and prominence in our society. I never once asked for state protect. None was ever offered.

Amidst all this, there was no deters, just disciplined continuation of the people’s work, simply and humbly. The smart bet is that Plain Talk will never see piss pouring down and tell people it is rain.

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The views expressed herein are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the opinions or editorial position of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to news.iwitness@gmail.com.

5 replies on “Speaking truth to power”

  1. So Jomo Thomas; those between the ages of 1 to 16 are minors and are dependants of those ‘6,000-plus persons hired’. Also amongst the “10,000 retirees”, a percentage of those retirees no doubt are the responsibility of these Christmas hired employees. Correctly so: “To speak truth to power is a lonely and hazardous pursuit” especially when the calculation of the deemed ‘truth’ are crafted by delusion.

  2. Apart from singling out the Jews for special opprobrium (it’s the Jews and only the Jews that are always behind every wickedness in the world, right Jomo?) for their “horrible and criminal treatment of Palestinians by Israel,” always ignoring the dozens of other far worse examples of “horrible and criminal treatment” being inflicted by one ethnic group on another both internally and externally in places like Syria, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Afganistan, China, Russia, etc. while ignoring the constant provocation of Palestinian terrorist organizations like Hamas whose stated goal is to push the Jews of Israel, the only democracy in the region, into the sea, comparing yourself to the great Martin Luther King is reprehensible.

  3. Ricardo Francis says:

    Your hogwash is not Plain Talk my brother. It is narrative to satisfy your agenda to keep the downtrodden in their place, while you are enjoying the LARGE benefits.

    Ricardo Francis, Prime Minister of St.Vincent and the Grenadines in Waiting and in the Making

  4. Jomo, you have a serious beef with the ULP. So now you remind them folks of the ULP about Dr. King. Hmm.. O.K. So? –you observing the hypocrites. 1/3 of the population under the poverty line still? While, you do quite a lot of bragging. Papa give you bragging rights? Plain talk.
    You realize that when you start to involve Dr. king a lot of people won’t like that. Especially when you try to imply some kind of parallel.

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