Friday, November 27, 2009

More Remarks on the Referendum

Friday, 27 November 2009
The Conscience Vote, Rebellious Women and other Post-Referendum Matters

"Beware the Terrible Simplifiers"
Jacob Burckhardt
Swiss Historian

"They have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing."
Charles M. de Talleyrand
French Statesman

On 25th of November 2009 the Vincentian people declared that they did not want the 2009 Constitutional Reform Bill. Fine. Now that the process is over there is much to ingest. There are many things floating around my head as observe the reactions of various sectors of the population to the results.

On one hand there are those who are elated for several reasons. Firstly, they believe that the people have spoken and democracy has prevailed. Secondly some are elated because they believe that they have taught the comrade a lesson in humility, by rejecting his "gift" to the people of Sin Vincent. When I think about this I recall Ophelia returning Hamlet's gift and bemoaning "Rich gifts wax poor when givers prove unkind." Yet another set are elated or more so relieved because they believe that they have staved off our descent into dictatorship and communism.

On the other hand there are those who are weeping and gnashing their teeth, declaring that the country has suffered a huge setback at the hands of ignorant, backward "No" people, NDP people, illiterate, uneducated untutored people. Some sectors are no doubt worried that the perhaps the political tide/worm is turning against the incumbent. Which I believe is a legitimate worry, especially considering the 12% gap between the No and the Yes votes, especially considering that had this been a general election the incumbent would well have lost 11 of the 12 seats they now hold. Yes I can see why the "No" vote would be worrying for some.

I am neither elated or upset with the results. To my estimation, the 50,000+ voters (out of 70,000+ registered) turned out on the 25th came out with purpose and for that I am glad. I believe that this turn out is higher than in the election 0f 2005 which suggests that the people were mobilised and energised enough to exercise their right to vote.

I am, though, saddened that the process of constitutional reform has suffered such a blow. I feel, have felt and will support the thrust for a new constitution in St. Vincent and the Grenadines and I hope that this process will not be shelved. I also hope that a sincere scrutiny will be applied to discover why the process failed in the way it did. I hope that the powers that be will not be like the French Aristocrats, the House of Bourbon, who would have learnt nothing and forgotten nothing from the Storming of the Bastille in 1789. Considering the reactions, the very visceral reaction of the people on the streets of Kingstown, Campden Park and Sion Hill, Chateaubelaire and elsewhere, it may well be "of with their heads" next time.

This is not a threat. It is a simply musing on the logical extreme of current mood of the people. And it is this mood that was obviously misread by the political strategists of the day, and even one self-proclaimed "Don of Politics".

Throughout the campaign I watched with ire and sometimes with apathy, as the "Yes Campaign" deployed the tactics that the incumbent ULP has used in the two previous elections: the many entertainment shows and rallies, the posters, the billboards, the belittling promises, the arrogance, the nauseous self-aggrandisement, the extravagance, the waste. In my mind, while I knew fully that this was about constitutional reform I found it difficult to ignore the similarities between this campaign and the campaigns for government of 1998, 2001, and 2005. I imagine that many other persons would have noted these similarities as well. So if the people who are watching were unable to make the distinction, and in some cases voted along party lines, I find it hard to blame them, or tag them as being uneducated and backward the way many of the resident and non-resident Vincentian Bourbons have.

I also hope that the Vincentian Bourbons apply careful scrutiny to the way in which their "intellectual" message was not reaching many. I witnessed ads, from both sides, where people were expounding on what the constitution meant to them. In many cases, the speakers outlined very personal responses to the whole process, which some, "the Bourbons", summarily dismissed as representative of an uneducated, dull or ignorant mind. I marveled at the considerable gap between the House and the people featured in these ads. In my estimation these people are saying that the issue of constitutional reform does not fit within their hierarchy of needs, that the powers that be are not doing enough to address their needs, yet they want to divert their attention to a matter that only vaguely registers in their daily comings and goings. Call it what you will. But to look down at them, to underestimate their experiences is to make a colossal mistake. To do this is to terribly simplify their experiences and their world view.

To underestimate their intelligence and the intelligence of the "No" voters is to make an even greater error, it is in fact to be guilty of hubris. The number of "No" votes is not a simple reflection of a political party position. To think this is to retreat to a castle of smoke and mirrors and refuse to truthfully engage reality. Many of us, myself included, voted our conscience. We read the document, tried to make sense of it, compared it with the old document, the 1979 one, saw where it was improvement, saw where it wasn't, saw where it left us with an uneasy feeling in the pits of our stomachs and, having been forced to chose Yes or NO to the WHOLE thing, voted where our conscience guided us. If you ask us we would have much preferred to vote by sections and were patient enough to see it through. But no-one asked us, not really. Not in the end. Simple adjustments to language might have eased out consciences but by September 3rd it's too late. Our consciences could not be swayed, we could not have slept at night voting against our consciences. We simply couldn't.

In Praise of the Militant Women of the Referendum

I am tempted to unleash my anger at the arrogant pseudo-intellectuals of the Vincentian House of Bourbon. But instead I will let the words that drop from my mouth be as rich as diamonds and sapphires in praise of a neglected section of this whole campaign -the women. In the polling stations of East Kingstown, for example, only two of the agents for the NDP were men. This is only one constituency but it would be safe to say that women are the "back-bone" of the political machinery of this nation. Sadly they are often overlooked for their involvement in the process. I want to acknowledge the contribution of four women in particular .

Mrs. Anesia Baptiste: for her role in lifting the discussion of the reform process and for providing an alternative outlet, other than the political parties, for information on the document. I will admit that I do not always agree with her methods or even some of her philosophical positions, but she will undoubtedly be remembered for her role in educating the people on their rights. For that she is to be admired.

Nurse Margaret London: for her role in legally challenging the unconscionable spending of public funds on the Yes-Campaign and for proving that non-legal minds were more than capable of dissecting the document for consumption. She also highlighted the dangerously ambiguous "High Treason Clause" which many people had not realised was in document and which gave many of us pause.

Ms. Paulette Williams: for showing us that the church's involvement in this debate could be healthy and enlightening. I caught a few of her church's discussions on the television and followed with my copy of the document in hand, and came away a bit more aware than I was before.

Last but by no means least:

Mrs. Annis Bailey-Providence:
A woman of undeniable strength and courage. A woman whose steadfast commitment to the mobilisation of the people, to the laws that govern electoral matters and whose undying and unselfish commitment to her belief in the betterment of the people of St. Vincent and the Grenadines sees her getting up 4am each election for the last 20 years, working as a polling agent, keeping the process honest, whether her party wins or loses. A woman for whom I have tremendous admiration.

These women would not want us to hoist them on pedestals, but we must acknowledge their contribution and the many others like them who history may well gloss over. I see them as inspiration for our nations young girls and boys for their commitment to a movement bigger than themselves.

These are my many thoughts post-referendum day. However, I can guarantee you that they will not end with this blog post.

Yours soberly at 10pm on a Friday night in the aftermath,

Posted by Empath at 15:06
Labels: Home thoughts, Human Calculator, Philosophizing, Politics, St. Vincent


Will said...
Many of us, myself included, voted our conscience. We read the document, tried to make sense of it, compared it with the old document, the 1979 one, saw where it was improvement, saw where it wasn't, saw where it left us with an uneasy feeling in the pits of our stomachs and, having been forced to chose Yes or NO to the WHOLE thing, voted where our conscience guided us. If you ask us we would have much preferred to vote by sections and were patient enough to see it through. But no-one asked us, not really. Not in the end. 

and i think that this subsection of the voting public made up a larger percentage than we can imagine... to denigrate or speak slightingly of US (because this is where i fall) is to grievously insult rather a lot of people... and to suggest that "no" voters were easily led is to suggest that those of us with minds of our own have no significance in the grand scheme...

thanks for this post kandake... thanks for sharing your thoughts and thanks for highlighting the role of women in this struggle... someone referred to miss baptiste as a "game changer" (i think it was jerry george) and i completely agree - her clearly non-partisan insights truly helped me at times when i was confused... like you, i may not agree with all of her philosophical foundations, but i am in awe of her gumption and her steadfastness in standing up for her convictions - not enough of us do that in this country and she is to be highly commended...
27 November 2009 18:46