By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Aug. 13, 2021)
“The COVID-19 pandemic has created health, social and economic crisis as well as a leadership crisis in the Caribbean. — Malaka Parker, Antiguan political leader.
“Why are you standing in the road?”
“Is our street.”
“Why are you blocking the road?”
“So Ralph ain’t block road too?”
“Why do you want to prevent the prime minister from entering the Parliament?”
“To show him who controls the street. We want to stick it to him.”
Well, they stuck it to him, alright. Since last Thursday evening, social media have been abuzz with gleeful comments from those who took demented pleasure in seeing blood flow from Gonsalves’ head.
The ULP leaders attempted to take the high ground. But they spoke with a forked tongue. Out of one side of their mouth, they muttered aimlessly about morality and democracy. Out of the other side, they spewed venom, and dog-whistled their supporters. Rather than call for national unity and for calm heads to hold sway, they asked their supporters not to “seek revenge or retaliation”. Meanwhile, one of their leaders angrily threatened “if is war they want is war, they go get”.
This call to arms, coming a few weeks after St. Clair Leacock’s incendiary comment “we have taken away the word peaceful from the protest” makes one thing crystal clear: When the devil was dishing out irresponsibility, the political class in SVG took the lion share.
What a difference a silly act makes. Throughout the day, the protestors had the momentum. They were organised, energised, committed to letting their voices be heard. The ULP propaganda machine dismissively said there were 200 protestors. We can easily triple that number. The protest demonstration was beyond the usual NDP crowd. It was not as large as those in 2000, but it had the seeds of a growing movement. It was broadly representative of our society. Nurses, customs officers, prison officers and other civil servants came in their uniforms.
For the first time in two decades, citizens broke the fear barrier. They did not take to the street in throngs. Not as yet, but they came. The fear is melting. They came early, and they stayed late.
They were determined to defend the autonomy and integrity of their bodies and that of their children. They registered their opposition to the government’s plan for mandatory vaccination. The persistent drumming, as if an attempt to invoke the energy of our ancestors, added to the mood.
The initiative was with the demonstrators. The broad masses had not yet decided to join the picket line, but the demonstrators had the moral high ground. Those passing the demonstration echoed the support for the cause. Many asked why was the government hell-bent on vaccinating every man, woman and child in SVG?
And then it happened. After the lunch break, PM Gonsalves, returning to the Parliament, was irresponsibly pelted with water bottles, beer bottles, and stones. It is yet unknown what caused Gonsalves’ injury, but images of him grimacing, visibly frightened in a blood-stained white shirt changed the narrative and brought widespread expressions of sympathy for the veteran politician.
Last Thursday began with Gonsalves painted as the villain committed to snatching basic and fundamental constitutionally protected rights of citizens. In front of all of us, Gonsalves morphed in the Caribbean Ayatollah, leading the regional governors in the mad rush to take away citizens’ rights in the effort to protect them from a deadly disease that has proven much less than deadly among Vincentians.
By the end of the day, leaders from Blize to Guyana issued statements condemning those who injured the Prime minister. CARICOM and UWI joined the sympathy parade. They all professed their faith in good governance and democratic best practices.
All in on the vaccination agenda, which is touted as the best means to protect lives and livelihood, none of them cautioned against snuffing out the constitutional glue that holds our society together.
The short-sighted, silly, politically naive among us got their thrill. They laughed and roared with sickening ecstatic joy in seeing Gonsalves’ blood run. In all this macabre display of pleasure, they failed to realise that they have retarded and harmed the people’s effort to protect their fundamental rights and make a more perfect, participatory democracy.
By Saturday, the police were turned on the people. The opposition was blamed for the PM’s injury and more than 10 of its alleged supporters were raided. The police illegally confiscated cell phones and computers. They were clearly on a fishing expedition as no one was arrested except for a 56-year-old woman who pleaded her innocence as she left the court. Their top supporters labelled Thursday’s injury an assassination attempt and high treason. Backroom operators were said to be behind the assault. A conspiracy of sorts was unfolding. No proof, just wild, irresponsible assertions.
We can anticipate an aggressive region-wide assault on peoples’ right to protest. Last Sunday, Antiguan Prime Minister Gaston Browne ordered his security to vamp on hundreds of citizens engaging in peaceful protest. They used tear gas, rubber bullets, and wooden batons as they wantonly and aggressively dispersed the crowd.
There was not a word of condemnation from officialdom at the excessive and brutal display of force. There are clearly two sets of rules. You can beat and break the bones and run the blood of ordinary people. Touch the political and economic elite, and you will be crushed.
One thing has become crystal clear. Regional leaders are coordinating their actions as they press on with their attempt to force citizens to take a demonstrably ineffective vaccine whose safety is in doubt. The coercive arm of the state is merging and aligning with the powerful economic interest in society to bend the people’s will and force them into submission.
The struggle continues. The people will resist. The people must resist.
*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former 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 [email protected].