By Alvette E. Jeffers
I am not in the habit of telling political people what to do unless I am asked. So it may be considered presumptuous of me to pen this article to Barbudans. I ask for your understanding because I write this with the full conviction that Barbuda has something to teach the world. Neither the size of its population and the island, nor its present economic status and other infrastructural problems, exclude it from creating something fresh which others would have to stop and ponder. It is its present predicaments which afford it the unique opportunity to begin anew.
Since Hurricane Irma devastated the island in 2017, Barbuda has attracted international attention. People all over have shown empathy and have demonstrated that empathy with their gifts. Some of these gifts have never reached the people. The well of empathy has not dried, nonetheless. There are people with resources who might be still willing to help Barbudans transition. They may not know how. Therefore, notwithstanding the barriers the Antigua government has constructed and will construct, Barbudans must eventually assume authority over the island’s future and declare their intentions to do so. Until resolution replaces political ambivalence, people will not fully commit themselves.
Barbuda has a population of a little less than two thousand people. There has never been a problem of assembling Barbudans for important meetings. A discussion about the future development of Barbuda for Barbudans and by Barbudans is of the utmost importance; and if its importance and urgency dictate its organisation and conduct, the conditions would have been met for a fruitful discussion to take place about the peoples’ intentions.
A People’s Assembly is best suitable for a discussion of this magnitude. It will assume the task of designing a social program for Barbuda. It must be unequivocally, a peoples’ program. The democratic principles that govern the Assembly will ensure its democratic outcome. And to fulfill that obligation, no one would be excluded and no voice muted. After a full discussion of all the ideas, the Assembly would vote to determine those that have merit.
It may become necessary for the Assembly to make available people with technical knowledge to whom those assembled can turn for explanations of technical matters. The task of the professionals is to clarify. They derive no special privileges. The final outcome of the Assembly would be reached through its democratic process.
This Assembly would be a practical demonstration of what a peoples’ democracy looks like. For some, voting is democracy’s essence. It is not. Voting is just a formality. It is what comes before voting that is key. The participation of the people, bar none, in the discussion and their control over its processes and outcomes are its essential characteristics. When these essential ingredients are present, the people cannot be bamboozled or manipulated because the Assembly will make it clear that electioneering will not be tolerated. Its purpose for meeting will be to discuss ideas that are going to govern Barbuda’s social and economic activities; and those decisions will inform the people’s attitude to politics in the future.
Barbudans have the required political temperament to undertake this democratic initiative. Their appreciation of the communal discourages individualism. They do not suffer from Western egotism. Already, they hold the view that there are some problems that only the community can solve. Therefore, the Assembly of the people can become the perfect instrument used to find the ways and means for solving problems. That makes a working relation with the Council indispensable because the Assembly will have interest in how the Council performs its duties and the quality of the personnel it chooses to perform those functions.
The Assembly becomes the place where this relationship gets defined. For it will be necessary for the people to bring the work of the Council in alignment with the goals of the Assembly. The purpose of which is to avoid unnecessary conflicts and antagonisms. This implies that the Assembly will meet more than once a year and will become recognised as a legitimate institution of the people. Before it ends its deliberations, a decision will be made as to how often the Assembly meets and the Barbudan representatives in Council, as a matter of policy, will agree to respect the request of the Assembly whenever it calls for a reporting on matters assigned to it by the Assembly to decide if it is in compliance. Barbudans cannot win through their own efforts. There are people in Latin America and the Caribbean who find themselves in the same predicament as Barbudans. Some have paid with their lives. In 2018, more than eighty men and women were killed in Latin America by paramilitary forces associated with mining corporations. They were murdered while defending the Amazon against mining, and asserting at the same time, their right to decide what is done with the earth under them. Barbudans can establish solidarity with land protectors all over for mutual aid and survival. In this new beginning, Barbuda must hold out its hands in solidarity with those who wish to make the world a more humane, just and liberated space for all of humanity. Those are numerous. So, the time has come for the commencement of a new regional and international partnership that will guarantee a place for us all at the rendezvous of victory. Barbudans everywhere must take the lead and establish the Peoples’ Assembly out of which will come the ideas and policies for building the new Barbuda that others will follow.