In politics, messaging matters and the PPP has stuck to its message of constitutional breakdown. It has convinced its supporters that the government is illegal and in breach of the constitution. It follows that under such circumstances, extreme forms of protest are justified.
That is what we saw at the Pegasus on Thursday as President Granger addressed an event hosted by the GMSA at that hotel. The big question is whether the PPP and the protestors went too far. In other words, should the police have acted more aggressively?
While the protest was taking place, I was making appearances on radio stations in an attempt to connect to youths who tend to listen to these stations a lot.
During my appearance on the “Hot Seat” hosted by Stan Gouveia, several irate supporters of the government wondered why the police were not using the water cannon on the protestors or locking them up. I instantly asked those supporters to stop calling for such retaliation. It was my view on that day, and even as I write this column, that the actions of the protestors did not warrant such counter action by the police.
Later that night as I addressed a WPA public meeting at Bare Root on the East Coast Demerara, I argued that the restraint shown by the police is a reflection that the Coalition government is qualitatively better that its predecessor when it comes to protecting civil liberties. I said, to the accompaniment of enthusiastic applause, that the current government is the first one since Independence which has not jailed, brutalized or assassinated political opponents.
Such a protest under the PPP government would have attracted the most viscious police response. Many would have been arrested and there would have been physical assaults. The PPP would never have tolerated such a protest. I was on the bridge at Linden in 2012 when a peaceful protest was met by police fire. The outcome was three dead and several injured. I concluded that night that under the PPP, Black lives did not matter. I still believe so. And it is one of the reasons that the fear of the PPP is so strong in the African Guyanese community.
Despite that memory, I still believe the police restraint on Thursday was correct. There is always a thin line between the right to protest and the preservation of order. The PPP government and previous governments came down on the side of order. The lives of the protestors did not matter. I got the distinct impression that the PPP wanted the police to intervene so that they could then construct their narrative of suffering—that the so-called illegal government used the force of the State against them. In that regard the Coalition were the victors on Thursday—they refused to be tempted.
I told the 100% African audience at Bare Root that African Guyanese must not get into the business of calling for Indian Guyanese blood. The sight of African Guyanese police beating Indian Guyanese protestors in Georgetown gives me no joy. Unnecessary State violence was wrong under the PPP and it will be wrong under the Coalition.
The problem is that the PPP would try to push the government and police to violent response. That’s why the government is obviously correct in advising that hooliganism in the form of political protest will not be tolerated. And there was some hooliganism at Pegasus on Thursday. But I am still against the use of unnecessary force on ordinary citizens exercising their right to protest. And as an African Guyanese I feel a sense of responsibility to call for more rather than less restraint when the protestors are mainly Indian Guyanese. Indian Guyanese lives matter too.
I hope the ABE countries have taken note of both the protests and the government’s non-response. The statement by those countries’ diplomats that the government has breached the constitution and the veiled threat of sanctions was undoubtedly very harsh. The WPA’s response expresses my sentiments:
“WPA stoutly rejects the conclusion by the ABE countries that the government is in breach of the constitution. In fact, it is our considered view that had the president named an election date without ascertaining GECOM’s readiness, he would have been in breach of the constitution. While we respect the concerns of ABE countries, we cannot agree with their treatment of Article 106-6 of the Guyana constitution in isolation from the political realities of the country. We are also concerned that the diplomatic representatives may have overplayed their hands by pronouncing on such a politically polarized issue.
WPA is also concerned about the veiled threat by the ABE countries to impose penalties or sanctions against Guyana. We believe that sanctions should be a last resort in International Relations, and they should only be activated when countries violate sacred international norms. In this instance, the Guyanese government is in the clear. The charge of breaching the constitution is part of the PPP’s narrative of demonization of the government. The WPA completely rejects the idea that there is a constitutional crisis in the country. We believe that there is a political impasse that has been exacerbated by the PPP’s deliberate tactic and strategy of frustrating all attempts at political consensus as advised by the CCJ.”
As we grounded with the people of Bare Root on Thursday night, it occurred to me how much we the political leaders don’t know about our Guyana. The people of that so-called “depressed community” came out in large numbers to a WPA meeting. They received our message that combined critique of the government with the potential for good by that very government.
At a WPA Press Conference the following day, journalists had a hard time rationalizing how the WPA could be critical of the government while working to return that government to power. Yet, the people at Bare Root and the several communities we visited, understood and endorsed that nuanced message. It is the same message that the WPA took to West Bank last night and will take to Stewartville on the West Coast Demerara tonight.
I spoke for over an hour and a half at that Bare Root meeting. I was home in that company – those poor people who understand both the economics of survival and liberation. They listened attentively; they appreciated that the WPA showed a keen sense of their plight. They know me, it turned out, from my advocacy for them. I pledged to fight along with the WPA to bring the Coalition closer to them and to make sure they get their fair share of the coming prosperity. The WPA’s Press Statement captures these sentiments:
“WPA continues its Reasonings in communities across Guyana. At a meeting last night in Bare Root, one of the more depressed East Coast Demerara communities, the party took its message of critique and hope to scores of residents who welcomed the party into their community. We heard from residents of the paucity of social services in the community coupled with high unemployment and their collective frustrations with politicians and parties who have made promises to them but never returned after elections. WPA pledged to use its voice within the Coalition to advocate for a change of that attitude.
WPA has found that its proposal of Cash Transfers to households is very popular within the communities. Citizens have expressed their approval of the policy which they agree is vital to their chances of directly benefiting from the expected Oil and Gas revenues. Towards that end WPA will hold a Public Symposium titled “Cash Transfers: Our Country-Our Wealth” at the Critchlow Labor College on Monday September 23, 2019 at 5:30 pm. The party will use the opportunity to flesh out the proposal in an effort to answer those who have requested more details. The main speakers are WPA members Professor Clive Thomas, and Dr. David Hinds and Trade Unionist Lincoln Lewis.
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