Noble: Bringing it home—the cost of dodgy protests and political own goals

The problem is not the dragging of the coffin—as loathsome as that may be. The problem is not the use of coarse language and the electrifying of the voter base.

The problem is the ongoing corrosion of our society, where boorish folk and screaming bullies are greeted as heroes by some. It is like the dripping of water on stone, the hollowing out of our norms until we become savages fighting over the proverbial scraps.

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) joins activist Victor Roberts in a ‘March for Democracy’ on 27 November 2021, as part of protests against the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via UNC)

We must do better than this if we wish to save our homeland.

The silence of those charged with managing the Code of Ethics for our politicians reminds us, ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil’ (Bonhoeffer).

Freedom to protest is the cornerstone of democracy. While those who faithfully obey have a right to be concerned about those who break the laws, we must recognise that many advances come from such tactics. 

Protests can be sprawling affairs or quiet ones that seek to correct abuses. While there is no absolute right to protest, we should be reluctant to declare an absolute wrong about their timing and place. We should not seek civility at the expense of righting wrongs. 

Yet, there is a line that ought not to be crossed. We have to be careful not to be corrupted by self-interest and the lust for power.

Photo: UNC activists Victor Roberts (left) and Renision Jeffrey put a coffin on display in front of the Valsayn home of Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh on Christmas Day 2021.
(Copyright Trinidad Guardian)

Focusing on a public official’s home also crosses the line. The wife and children do not participate in the decisions made by the public official. We ought not to intimidate the family members by association, since we all wish to be judged based on who we are. 

Righting a wrong does not justify inflicting a wrong on others or removing their rights. Common decency demands such. 

A family in a private home is in a different space from one in an official residence. The public official has a constituency office and a place of work. In this case, the official holds nationally broadcast media conferences. His work venues are open to political activity. 

Targeting the homes of public officials is dangerous. It risks violence and is misguided since it misunderstands political power and protests. 

The official is not a problem when he is at home; it is what he does at work that is problematic. While one may get a thrill from protesting at the person’s house, protests aim to persuade others to see the justice of the cause. The system, not the unfortunate wife or child, causes the pain. 

Photo: Minister of Health Terrence Deyalsingh addresses journalists during a virtual media conference on 7 May 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

Picketing is a form of political argument, and the intent is to politicise and dramatise the injustice. The goal of the protest is to generate outrage and empathy from potential supporters. 

A protest at an official’s home can be interpreted as vindictive bullying and, therefore, counterproductive.

John Rawls, the American philosopher, defined civil protests as a ‘public, non-violent and conscientious breach of law undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies’. 

Being at a house misses the mark; it is not public. Were it not for a solitary Guardian photographer recording the incident, how would the public become aware?  

Consider the famous 1969 Bus Strike that challenged the introduction of the Industrial Stabilization Act, which sought to constrain the unions. The confrontation took place at the bus terminus and was the joint action of the Transport and Industrial Workers Union (TIWU) and the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU). 

Photo: Then San Francisco 49ers players Colin Kaepernick (centre) and Eric Reid (right) kneel in protest during the plaaying of the American National Anthem prior to their NFL game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Levi’s Stadium on 23 October 2016. (Copyright Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Or the March 1986 anti-apartheid protest at the Oval against four cricketers who had played in South Africa. 

Along with the Bloody Tuesday march in 1985, these fulfilled the first principle of civil disobedience: it must be public. One does not privately ambush the public figure. 

Being conscientious requires acting at the location of the injustice, which emphasises the moral appeal. The open demand accompanies an acceptance of being arrested. Courting arrest is the point since it draws attention to the injustice and the system that inflicts it. 

The unwillingness to be arrested made the Anti-vaxx protests at the Queen’s Park Savannah a pappyshow (Newsday, November 2021). ‘Yuh cyar play mas and fraid powder!’ 

The attempt by the political partisans to distance themselves from this offensive failure is ludicrous on two grounds. Their visible prior support and the activist’s parroted lines draw a direct line to the ownership of the notion. 

Photo: UNC political leader Kamla Persad-Bissessar (centre) joins activist Victor Roberts (left) in La Brea on 27 November 2021, to protest against the Government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic.
(via UNC)

The dragging of the coffin, which morphed from an initial ‘Democracy is dead’ positioning, was touted as a statement ‘against the Government’s gross mismanagement of the pandemic’ and the ‘collapse of the parallel health system’. 

Yet, help is on the way. The Government’s ‘Weakest Link’ cannot resist attempts to be popular through dodgy actions. But people are not idiots. They see the obvious, and when the officials refuse to admit their complicit greediness, this fuels mistrust. 

Public anger rises when friends of high officials do as they please while the ordinary person is being asked to abstain as an act of civic duty. It is not a joke when these officials laugh at those who voted for them. It is a colossal miscalculation, an own goal.

As Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj told Jack Warner in November 2012 about the Section 34 march, ‘It is not a UNC issue, it is not a PNM issue… it is a people issue… not an Indian issue, an African issue or a Chinese issue. This is (a) Trinidad and Tobago issue.’ 

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (right) and Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi have a word in Parliament on 21 October 2021.
(Copyright Office of the Parliament 2021)

Bumbling the Covid messaging is a Trinidad and Tobago issue, guaranteed to bring the chickens home. 


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