Kaieteur News – I got the title of this column from the documentary film that won an Academy Award, titled “20 feet from stardom.” It is about the unknown and never recognised genius of back-up singers to some of the world’s most iconic pop singers over the past 70 years.
This is not a film for the faint-heart. It’s punctuated with sadness. Essentially, it is about unrecognised talent of back-up singers that made some of the world’s greatest songs, unforgettable. These supporting vocalists never made it. We love the songs they sang on but we never knew who they were and what became of them.
As we draw closer to the one-year anniversary of the legal election results of the March general election and the swearing in of Guyana’s first Muslim head of government, my mind goes back to the people who stood 100 feet from stardom. These were the selfless, energetic, courageous souls who braved the elephantine downpour of rain and the boiling cauldron of sun to protect the ballot boxes. Where are they now as we count down to the one-year anniversary of the man who legally won the contest and should not have been denied the votes his supporters gave him.
I am always sad when I meet a face on the road that I know is an unsung hero. After the PPP came to power in 1992, I would experience the occasion encounter of young men, not so young after 1992, that I saw did so much in the never-ending dramas of struggle against the Burnham dictatorship and rigged elections. Many of them were WPA activists.
I would meet them and they would ask for a friendly/ brotherly hand. I would give but with tremendous restraint since my life was never filled with money. Perhaps the saddest case was Mobutu. I knew of the energy and passion he had as a WPA youth. In later life, he had almost nothing. My wife and I were generous, but the restraint was always there. He died in obscurity. They are so many more like him I see but the numbers are dwindling because their final resting place keeps calling.
The March 2020 election fiasco I will never forget. Driving with my daughter last week, I told her that when I sat in Kaieteur News’ radio station alongside Leonard Gildarie on Wednesday, March 4, 2020 and the reports constantly came in from the GECOM Command Centre of the rigging, I simply died. I could not believe that in my late sixties I would be seeing what I saw when I was in my twenties.
I live close to Giftland and the Arthur Chung Conference Centre (ACCC). I would drive into Giftland and see those unsung heroes unofficially protecting the ballot boxes, waiting for the CARICOM recount to begin. I looked out at my bedroom window many mornings and watched these unsung heroes keeping vigil outside the ACCA as the recount continued.
They made democracy possible. It wasn’t columnists like me, newspaper editors, journalists and passionate opposition politicians that made the crucial difference. It was these unsung heroes. They cooked, slept and stood upright with aquiline where the boxes were housed.
I’ll never forget that aging couple, as I drove into Giftland. They were outside their pick-up truck, sitting in chairs directly facing the containers in the ACCA compound. The man looked like 75, his wife about 70. I went up to them and the gentleman in an almost inaudible tone said, “I know you, you’re not Freddie Kissoon?” I said yes then asked, “What are you doing out here.” Again with a soft voice, he said, “guarding the ballot boxes.”
Where are they now? Where is that aging couple? Where is the young man who asked me for a donation of a carton of bottled water? Where are all those young bodies that I gazed at from my bedroom window as the morning sun rose? These are the back-up singers on some of the world’s most phenomenal hit songs. But we don’t know who they are.
They gave us the eventual legal results of the March 2020 national elections. They allowed our votes to be counted. They stopped the riggers from rigging. Once more I ask; where are they? Perhaps we may never know. From age 16, I have seen these unsung heroes. They would be there side by side with you. As the struggle went into another stage, they disappeared. I remember on the last night of the 2015 election campaign in Mahaica, this gentleman pulled me from a moving tractor driven by an irate man who wanted to hurt me. He is a hero but he has gone from the stage. Where is he now?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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