By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Dec. 4, 2020)
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter. There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” — Dr Martin Luther King Jr.
Plain Talk follows with a disturbed heart the many utterings that come during and after elections. People lose their minds and say some of the wickedest things imaginable. Some of us may remember when our prime minister encouraged the development of rival supermarkets to challenge the hegemony of the Greaves and Bonadie supermarket chains. This call was greeted with wild cheers from a large section of the Gonsalves supporters. The Government even opened and operated a supermarket to prove its intent.
As our poet Shake Keane said, “Yo think is so the thing set?” The supermarket did not last as long as “Miss Janie fire”.
When PM Gonsalves uttered those disturbing remarks, opposition leaders and supporters were highly incensed. They claimed that the PM’s comments were irresponsible. They maintained that the intent of the Unity Labour Party (ULP) government was to punish businesses leaders who did not support the governing party.
Following the defeat of the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP) in yet another election, we are hearing similar sentiments. NDP supporters are encouraged to support businesses that are believed to support the opposition. It is also shocking to hear opposition supporters, including prominent ones who should know and do better, say that people who voted for the ULP should beg ULP government officials. They swear on their parents’ graves that no supporter of the governing party will get as much as a morsel of bread from them.
It would be laughable if this issue were not so devastatingly divisive and serious. ULP supporters are condemning the NDP supporters for calling on members and supporters of the opposition to support their own.
Many of those who hypocritically condemn opposition supporters were some of the vocal supporters of Gonsalves’ call to create competition, pressure and potentially destroy the businesses owned by “opposition business people”.
This level of hypocrisy and tribal madness must be roundly condemned. By supporting these ridiculous positions, we are contributing to an unhealthy situation in which supporters of each party do not see family, friend or neighbour. They do not see among them citizens with whom they could respectfully disagree. Because they are clothed with political blinders, they harbour visions of evil creatures who should be hated, pressured, disregarded and possibly disappeared.
We have repeatedly invoked the wise words of many African revolutionaries who stand by the mantra, “For the Nation to survive the tribe must die.” As the stakes get higher, as politicians continue to suck on what Fidel Castro called the “honeycomb of power”, or as opposition aspirants anticipate and salivate at the prospects of a feeding frenzy awaiting their ascension to the corridors of power, we fear a sad reality in which our politics will descend into a blood sport with the attendant pain, suffering, death and dislocation that befall a nation caught in the madness of tribal politics.
The political class reminds us that “blood is thicker than water and politics makes for the thickest bind of all”. With the unfortunate development where civil society has been choked to death and independent, contrarian thought given a warning to depart, we anticipate the further deterioration of our polity.
Hot on the heels of the Nov. 5 elections, both party leaders bay for a grudge fest. Gonsalves, who floated the idea of unity and reconciliation, has settled back into his comfort zone as “ancient warrior”. Friday, who lost the elections but won the popular vote, has picked up on a view first articulated by Gonsalves over two decades ago: that a minority government lacks the “democratic legitimacy and the moral authority to govern”.
As political jockeying for power intensifies, the national interest demands that more citizens break their silence. A sense of national duty demands a sharp rebuke of politicians and supporters on both sides of the political divide, who frequently excite and incite away from national unity and towards conflict and division.
If our slice of paradise is to remain safe, everyone must be encouraged to stand for right over wrong, good over evil, transparency over corruption and meritocracy over nepotism, for fair play and good governance.
If none of that moves you, we invoke the ancestral energy of Audre Lorde, whose father hailed from Barbados and her mother from Carriacou, Grenada: “Your silence will not protect you. I am not free while any woman [or man] is unfree, even when her [or his] shackles are very different from my own.
“I was going to die, sooner or later, whether or not I had even spoken myself. My silences had not protected me. Your silences will not protect you. What are the words you do not yet have? What are the tyrannies you swallow day by day and attempt to make your own, until you will sicken and die of them, still in silence? We have been socialized to respect fear more than our own need for language.
“What’s the worst that could happen to me if I tell this truth? Unlike women [or men] in other countries, our breaking silence is unlikely to have us jailed, ‘disappeared’ or run off the road at night. Our speaking out will irritate some people, get us called [arrogant], bitchy or hypersensitive and disrupt some dinner parties. And then our speaking out will permit other women [men] to speak, until laws are changed and lives are saved and the world is altered forever.
“Next time, ask: What’s the worst that will happen? Then push yourself a little further than you dare. Once you start to speak, people will yell at you. They will interrupt you, put you down and suggest it’s personal. And the world won’t end.
“And the speaking will get easier and easier. And you will find you have fallen in love with your own vision, which you may never have realised you had. And you will lose some friends and lovers, and realize you don’t miss them. And new ones will find you and cherish you. And at last, you’ll know with surpassing certainty that only one thing is more frightening than speaking your truth. And that is not speaking.”
We can no longer hold our peace. We must speak now.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
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