Kenrick Quashie. (iWN file photo)

By Kenrick Quashie

I grew up with knowing about student councils in schools, the National Student Council, National Youth Council, GEMS and a number of other community groups.  My time at the NYC exposed me to youth organisations across St. Vincent and the Grenadines. I still have fond memories of a functioning Disability Society, Women Society and other interest groups.

Today, we still have sporting organisations, but other types of community-based organisations are virtually non-existent.  In most cases, partisan politics was the deadly weapon used to deliver the fatal bullet to many of these organisations.  Our trade unions also appear to be the weakest post-2001. The most visible among them are the Public Service Union and the SVG Teachers’ Union — but even those, leave much to be desired in the area of trade unionism. 

Interestingly, the Unity Labour Party administration rode into office on the backs of the trade unions and other active national organisations at the time.  It seemed like a good idea then. It, however, remains unfortunate that all these now defunct organisations hurled with an unrelenting pace towards the demise of the then New Democratic Party government because, to them, the NDP appeared to be unsympathetic towards the working class and the needs of the people at the time. 

The thing about this “Animal Farm” is that we have, for a while now, become what we once passionately rallied against!  Jobs and promotions come from who you know and who you associate with.  Too many persons hold positions that they lack the basic competencies to execute.  And, among others, the Constitution has been used against citizens. There are, however, no more organisations to stand up and speak out.  

I have come to the conclusion that the death of community-based institutions strong trade unions and strong civic organisations occurred because their leadership seemed easily bought. They were or are, therefore, entrapped with personal benefits over organisational good.

The absence of community-based institutions and strong civic organisations has increased the mandate of the Christian Council and Association of Evangelical Churches and the Church in general.  The Church appears to be the “last one standing” with any form of moral authority to speak on issues affecting the country.

Thus, the voice of the Church becomes the voice of ALL people.  There is an unspoken expectation by the population for the church to speak out on the ills affecting the citizenry.

The Church may argue that its primary responsibility is to preach salvation. However, it appears to cherry-pick the issues it comments on outside the pulpit.  This must not continue to be so. Otherwise, it will lose that moral authority nationally.

Whether or not one believes in the Church, women and men of the cloth are expected to speak on the authority of the Bible and God. There are good reasons for them to be free of political entanglements and patronage from any special group.

This is why the Bible talks about these individuals being “blameless”. They, more than other members of the Church have a responsibility to be conscious of even the very appearance of bias, favouritism and so forth. 

Given that their authority is not from man, they are expected to be able to stand before man, before politicians and leaders and call “a spade a spade”. Of course, there is a downside to this as the Church oftentimes only sees black and white even when there are many shades of grey.

My point is that Church leaders should be more disposed to speaking for the vulnerable among us. They must do so without fear or favour. 

One of the major benefits of this technological era is the ease with which information can be had.  The truth is, people no longer subscribe to the notion that clerics should be respected because they hold of the office “pastor” or “priest”. 

In this era, people look for more authentic encounters that are lived and permeated throughout their relationships.  It doesn’t take much for us to see through these church leaders. They preach bias partisan politics from their pulpit and they live their lives unaware of or turning a blind eye to what is wrong in our country.  They are so caught up with “the things of the world” that they lose the authority to be that independent voice in our society for the vulnerable and weak among us.

We have lost at least one generation of young people who do not know about community activism and about self-help projects in their communities.

Oftentimes, I feel a sense of gloom because I did not do more to try to revive the NYC. I accept responsibility for its continued dormancy. It is such a pity. It will be remiss of me if I do not place some blame on the Youth and Community Development departments of the Government of SVG. I am convinced that the political will has been absent from the departments of Youth and Community Development in our beloved country.

A vibrant and strong democracy is dependent on the involvement, agitation and resilience of those who are considered to be the watchdogs of democracy.  These are the trade unions, community-based organisations, national organisations, the Christian Council and so forth.

As a matter of fact, I posit that the strength of the opposition of the day has a lot to do with the agitation of these organisations.  The NDP opposition has not gleaned much, if any strength at all from these organisations. Ever so often, it is only the NDP that has had to be critical of the government’s policies and highlight the plight of citizens.  Is it that there was no need for agitation?

Political parties are not always best suited to speak on some matters as it is easy for their political biases to be seen. Also, with the high level of partisan political loyalty displayed by our people, those on the opposing side see party colours and zone out the message because they can only see the messenger.  It is, therefore, important that we have and hear the voice of people and organisations that command some independence.

This is why I am so disappointed in those who boast of being progressives. They received high offices and national respect because they gave the impression that they have independent thought, believe in democracy and social justice and, care for the poor and vulnerable. Today, they display contempt for the things they once claimed to care about.

Thankfully, it is not too late. Stand not on the sidelines and think that the train has left you. The truth is that many of our youth do not know the nuances of organisations so they sometimes don’t know where to start. The baton was not passed to them. We are losing them. Let us start to rebuild that which was broken!

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 [email protected].

5 replies on “The death of civil society and activism in SVG”

  1. I agree that the church is hypocritical in its approach to politics.
    Community based organisations are dying because their members are so engrossed in partisan politics and somehow many vincentians have bought into the notion that you have to be loyal to Papa if you want to get something. Such a lie. Papa has really had a begative impact on this country.

  2. Percival Thomas says:

    Vincentians have allowed the PM and the ULP to become too dominant in influencing and controlling such groups as the Trade Unions. Is there fluence on the Church? I don’t know who the Christian Council represent, since they don’t speak up on behalf of the poor.
    I think Vincentians over the years has treated the PM of SVG with too much respect. They have been gullible in his pronouncements on how SVG should develop. The grand projects like building the Geothermal plant. A waste of money. Development is mainly about people and improving their economic and social conditions. That is not happening in SVG. Instead poverty is on the increase and too many people have
    a tough life, especially women and children.
    The aim of community based organisations whatever their beliefs, l my view should be to help to create a better and more properous life for all Vincentians.
    Whatever we do in society one of our aims should be to make life better for the less fortunate. So care for people should be the goal of our endeavours.

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