R. Rose
March 18, 2016

Mass protests call for creativity and sound basis

Ever since the contentious general elections of December last, it is plain that there are persons in our midst who not only are not satisfied with the outcome (not unusual in our context), but are not prepared to accept the results.

In particular, the opposition New Democratic Party (NDP), as it is entitled to do, has mounted a challenge against the results, both in the courts as well as by protest action.{{more}}

These have not so far yielded any positive results and while waiting for the court hearing, the leadership of that party is presented with a challenge of its own. How does one maintain momentum, keep interest and the spirits of supporters high, as the matter drags out? It is a situation which many other parties in opposition have faced and calls for a great deal of creativity.

Over the last three months, the protests have been mutating in character, the goalposts moving along with the changes. The focus shifted from early allegations over a polling station, to that in the constituency, then to another constituency, and then to the election as a whole. Even the right of the beleaguered Supervisor of Elections to engage in office work outside normal hours came in for questioning.

Combined with the protests, centred outside the Electoral office, the Opposition also chose to boycott the sittings of Parliament. This is not a new tactic as far as politics is concerned but must be applied creatively in order to gain maximum effect. Whether that will be done is left to be seen, but the response of the Government, in bringing legislation to punish the boycotters financially, is not an action with which I agree, as I have said already.

In continuing its allegations of fraud, the Opposition is clearly, wittingly or unwittingly, expressing not only its disagreement with the conclusions of the teams of international observers, here for the elections, but also its lack of confidence in their findings. Interestingly, that lack of confidence is not shared by the government of the USA, in which the NDP seemed to have a lot of faith. The new US Ambassador to the Eastern Caribbean, Her Excellency Linda Tagliatela, is quoted by SEARCHLIGHT as not only acknowledging awareness of the Opposition’s electoral fraud charges, but also saying that her government “believes in what the CARICOM (Observer) team said” about the elections.

But I was talking mutation, and that is what has happened to the protests. The NDP has apparently taken its face off the street protests, while supporting them. In its place is a hodge-podge motley crew, operating under various names, the latest being “We the People”. It is a poor attempt at trying to put together a popular front for mass action, as has happened several times in our rich history.

I have said time and again that if one does not understand the dynamics of 1981, 1983, or 2000, then it is impossible to try and replicate those in today’s conditions. Harking back to what the ULP did, or did not do in 2000, constantly referring to the “roadblock revolution” will do no good.

Each of the mass movements of our time had their own peculiarities but none of them was a creature of political parties. The lack of experience in organizing is clear as is the failure to understand the complexities of working to build a mass movement. You cannot stay aloof from, and even sometimes be hostile to civil society and hope to be part of, or lead a credible mass movement.

When one makes such observations, the reaction is hostile criticism, but it is for the good of the country and for the democracy we purport to uphold, that such lessons be learnt.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.