We are into the last weekend of the month we dub Emancipation Month. Clearly a misnomer because whatever limited activities we have are centred on the actual emancipation anniversary day. Interestingly or perhaps ironically, it was one hell of a month with persons on the streets on several days, but particularly August 5 protesting for rights, which our ancestors hoped they had won on 1st August 1838.
Freedom then was rather a paper creation, for all sorts of hurdles, legal and otherwise were put in their way to circumscribe what they were told they were given. In fact, it was what they had fought for, because although those who controlled power tended to pay lip service to the role of the enslaved, there is no denying that the Haitian revolution, the 1816 Barbados revolt that led to the declaration of Martial law in St. Vincent, the 1823 Demerara revolt and that of Jamaica in 1831 had an impact. As Eric Williams noted it was emancipation from above or from below, but it was going to be emancipation anyway. Those in the British Parliament might have been reminded of these when one member brought to their attention during the debate, news that there were disturbances on the ‘Carib Country’ estates in St. Vincent. In any event the reality was that a journey had begun. One hundred and eighty three years after, the children of the newly freed must be wondering about that journey. Those who took to the streets on August 5 voicing their disapproval with measures that were being discussed and eventually passed in the wee hours of the morning must have been saying to themselves that they had concerns that needed to be taken into account; that those who opposed the measures needed to be consulted. It was no longer a question of government and opposition in parliament, for many of those on the streets were not necessarily members or supporters of the official opposition in parliament. I continue to maintain that in situations as existed then, prior consultations with different groups, civic, political, religious, NGOs, trade unions, are important. It was even more so with the issue of vaccinations, especially if being made mandatory.
Admittedly there is a lot of confusion and things are still being worked through with the medical authorities and experts at times back tracking on previous positions, and still trying to come to grips with new data. Lots of questions remain that could have been answered or at least addressed at some level.
There were of course other issues, the Cornelius John affair, concerns about the administration of justice, the searching of homes looking for ammunition and seizing of phones and computers, the growing view that there appears to be different systems of justice. Arising out of all of this is the appearance that efforts are being made to put blocks in the way of peaceful protests. It must dawn on us that in another five or six weeks we will be into the month of the anniversary of Independence. October 27 is another milestone on that journey that began in 1838. The mission was to end colonial rule or control and to put the governance of the country fully into the hands of Vincentians. We still owe allegiance to the British monarchy and still give our people ‘imperial’ honours. But central to all of this was to ensure a meaningful democracy.
There is a misunderstanding in some quarters as to what democracy entails. Some of us still equate it with the five minutes we spend in a polling booth every five years or so. One sometimes gets the impression from the way politicians function that once they are elected to office the people have little say until the next election. True democracy involves much more. People need to be consulted, there has to be more dialogue, freedom of expression must be recognised, the right to protest should remain as is the right to express views contrary to those that hold power, and ideas must contend. Of course, it is never a free all. There is a constitution that must guide how we operate. In any event let democracy reign!
Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian