Dr. David Hinds
In our haste to be politically correct, to fall in step with broad notions of politics we often miss the essence of socio-political action that emanates from among the people. This is exactly the mistake that has been made by some people in the media, in the government and in High Civil Society in relation to some of the developments this election season. This is not a routine election. Yet many are treating it as such. But anyone who has some sense of the political motion of societies like Guyana understands why this is an election with a difference. This election is a moment of extreme rebellion. It has to be.
There is a collective instinct against disrespect that has long been part of the political culture in Guyana and the rest of the Caribbean. Slavery, Indentureship and Colonialism were not only political and economic atrocities; they were the highest form of disrespect for whole groups of people. Consequently emancipation and independence were also about the restoration of dignity and respect. It is no accident that our popular cultural expression is littered with sayings such as “ Respect Due,” “Nuff Respect,” “Have respect”, “ Don’t Disrespect Me” to name a few.
Our post-independence governments have taken for granted the Guyanese people yearning for respect. Their methods of exacting political loyalty, of settling political scores, of communicating with the public and of executing political governance in general are often disrespectful of citizens. None has been more guilty of this than the outgoing PPP government. The disrespect heaped on Guyanese people of all racial and socio-economic groups has been extreme. The reliance on bribery, discrimination, bullying, co-optation, window-dressing and fear-mongering as core approaches to governance has amounted to national disrespect for the people.
People may accept bribes out of desperation, but the assault on their self-esteem is often not lost on them. People may be silent in the face of discrimination, but the injustice is not lost on them. In moments of despair people may appear to succumb to fear-mongering, but the cynical use of their fear for political mileage is not lost on them. People often know the difference between public order and bullying, between economic policy and economic marginalization.
At some point silence gives way to vocal voices and fear gives way to courage. Rebellion. This is what is happening right before our eyes. Indian Guyanese are rebelling against the PPP’s disrespect for them—for believing that they are forever indentured to that party, for playing on their fears of ethnic domination, for treating them as collateral damage. Amerindians are standing up and rejecting the politics of periodic gifts and their treatment as political illiterates. African Guyanese are pushing back against marginalization and profiling them as bribe-takers and party-lovers.
We may be uncomfortable with their methods. But we must not brand their protest in sub-human terms such as hooligans, thugs, disrupters and mobs. We –the opinion shapers in the public media—failed them when they were being disrespected by those who were supposed to be custodians of their collective dignity. We were over-concerned with Macro this and Micro that and less concerned about the dignity of the ordinary woman and man.
If a political group goes to Buxton and Victoria and insult them they have every right not to listen. Those people deserve more than cuss down and buse out. They deserve more than the contempt from African Guyanese PPP members and supporters who in the face of the misery in the villages tell them what a wonderful life they are enjoying under the PPP.
How is the rhetoric from Mr. Jagdeo and other PPP leaders political campaigning while the protest of the Buxtonions and Victorians is political thugery? I am against violence of all stripes. But I say if the President can cuss down, then Buxtonions and Victorians can raise their voices in their own village. If the PPP can drown out the voices of AFC and APNU on NCN and in the Chronicle then the Buxtonions and Victorians can drown out the voice of the PPP in their own villages. Of that I am crystal clear.
David Hinds is an Associate Professor of Caribbean and African Diaspora Studies at Arizona State University in the USA. His writings on Politics in Guyana and the Caribbean can be found on his website: guyanacaribbeanpolitics.com