Standing on the road in front of the PM’s office on Tuesday, I had to shake my head that the Highway Re-route Movement and Wayne Kublalsingh are back under the hot sun. Respect and more power to them. They’ve been in this battle since 2005 and there is no doubt they are fed up, even as they stand firm.
They stood respectfully at the side of the road with their placards saying, Heritage Before Highway, Save Homes, Communities and Thousands of Acres of Agricultural Lands, Mega Money Project for Millionaires, and most wretchedly or perhaps powerfully of all, Listen Prime Minister, The Voice of Truth is the Voice of God. They’ve organized camps, sit-ins, protests, meetings and vigils. These are neighbours and members of humble families saying things other citizens of the republic are also saying or shouting or bawling every night on the news. Old and young are out in the sun to sort out the future of their own homes, but their struggle puts the rest of ours in clear view.
Our elites are all terrified of stepping out of their air-conditioned SUVs, they’re living in enclaves looking like upscale barraccoons, and moral national leadership will not come from them. These are business people, they do charity. As a class, they won’t be the ones who get laws into place for domestic workers’ rights or against illegal quarrying and for environmental sustainability. The poor are focused on getting water in their taps more than once a week or finding taxis that will work on bad roads or securing small work however they can, but when the state runs out of money or its debt payments are too high or when social impact assessments remain undone or when representation sheer fails, they are the ones who suffer most. They might be too busy trying to eat to think about the failures of democracy, good governance or unsustainable development, but these will reach in and starve them first, which is why thirty or so, everyday folk standing on the roadside saying ‘Abide by the Armstrong Report’ is our business too.
Watching them, I found myself wondering how this movement could do more than grab media headlines and public attention, how they could awake the sleeping giant of popular emotion, which is what made Wayne’s desperate hunger strike so successful last year, and what they could do to make other citizens from Icacos to Toco understand and care. If we don’t care, the PM won’t either. Progressive change is always a momentum from below, when citizens let politicians know that they will feel if they don’t hear. Like the Highway Re-route Movement, all most of us need is for those at the top to actually do the things they know are right, follow the rules, just even follow through. Then women, men and children wouldn’t have to stand in hot sun to find out if the PM will do what she knows she should without having to be told to.
It could be protests to protect mangroves from Movietowne or the savannah from Carlos John’s license to pave or Toco from a shipping port or Chatham from a smelter or heritage from a highway. Here we are again is all I could think as I got in my car to get Ziya from daycare and get myself to work, leaving Wayne and the others to struggle for decision-making processes that the nation is rightfully due. When government acts above the law, today it could be them, tomorrow it could be me or you.