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Thursday 18 October 2018
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Commentary

Machismo and police boots

Diary of a mothering worker

Entry 304

DR GABRIELLE JAMELA HOSEIN

THE PNM’S Stuart Young appears more disturbing than Monday’s call to block the nation’s roads.

The social media call tried to mobilise citizens fed up of “poor governance” and “secret deals” to “shut down the country” by shutting down their cars at major locations.

It’s a great idea, simple and potentially effective, if it actually reflected the emotions pulsing through the nation. But, it didn’t. Not yet.

Schoolchildren and workers are already frayed on mornings by endless traffic, which reflects poor transportation planning, and poor governance of land use.

All this has been overseen by the PNM, which has governed for more than 45 years, and has primary responsibility for our problems today.

Families just want to get where they are going and get on with making ends meet amidst increasing unemployment, crime and debt, all reflecting similar decades of poor diversification of a petro-economy, poor levels of crime convictions, and poor levels of savings in our Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

As both Minister of Communication and National Security, Young had zero sense of the nation’s pulse, and resorted to strong-arm state muscle to deal with a threat in which citizens had no investment. Too much sense of power and too little clue.

However, it gets worse than warning police would be out “in full force” to make arrests as if it was the water riots of 1903, which burned the Red House to the ground, for similar reasons of “poor governance.”

First, Young’s signature authorised government communication which declared the “gridlock” call was the work of the Opposition. When a government accuses the ruling party’s opponents without facts, on official letterhead, not only is there a disturbing mix-up between state and party, but also worrisome use of state power for party politics.

Second, the public release unwisely confused “irresponsible” and “unpatriotic.” Blocking the nation’s roads would have been irresponsible, but what would have made it unpatriotic? Is public protest against a government unpatriotic?

Our history is filled with pivotal illegal protests against inequity and unjust rule. Contemporary politicians mimicking colonial governors should note that the goal isn’t to repress such protests, but to prevent them with good governance in the first place.

Protesting can be necessary as is blocking tractors when they are razing mangroves without a proper certificate of environment clearance or without necessary social impact and cost-benefit analyses, even when Jack Warner illegally brings the army with him to intimidate you.

Patriotism means loyalty to one’s country and its people. This has been twisted to mean loyalty to the government and state, but don’t get chain up. It takes patriotic citizens to resist secret deals and government irresponsibility.

Third, CoP Griffith, who once recommended rolling military tanks into Laventille, also warned against communicating and publishing any statement with a seditious intention.

Under Section 3(1a) of the Sedition Act Chapter 11:04, “a seditious intention is an intention to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection against Government or Constitution.”

This 1920 law has long been wielded against labour leaders and workers. Maybe the “mother of all marches” worried Minister Young, the way worker unity worried Dr Williams.

Uriah “Buzz” Butler, hero of the masses, was charged with sedition in 1937. Colonial police attempted “full force” in Fyzabad and Cpl Charlie King, who misunderstood the mood of protesting oilfield workers and who wanted to be hero, was burnt to death.

Months later, Elma Francois, a labour and pan-African organiser, with only a primary school education, was also charged with sedition. The first woman in the country to be so accused, she defended herself, discussing workers’ poverty and increasing taxation in her speech, and was unanimously found not guilty.

“Not a damn dog bark” has defined a PNM approach to dissent. I remember PM Manning sending the riot squad, in full military war gear, to unarmed, peaceful, responsible, legal and patriotic civil society gatherings. It was dark and undemocratic, and not a damn dog in the party barked.

“I don’t know that my speeches create disaffection, I know that my speeches create a fire in the minds of the people so as to change the conditions which now exist,” said Elma Francois at her defence.

Both minister and CoP should refrain from macho brandishing of law and police boots. Such authoritarianism is a red flag. It poorly chooses fear and obedience over mutual respect and trust. Luckily, there’s time for both men to learn from history, for people are not ready to shut down the country.

Not yet.

motheringworker@gmail.com

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