We must protest against the protestors

Cassandra's Candid Corner

Stabroek News
May 13, 2001

You have already read the piece about the protesting lady who was weeping and gnashing her teeth at the thought of five seconds more of PPP governance (CCC 29.04.01). And you may have seen Ravi Dev's programme on Indian Survival, during which, in picturesque speech, he compared the protesters who solved their poverty problems by beating, burning, looting and murder with the equally marginalised others who protest in a different way, namely by scrunting in one lowly measly paid job while they moonlight by catching shrimp in a canal at 3 o'clock in the morning, an exercise which has now proven itself to be quite dangerous.

N.B. Mr Dev notwithstanding the wisdom he offers has to be admonished for inferring publicly who killed Bemchand, Mervyn and Dhanpaul and why they were killed on Long Dam. Until all the evidence has been collected, one just cannot be prosecutor, judge and jury.

Anyway, I was about to share my own thoughts about all these protestors and all this protesting.

As a young student, I was somewhat involved in protest activity all over Europe. It was a right of passage when one graduated upwards within the World Federation of Democratic Youth, which was opposed to the West-supported International Union of Students (or whatever it was called). But being in the science stream, I just did not have the time to travel to the metropolises and along the highways and byways in the manner of my colleagues in the social sciences. They seemed never to have exams and the pressure of being forced to absorb immense quantities of subject matter in order to graduate from one term to another. I envied these professional protestors.

We part-time activists would, for example, run across the border, pelt the visiting Shah of Iran and then return quickly to the security of our respective campuses - while our colleagues in the host country got all the credit/blame for opposing "Peacock" Pahlavi's opulence, corruption and abuse of human rights. We would sit in conference and plan who would go to which country and to what to whom - all as part of our self-defined destiny to erode and destroy parasitic and exploitative capitalism. It is these cabals of intrigue of yesteryear that convince me that the protestors and protesting of today are not spontaneous happenings, just as Hamas/Hizbullah actions are not coincidental to the perpetuation of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Even then I recognised that we were just BS...ing. Our protests were first and foremost and singularly about protesting. A long time later came the ideology, if ever. We invented causes du jour and consciously stimulated ourselves to a crescendo of vexation. But, you know, we were all relatively well off. Those who didn't have massive stipends were on scholarships. None of us were actually experiencing personal sufferation. However, we perceived global oppression carried out by the fascists, militarists and imperialists. Someone once said that people without children have pets, and those without pets have causes. In retrospect, it seems now that we needed just to fill vacancies in our lives. And since we didn't do drugs, we made protesting into our art form. And we were serious - or should I say self righteous.

It never occurred to us (like it never occurred to that lady on the bridge who was complaining about the PPP to just look around and see the development in her village) that though it was right and laudable to protest against Apartheid and Ian Smith, we never took to the streets against Amin and Emperor Bokassa and Papa Doc and other international thugs. It was de rigueur to damn Salazar and Franco while praising Todor Zhivkov, the dictator of Bulgaria, a genuinely nasty piece of business.

Now I ask myself whether it is so different today. Commentators, Talk Show Hosts, economists, social scientists, trade unionists, politicians and even foreigners (e.g. NGOs) all tell us that the other side has vested interest which necessitates the subjugation and marginalisation of one group or the other. And, of course, we cannot let that happen. We must take a stand. We must protest. And, if need be, we must disrupt and destroy - immediately, physically and directly. Obviously, the long term consequence of protest is much worse. For one thing, the psychological trauma associated with terror lives with a nation for a long time, perhaps forever. After the brutality in McKenzie during one fateful week in the early sixties, Indians moved out never to return. The school children (and their families) on the lower East Coast who have lived through the nonsense of the last few weeks would have gained a shattering experience which will most likely be indelible. And you can be sure, not lastly due to the travel advisory issued by some of the embassies here, that there will be no stampede of visitors and investors to our shores. What, dear Lord, have these few people under the pretext of protest, wrought upon our dear land.

By the way, who are the protestors anyway? Several village elders to their credit, not lastly Buxton itself, have distanced themselves from the brutality. I would wager that if a poll were taken on the issue of protestors' actions, the majority of residents of those villages would roundly condemn the nonsense. I posit that these protestors represent a small critical (criminal?) mass with its own agenda. And I am not convinced that this agenda is wholly political, if at all.

On whose behalf are they protesting? Surely not on behalf of those who lose money when their shops have to be closed, and definitely not in the name of those whose blood is spilled on the streets and on the backdams. Not on behalf of the jobless either, since the jobs cannot be created in an atmosphere of social instability. The crude reality is that the protestors who create tension have not been chosen by the masses of law abiding citizens to be their spokesmen. Since they are unelected, they are then only accountable to themselves. They have anointed themselves to be spokesmen of the "perepheralised", the "poor", the "disenfranchised", the same fed-up people who would now damn them for their mayhem and counterproductive activities.

The idiocy must stop. Not one of us, with the exception of the criminal elements, should remain silent, for in this case, silence is a betrayal of decency, is cowardice and is even suicidal. Martin Luther King in a letter from the Birmingham City Jail pointed out that his generation would have to repent not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people. He argued that if you see the truth and cease to speak what you see, it is the day you begin to die. We just cannot allow these "protestors" to tyrannise Civil Society. To be silent is to become an agent, an accomplice of the tyranny. Silence is the voice of complicity.

Now I know that the common man feels powerless to prevent the excesses of a few, but we are the majority and it is time the majority itself should become the genuine protestors, agitating for civility and against thuggery. You can start by fingering those person or persons who killed the Long Dam three.