by: DR GODWIN FRIDAY Leader of the Opposition New Democratic Party
Fellow Vincentians, Friends, On our national birthday— our 42nd year of Independence— let us stand together as One Nation, One People meeting the challenges that confront us and embracing the opportunities that come our way. By the grace of God, with our own hands and the help of friends, we will build a brighter future for us all. No matter how difficult the circumstances, we must always give thanks to God for what we have achieved and remain hopeful and confident that our future will be brighter.
When we celebrate our independence, it is important to remember those who preceded us in this our national project; those who gave their blood, sweat and tears to help us to get to where we are today. To be sure, our struggle for nationhood began long before the attainment of independence in 1979; it was waged in the time of Chatoyer and built upon by successive generations of our people.
It is now our turn to do our part. We have an obligation to honour the legacy of our forebears, not only in memory and stories, but in how we conduct our lives today and in the way we commit ourselves to shaping our future.
Together, is the best way forward. Our resilience as a people and the strength of our community have been tested greatly over the past year. We have learned, painfully, what the COVID -19 pandemic really means for us and the threat it poses to our lives, health, and way of life. Today, our situation is worse than ever. We have lost too many lives and others have suffered serious illness and long-term effects. Our way of life has been disrupted in ways that we could not have imagined.
Our children have not been able to attend school in the classroom with their teachers and friends and have lost much in the process. Businesses and jobs have been lost.
We cannot celebrate the things that bring joy to our lives—to attend church as we wish, to truly celebrate weddings and birthdays, to enjoy cultural events like carnival and Easter regatta and to take part in sporting events like cricket tournaments and football games. Most painfully, we have been forced to bury our beloved dead without the usual large ceremonies, but only with a few to pay respects and witness last rites.
Too much is being lost during the pandemic, much of which can never be recovered. Let us recommit ourselves to limit and also prevent further loss. This means that we must all continue to protect ourselves and those around us. Let us continue to: wear a mask in public and to do so properly; wash or sanitize our hands frequently; protect others from our coughing and sneezing; social distance; avoid large gatherings; remain at home as much as possible; promote good health generally to strengthen our bodies; educate ourselves about available COVID-19 vaccines and decide to get vaccinated. These are things that each of us can do to combat COVID-19 and bring an end to the pandemic. In so doing, we will free ourselves to engage again with one another and to rebuild our lives, hopefully better than before.
Also, we must not forget the ongoing struggle of the people who were worst affected by the volcanic eruptions. They still need our help! When the mountain exploded and people were forced to seek refuge elsewhere, we as a nation promised to stand by them, and ensure that they would not have to bear this heavy burden by themselves. In the early days of the eruptions, we were magnificent!
Our people at home and abroad came together and opened our hearts and homes to help those who were displaced and in great need. Material supplies, money, shelter, kind words and prayers came in abundance. Many ordinary people in churches, NGOs, political organizations like our NDP helped to reach those in need.
Together, we persevered.
Such generosity of spirit is the cord that binds us as a people and which gives us hope for the future.
There is still a lot to be done for the people who have moved back to the northern communities.
The resources raised by government to aid recovery must be put to use to help them to get back on their feet. Homes must be repaired, farms rehabilitated, livestock replenished and local businesses re-established.
In the face of a global pandemic, a volcanic eruption, economic decline and poor governance, we are resilient and more determined than ever to overcome. In our crisis, we must persevere and rebuild. This will require a renewal in many aspects of life, including first and foremost a renewal of our faith in our Creator. It will also mean a renewed commitment to build a new SVG, with hope for a better future. It will include restoration in our nation, as we strive to restore broken relationships, our broken economy and our damaged businesses and shattered dreams. We must also seek to restore the less visible but equally important things in our lives: restore justice and equality, restore our humanity, and restore good governance in our country. Further, we must insist that the needs of our people remain front and centre not just at election time as some would have it, but at all times. Political leadership led astray by selfishness and arrogance must give way to the politics of humility and service. It is not too much to expect political leaders to submit themselves to the will and interests of the people, for to do so is the very essence of democracy.
Sadly, we have seen in recent months that our democracy is not secure.
When confronted by citizens exercising their democratic right to speak out and to stand up in our streets in protest against government policies and police oppression, the state has chosen to suppress that expression, to invade the homes and the office of activists, and to prosecute perceived protest organizers and participants.
We cannot accept in our 42nd year of independence that our democratic rights and freedoms would be reduced to less than they were earlier in our national journey. We must not accept that the attainment of independence, instead of enlarging those rights, would diminish them. That was not the hope of Robert Milton Cato and those who led this small and beautiful country into nationhood.
They believed that the attainment of independence promised much more and expected that each succeeding generation would deliver on that promise.
So, when we demand transparency and accountability in government, we are heeding that call and delivering on that promise. When we protest peacefully and resolutely in the streets of Kingstown against draconian legislation and an emerging police state, we are keeping faith with that promise.
Such actions must transcend partisan political alignments and uphold the common good.
I am encouraged by the willingness of our people to stand and be counted in our time of peril. When La Soufriere erupted, when the COVID-19 pandemic emerged and now that it rages unabated among us, and when we recognized the attack on our democracy, including the use of excessive force by the police, the people here at home and in our far-flung diaspora offered their voices, their treasure, and their prayers in service of fellow Vincentians and the nation. In this lies our hope for a secure and brighter future.
May God Bless us and keep us. One Nation, One People!