Voices of reason prevail

Commentary by A.A. Fenty
Stabroek News
July 10, 1998

Even as I wondered, through this column, last week why the voices of the majority weren't being lifted against violent protest, thuggery and hooliganism in the streets, a `Public Assembly' was convened outside St George's Cathedral last week Wednesday afternoon.

I had lamented that too many voices of decent, law-abiding citizens were muted or just silent in fear (?) as law-breaking, mob-rule and menace triumphed - if even temporarily. I wondered too, why no peace rallies, no demonstrations in support of the police and non-violent approaches to problems were convened. Then some group had the courage to confront violence, lawlessness and a threatening anarchy, and I felt so pleased.

I loved that Cathedral-front gathering. Never mind the `peaceful protesters' did their best to stop others from exercising their rights - never mind the mini-mob threw stones and vulgarities at peaceful speakers. Never mind the crowd which attended the assembly was small compared to the PNC's Monument Meetings. A collective voice for reason and peace was raised. And I'm sure it was heard and appreciated.

This column acknowledges the gesture of including its views in a publication distributed at that meeting of peace. Actually, it is almost impossible for anyone to argue convincingly against the views expressed in the "voices of reason" booklet and at the meeting. And how could anyone - including the Caribbean leaders - not heed young St Lucian Prime Minister Anthony's quote from Martin Carter "... all are involved... all are consumed!" Reason, it seemed, prevailed in Castries.

I say that these meetings for peace and law and order should continue. Civic groups, political parties and young people should convene meetings at public halls, in villages, at bus terminals to promote peaceful resolutions. And peaceful people must suggest solutions at these gatherings. Yes, discrimination, victimisation and corruption must be confronted exposed and eliminated. Peacefully, persons from the markets, the unions, the professional bodies must now approach the Mayors and the Ministers, the Preachers and the Prime Minister and the President with their verifiable grouses. And they must be heard and attended to.

We don't need lawless mobs, bomb scares and rampaging hordes to exact justice. Constant peaceful confrontation, workplace, watchdog committees and the anti-discrimination legislation can and must work. Let certain ambitious PNC lawyers organise and attend to all that.

What did they achieve?
Forget, if only for a few minutes, what the leader regales his young faithful and old, stalwart die-hards with. The Monument Meetings and Rallies have their purpose. You can't argue with that - if the intent is peaceful and constructive.

But what did the violence, the burnings and the bombings achieve for the organisers and perpetrators? Deep down in your conscience, consciousness and kerreh, all that which was agreed to in St Lucia, was it new? Was it unknown? Any `breakthrough'? This is no time to gloat, but the hard fact is: the street protests - replete with lawlessness and crime, and the PNC leader achieved nothing new, nothing substantial. And level-headed Guyanese, deep down, know this. Notwithstanding claims to the contrary.

In a sense, the organisers of the protests did demonstrate how to disrupt decent life; how to create fear and uncertainty; how to intimidate; how to provide cover for professional criminals and how to stifle reason. All negative achievements!

In the end, the people achieved some respite from crime, bomb scares and the whole gamut of undesirable activity. They have regained some semblance of order and breathing space to do business. How long will this last? How much faith in the St Lucia Agreement? I say the majority - most of the people must decide.

Recognising Janet Jagan
Look, I appreciated how Lance Carberry - the new PNC - frontliner felt. I understand how the fiercely Afro-centric ACDA, Pan-Africanist - types feel. Having Janet Jagan as Head of government.

I know too that, no matter how it is passed off, rationalised, the issue of non-acceptance has to do with race! Janet Jagan is Caucasian, `not born here'. (Incidentally, I wonder how they would react to say Christopher Nascimento or Ian McDonald as President?) And I still hear the protesters, the vendors of a certain affiliation and persuasion in daily condemnation of the elected head. And yes, even I had and have reservations over the holder of the Presidency. But again, I ask, where are the voices of the majority who support and elected Mrs Jagan?

Now, I know what additional discredit and names I'll earn after this particular piece. Gosh, what `young black professionals' and the big old truck will think of me now. But believe it or not, this portion was inspired and influenced by a staunch, proud Afro-Guyanese Bishop!

Janet Jagan is not being recognised by the PNC against the following background: she is nearly 78 years. (I feel she should enjoy the presence of her grands. Cheddi did not seize the opportunity.) She has been resident in Guyana for fifty-five years - longer than most Guyanese still alive and still here. She has been active in trade-unionism, women's rights movement and politics for all of those fifty-five years.

Internationally, recognised long before her presidency, she withstood years of persecution alongside her husband. Perhaps inspired by Golda Meir, Mrs Bandaranaike, Indira Gandhi, Violetta Chamorro and Margaret Thatcher, she has survived seven months of violent protests, the most degrading personalised attacks and racist animosities. I predict that only natural causes - or a downright insane, misguided agent - will force her to stop doing what she is doing. Or her very own choice.

I know why our women's groups and other bodies are reluctant and shy to praise this steely, gritty grandmother of a politician and leader who recently declared, "I don't demand that anybody like me." But this lady who took flying lessons and meant to go to World War II, must earn some kudos once again. The quiet envy within should give way to some open admiration and praise. But I know the feeling `born Guyanese'. Hawley says, `envy would get you nowhere'. Frankly speaking, even I might prefer a browner, darker, president. But for now I make bold to say, hail the lady!

Until ....
1) Bishop Edghill explained to me why more Church leaders don't speak out against wrong-doing by politicians. I'll have his views replayed.

2) Aliyah and Odetta: Aliyah topped the `Common Entrance' exams this year. Her future seems relatively secure. I wish the same is true for Odetta (Giddings) who just topped the GNS/SIMAP vocational Skills Training Programme. The latter is a worthy project. Let's expand this and find Odetta a good job!

3) Two Prime Ministers: Kenny Anthony worked at CARICOM and knows Georgetown well. Sir James Mitchell knows the Essequibo Coast and rice well. Hence, the St Lucia Agreement?

4) More C's - Carter, Cross, Church, CARICOM.

5) Can I, or anyone, join up the ACDA Unit Trust?

6) Report Next Week: A Personal Viagra Victory!

7) Ok, ok, ok! I give up! Brazil!!

'Til next week!