‘Barbadians “rediscover” their spirit of protest… not a moment too soon’ BY Robert Edison Sandiford, Co-Founder: ArtsEtc Barbados

  • “We are getting back in tune with our revolutionary tradition…our tradition of activism.” David Comissiong, commenting July 22, 2014, on Barbadians’ current protests against the new municipal solid waste tax
  • “A democracy that promotes criticism and discussion, especially when it is against the very seat of power, is always a stronger democracy.” Roy Morris in his July 23, 2014, In the Public Interest column in Barbados’ Midweek Nation, discussing “the public relations nightmare that they [the Democratic Labour Party] have been so skillfully crafting from early in their first term”
  • “If you live long enough, you will hear me being beatified. Just be patient.” Freundel Stuart, Barbados’ Prime Minister, dismissing his political critics in an interview with the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation April 26, 2011
{IMAGE VIA - ArtsEtcBarbados.com} Barbados protests.  Image based on caribbean360.com photo, Copyright 2014.

{IMAGE VIAArtsEtcBarbados.com} Barbados protests. Image based on caribbean360.com photo, Copyright 2014.

Bajans are too peaceful. Bajans are too patient. Bajans complain and complain - but that’s all they ever do… These are the comments I’ve heard from people across this country during the last nine months as the island’s economic situation has worsened, unpopular (if not questionable) austerity measures have been put in place by government, and the people’s relationship with their most reticent leader has soured. All these assertions seemed to be the case until recent protests against the new municipal solid waste tax; that was when I was reminded of something my sister, a criminal lawyer in Canada, has observed about inertia and irksomeness. A person won’t move toward change, she says, no matter how obviously or badly needed, until something sticks her hard enough to cause her such discomfort, such displeasure, that she can no longer ignore the offense. Then it’s as if the person wakes up. Then, and only then, is the person roused to what one hopes is purposeful action.

And so it has been with the protests in Barbados against the solid waste tax, but also against public-sector layoffs and a lack of apparent sympathy for the very people the Stuart administration was elected to lead. Not rule. There is a difference.

To paraphrase from James Carmichael’s classic cricket story “Not Enough,” this little island of ours has survived and prospered for over 350 years with only two major slave rebellions (1675, 1816) and a three-day riot (1937). Our history is not quiet, as AE editor Linda M. Deane has noted in this space and Sir Hilary Beckles has pointed out elsewhere; it is unquiet. We may, actually, be more stoic than patient. And although it’s true that, individually, we tend to grumble-and-do, there have been those occasions when we clearly felt, as a people, that we had had enough of a perceived injustice, and would move to see that injustice come to an end. This is also who we are.

Protesting theunjust

All democratic processes are engendered by protest. This is particularly true in countries like Barbados, with a history of colonization and slavery, of Emancipation and Independence struggles. Opposition parties, large or small, are the people’s greatest protest groups–in government. The man and woman and even child on the street with an alternative, viable view of life in Barbados to the party in power is the source of all legitimate protest in this country. The right to protest is like the right to vote; we each have a say, whether we agree or disagree, whether we get our way or not, regardless of race, social class or religion.

Until the irksomeness of the solid waste tax, which has been called everything from “unjust” and “onerous” to ill-timed and ill-explained, Bajans of all stripes seemed almost to have forgotten this. Almost. Our history is closer to us than most of the young might think. We have ten National Heroes. We’ve celebrated them annually since April 28, 1998. From Methodist abolitionist Sarah Ann Gill to cricket legend and sports icon Sir Garfield Sobers, they are all revolutionaries. They are also who we are.

And we don’t take any decision to protest lightly. We understand its personal cost. We’ve seen writers, social activists and trade unionists – men like Clennell Wickham, T.T. Lewis and Clement Payne -find themselves in exile because of their sense of social justice and respect for the will of their people. We’re aware, too, in an island no more than 166 square miles, of the need to get along in dry season as well as rainy season…because all seasons inevitably end. The social and economic costs of protest are a couple other real fears we have. Who will visit our beaches if they must be patrolled by the Barbados Defence Force? Fourteen people died, 47 were wounded and over 400 were arrested the last time there was rioting in the streets of Barbados.

The problem with politicians

What Bajans have apparently remembered in the last few weeks – again, as if we could ever forget – is what there is to gain through necessary protest for anyone who cares about this country. And there’s plenty.

A sense of justice for all. More full and proper airing of views. The exercising and testing of our democracy. An understanding, crucial to pass on to our young–the true pride from which our next generation of leaders must spring–that the world can be made better through active, positive change. And, in this way, a deeper appreciation of the greater people we are or can be.

Robert is the author of two short story collections, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall (Empyreal Press/The Independent Press, 1995) and The Tree of Youth (DC Books, 2005); the graphic novels Attractive Forces (NBM, 1997), Stray Moonbeams (NBM, 2002) and Great Moves (NBM, 2010); a travel memoir, Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle (DC Books, 2003); and edited with Linda M. Deane Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology (AE Books, 2007), and Green Readings, Barbados: The First Five Years (AE Books, 2012).  He has worked as a journalist, book publisher, video producer (with Warm Water Productions), and teacher.  He has won awards for both his writing and editing, including Barbados’ Governor General’s Award of Excellence in Literary Arts and the Harold Hoyte Award, respectively.

Robert is the author of two short story collections, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall (Empyreal Press/The Independent Press, 1995) and The Tree of Youth (DC Books, 2005); the graphic novels Attractive Forces (NBM, 1997), Stray Moonbeams (NBM, 2002) and Great Moves (NBM, 2010); a travel memoir, Sand for Snow: A Caribbean-Canadian Chronicle (DC Books, 2003); and edited with Linda M. Deane Shouts from the Outfield: The ArtsEtc Cricket Anthology (AE Books, 2007), and Green Readings, Barbados: The First Five Years (AE Books, 2012).
He has worked as a journalist, book publisher, video producer (with Warm Water Productions), and teacher.
He has won awards for both his writing and editing, including Barbados’
Governor General’s Award of Excellence in Literary Arts and the Harold Hoyte Award, respectively.

Why some of our politicians in particular, some of the most polished, professional protesters the region has ever seen, would tell us differently may be cause for worry. They act as if all protests are violent in nature. I would agree that all forms of genuine protest are inherently passionate, even aggressive; that they must be to succeed. It’s rather like calypso. Did we not sing along with the Mighty Gabby when he reminded those in power “dah beach is mine,” a public right and not private preserve? We still do! Were we not grateful for his cautionary “Boots” about the dangers of an over-militarized Caribbean island? Was not “Emmerton” judged one of the top Barbadian songs of all time in a national poll because it was such an effective and affecting protest song against forced government relocation? {THE REST OF THIS BRILLIANT & WAY OVERDUE SOCIAL COMMENTARY ON BARBADOS CAN BE FOUND BY CLICKING here!}

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