We, the people . . . better watch out!
WE THE PEOPLE . . . Your Voice In Our Government is obviously not a Barbadian website!
Because we the people of Barbados are, in critical ways, locked out of our governance. It is, unfortunately, not an oversimplification to say that we vote and then for five years or thereabouts we either spectate or grumble impotently and unacknowledged at any lunacy we encounter from the powers that be.
Our systems (or lack thereof) and the traditions essentially enshrined by the governing politicians virtually dictate that that is our “democratic” lot.
(If you really want to know, We The People is a White House website that facilitates the petitioning of the United States government by its citizens.
In its introduction, the website says: “We The People provides a new way to petition the Obama Administration to take action on a range of important issues facing our country . . . . If a petition gets enough support, White House staff will review it, ensure it’s sent to the appropriate policy experts, and issue an official response.”
Interestingly, this further explanation is given: “We The People helps the White House understand the views of the American people and have a focused and civil conversation (italics mine) with them.”)
A focused and civil conversation. The recent transfers of teachers to and from The Alexandra School brought into sharp focus how our democracy is further compromised by the absence of such conversation and the short shrift usually dealt us by those who are supposed to be our servants.
Government acted and in response to the litany of concerns expressed has simply been saying, in essence, “What I have done I have done.” (Remember Pilate’s answer in John 19:22? “What I have written I have written [and to hell with you]” – well, he didn’t actually say that last part, but the sentiment was clearly implied.)
In a matter in which the relevant ministry’s actions have created an undoubted mess, there is not to be found (from our leaders) accountability, an explanation of complexity or some such thing, a concession that they might have got some aspects wrong – a human face.
Ah mean to say, the only autotronics teacher at a school that does autotronics is “traded” to a school that does not do the subject and for someone who can’t teach it; a netball teacher takes the place of an outstanding cricket coach – so that one school with a growing cricket reputation now has an all-female physical education department and the other trying to move up in the netball world has no netball coach.
I en done. The ministry goes beyond the recommendations of a commission of inquiry set up to investigate the matter – and without any other investigation that we the people know of.
And then there is the gnawing feeling that the only reason you would “use a sledgehammer to crack a nut” must be to do some serious damage to those who were “nutty” enough to take a certain course.
I daresay the executers (I did not say executioners!) have been bolstered in this rot by some who either naively or spitefully have given an easy pass to the aloofness, arrogance, lack of accountability, absence of transparency, and possible vindictiveness of the powers that be – because they agree with the “remedy”).
The seeming issue is often not the biggest issue, people.
We, the people . . . . Hmmnnnnn. So many can’t seem to see in this matter the extending of a roughshod democracy, satisfied as they are with convenient references to “the children” and “transfers are nothing new” and “you wanted Broomes separated and you got it, so what’s the problem?”
But then again, we have been long complicit in our mistreatment, taking a fool’s comfort in call-in programmes and in calypsos that supposedly speak “truth to power”. Listen, folks: speaking truth to power is usually a waste of time in the Caribbean. The power/powers that be go in the tent and laugh and walk away laughing at our “social commentary”. In more sound democracies, speaking truth to power matters.
Here, the talk, the songs are not adjuncts to action as they are in more robust democracies. Here, they are ends in themselves. No boon to activism. Not even agitation.
In the realm of calypso, we like to say “Dah song hard” or “Dat is a real serious song” even as nothing is done or the situation worsens.
It is probably the case that using calypsonian mouthpieces, in particular, ironically weakens our Caribbean democracies by lulling people into a dangerous satisfaction that their concerns are being put out there, while neither they nor the calypsonians – playing their role in the masquerade that is so much a part of our carnivals – do anything to advance the cause. The politicians? Ditto.
We the people have settled for little.
• Sherwyn Walters is a writer who became a teacher, a song analyst, a broadcaster and an editor. Email [email protected]