Peter O'Connor writes a weekly column for the Newsday.
How else can we describe ourselves?
We accept and tolerate the ongoing abuses of our governments, the public “service,” private sector “service” and indifference, insults and abuses which are heaped upon us for no reason other than we continue to accept them.
We all know how to break the law when it is to our personal convenience to do so. We litter, we overtake lines of stalled traffic, we create noise all through the night, and we sell and buy fireworks without regard for licence or safety. We give and receive bribes as though they are just commissions for getting our business completed. We are a totally lawless people. Most of us who repeatedly indulge in the above activities would be most offended if it was suggested that they involved wrongdoing or lawlessness on our parts.
And yet, for all that one-by-one lawlessness to which we all subscribe and embrace, not one of us will stand up and respond in the face of disrespect and abuse by officialdom in any public place or setting. Once we all fall into line before public officers we will permit those officers to heap disrespect, abuse and delay upon us without doing anything of consequence to reclaim our dignity and our rights. Oh, we will illegally use our cell phones and their cameras to record and share the abuses we are suffering, but we will remain, like sheep, in the conditions of abuse by petty authority without even bleating.
Last Sunday, citizens and foreign visitors suffered interminable discomfort due to the planned absence of immigration officers at Piarco Airport. As incoming aircraft disgorged hundreds of arrivals, only two immigration officers had turned up for work, and they apparently were overly meticulous in their assessment of documents. Incoming passengers, the young, the old, the rich, the poor and the visitors who will probably never return to our land, waited up to five hours to pass through immigration.
And among those hundreds (or maybe a thousand or more?) of people who were held captive within the arrival area for hours, not one was willing to protest or object? Not one was willing to raise their voice? Not one was willing to take any action against the abuse? For how long would those who were the victims of the abuse stand silently in line?
I tried to imagine myself there, somewhere at the back of the line. I wondered what I would have done? But what could one do? Even if you were not a sheep who would resigned yourself to just accepting that treatment.
You know what you could have done? Someone? Anyone? You could have called upon everyone in that line to pick up their carry-on bags and walk quietly past the empty immigration stations and go and collect your luggage. I acknowledge that non-TT passport holders could not do that, but all of the TT returning citizens could have just walked through before “authorities” tried to call security or whatever. This is our homeland, and we have the right to come home, and not to be delayed and harassed by anyone with a grouse.
I congratulate Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley for condemning the action (or non-action?) of the immigration officers, and for promising follow-up on this matter. And I condemn Opposition Leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar for supporting the absent immigration officers. But let us not fool ourselves—if UNC had been in government, they would be condemning the absentees, and the PNM in opposition would have been with the striking officers! We all know, but do not all accept that we live in a farce which just goes round and round.
So here is my question to all who suffered, complained ineffectually, but took the abuse that was being meted out to you and just quietly waited your turn to be processed: Why did none of you call out to everyone to walk on through, passport and immigration form in hand? And again, if someone had taken that lead, and called on you all to follow them through the immigration section and to customs and then outside to your homeland, would you have followed that person? And if not, why not?
So I wondered if I would have acted and called everyone to follow me—had I been in that abusive situation? I then asked my harshest critic if she thought I would have done that? She thought a moment and replied, “Long ago, for sure! But would you do that today?” I believe I would have called you all to walk through to freedom. I also believe that “long ago” you all would have joined me, and walked out to freedom. Today I am not so sure. The sheep appear quite contented with their lot.
What do you think?