EDITORIAL: Protesters welcome

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Politicians are a strange bunch. While in ‘power’ they do not envisage a time when they might be out of ‘power’ and they adopt perspectives that are in many ways contrary to their stances and actions when out of power. The recent protests by the nurses, Barbudans and concerned citizens were a prime example of that.
Forgetting who is controlling parliament for a moment (because parliamentary control is always temporary), the opposition always runs to the side of those who feel wronged or oppressed. In this case, the groups were the nurses and the Barbudans, so the opposition United Progressive Party (UPP) and the Barbuda People’s Movement (BPM) rallied with the protesters outside of parliament. It was a classic case of the opposition opposing and siding with others who oppose. Had the roles been reversed, we are sure that the Antigua Barbuda Labour Party (ABLP) would have galvanised with the protesters and shown them political support in their struggles against the UPP.
Instead of seeing the peaceful protestations as a great demonstration of democracy, ruling parties usually dismiss the protesters as being selfish obstructionists who do not want to see the country progress. No one stops to embrace the protests and recognise that the actions are, very likely, what they would support while in opposition. Instead, the protesters and the opposition party or parties are belittled so as to make their contributions as meaningless as possible.
Having seen this type of scenario repeated over and over, it has become obvious that our politicians still have not grasped the fact that the power of a democracy lies in the hands of the people. Politicians are employed at the good-will of the people and when they talk, via demonstrations, or otherwise, their concerns need to be heard and addressed. Force feeding legislation to the people is not reflective of the employer-employee role that should exist.
The nurses and Barbudans’ protests outside of parliament were demonstrations of who holds the true and permanent power in a democratic nation. For too long, actually our entire political existence, voters have abdicated their power and vested it into the hands of politicians. That has caused them to attain a false position of superiority. Well, that and the fact that our system of governance has been manipulated to cede the decision making power to the various ministers of government; but that is for another time.
It was refreshing to see the protesters and their placards peacefully demonstrating in order to get the politicians’ attention and ultimately closer to something with which they feel comfortable. It was the equivalent of getting a direct line to your employees to let them know that you are not happy with their performances. And it worked; at least in part.
The Barbudan protesters certainly felt like they were ignored and belittled, and the nurses did not get everything that they wanted, but they got some. The politicians reacted to the nurses and made changes to the proposed legislation. As Hendren Parker, a former independent senator said of the protests, they “enriched the process”.  And that is the point that should not be lost on anyone. 
Peaceful protests have the potential of opening the lines of communication between the administration and those that they govern. Politicians should understand and acknowledge their roles as employees of the citizenry, including the protesters, and embrace them for caring enough to protest. We know that many people will say that the nurses and Barbudans are just protesting legislation that affect them and would not stand in the hot sun if it didn’t, but so what? Maybe, some of them will be buoyed by the fact that they got a response and become more active in making their voice heard on other issues.  That is, after all, what we want – a participatory democracy.
Right now, our level of participation in our democracy extends no further than dunking our fingers in an ink well and placing our “X” on a ballot every few years. There are limited avenues for engagement beyond that but there should be, and if protests are those avenues, then we should all embrace them as something good. In fact,  there should be a sign on the front gates of parliament saying “protesters welcome”.  It would be a great demonstration that the politicians are willing to listen to their employers.
We invite you to visit www.antiguaobserver.com and give us your feedback on our opinions.

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