By *Jomo Sanga Thomas
(“Plain Talk” Sept. 3, 2021)
“First, they came for the socialist, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionist, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.” — Martin Niemoller
Every Vincentian citizen must think long and hard about where we are as a people and where we are going. Things are spiralling out of control in SVG. Increasingly, the state’s coercive machinery is used to suppress the people’s will to protect their rights and freedoms.
We are living in perilous times.
The police continue their rampage. In addition to the 11 persons whose homes were searched immediately after Aug. 5, following which Kenson King and Adrianna King were arrested and charged, on Wednesday, three other persons, NDP General Secretary Tyrone James, Colin Graham and soca bard Zavique “Casper G” Morris were arrested on flimsy allegations.
For all of the years since adult suffrage in 1951, Vincentians have marched into and around Kingstown. They picketed outside police headquarters and most of all in front of Parliament. The police rejected the Public Service Union’s notification to hold such a procession in Kingstown. The Commissioner of Police told the union it is permitted to march from Sion Hill to Arnos Vale.
Our laws do not require police permission. A notice is all that’s necessary. We are forced to ask what the hell is going on in St. Vincent?
Many may caution us not to speak. We can be certain that reprisals will follow any attempt to tell the whole truth. We may lose friends, alienate some colleagues, and suffer retaliation. However, this moment deserves the risks.
As Martin Luther King Jr reminds us, “a time comes when silence is betrayal”. That time has come for us concerning our cherished SVG. And for us regarding the plight of the poor in our country. Youth employment is more than 40% — one in every three Vincentians lives in poverty.
Those of us who continue to blindly support or remain quiet about the excesses of this government must come to an understanding as expressed by Rosa Luxemburg:
“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 thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of ‘justice’ but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on these essential characteristics, and its effectiveness vanishes when ‘freedom’ becomes a special privilege.”
Here’s a contrast. In signalling the return of PM Gonsalves from Barbados following his injury during the Aug. 5 protest, Julian Francis called on party supporters to come out in their numbers to welcome him. The police did not stop the motorcade even though they are prohibited. A few supporters donned their red clothing and came out. Why do we have the double standard?
We are clearly being taken for granted. Too much is happening before our very eyes. Far too many of us see what’s happening, know it’s wrong, but either sit silently or defend the indefensible. All the while, the energy of the nation leaks out drip by drip.
We cannot continue in the old way. We need a sharp break from that 20th-century mentality of us against them. Now is not the time to think party. Now more than ever we have to place our children’s future and the healthy development of our nation ahead of everything else. Our nation demands that we bury the political hatchets, discard the red flags and yellow t-shirts. We must come to the recognition that we offer our nation its best chance of survival when we see beyond the tribes. In fact, for the nation to survive, the tribes must die.
To speak up is not easy. All too often it is a lonely moral and hazardous stance, but we must speak nonetheless. Oscar Allen reminds us to “be more and do more”.
One of the ways we build our moral foundation is to avoid the “carrot and honey temptation”. Demand what is rightfully yours and disregard all else.
Chris Hedges, in his book “When Fear Comes”, tells us how to navigate this dangerous fork in the road:
“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 swoop. 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.”
The time has come to stand firm against those who continually piss on us and say it is raining.
*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].