Look to the East

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By any measure, what we are witnessing in Hong Kong is epic – people, more than a million strong, taking to the streets and the international airport – the world’s busiest, mind you, to demand more democracy. We certainly salute the good people of Hong Kong and stand in solidarity with them. Power to the people, indeed!

Of course, what is remarkable is that the police have been employing tear gas, water cannon and other tough instruments and measures against the protesters, and still they refuse to yield. Actually, the United Nations (UN) has been concerned with the increasing use of force by the police and has called for them to exercise more restraint. It is not clear whether law enforcement will heed the UN call.

What is also not clear is whether the People’s Liberation Army will intervene in a brutal crackdown to end the eleven-week protests. Remember, the Chinese head honcho, Xi Jinping, has suggested that there are “sprouts of terrorism” among the protesters, and he could justify the use of force as necessary for “the protection of life and property” and “the defense of the realm!” Despots and administrations that have fallen out of favor with the people use those flimsy pretexts all the time. Indeed, they often manufacture threats and crises in order to appropriate unto themselves emergency powers and thwart the will of the people. Back in the day, the villains du jour were communism, socialism, Black Power and Rastafarianism. Today, the villains are usually anarchists, terrorists and immigrants. Seems, ruling regimes that seek to hold on to power at all costs will hide behind any ‘bogeyman’ when putting the people under “heavy manners.”   

In 1967, after a split in the Antigua Trades and Labour Union (AT&LU) and the formation of a new union and political party – the Antigua Workers Union (AWU) and the Progressive Labour Movement (PLM), there arose great unrest as the people agitated against Papa Bird and ‘Birdism,’ as Tim Hector used to dub the ruling apparatus. Anyway, as the unrest spread, Papa Bird declared a state of emergency and deployed the Defense Force in 1968 to, well . . . maintain law and order and extend his tenuous grip on power. Of course, Papa Bird underestimated the will of the people. (See Short Shirt’s NO POWER: “No power, not by force or might can extinguish the will of the people to be free . . .”) Yep, the people would not be cowed or intimidated! The late Mary Quinn, bless her heart, wrote a poem at that time that reflected the people’s aversion to the tear gas and the other emergency measures being used against them. Penned she: “State of emergency; my what a thing! /Do come quick and help me to sing / De people are saying: ‘This cannot be / We don’t want no state of emergency!’” And the rest is history . . .

So what the hell happened to us between then and now? Are we completely satisfied with the state of affairs here in our blessed Antigua and Barbuda? Hardly likely. So why don’t we look to the East a la the protesters in Hong Kong and do something to effect a betterment? As the great Trade Unionist, Sir Keithlyn Smith (General Secretary of the AWU for 32 years, and the only surviving Founding Father), recently exclaimed in bewilderment, “What has become of us? How come we so beggie-beggie?” Have we compromised all our principles and now resign ourselves to ‘flowery beds of ease’ and mouths full of cheese? Huh? Good grief! Everybody turned into a jelly fish? Nothing is worth standing up and fighting for?  Jimmy Cliff believes that there is. Back in the seventies he  wrote: Stand up and fight back,
you got nothing to lose / Stand up and fight back, you got nothing to lose / You got nothing to lose, to lose, to lose, to lose . . . /  Ever since generations, they been saying it will change / It will change, it will change, it will change, it will change / But it never seems to change / No matter how high the price you pay, they’re gonna say you’re wrong any way . . .”
Hmmm! “Nothing to lose but chains cast off!” (Marx)

       The people of Hong Kong have decided that they have nothing to lose. They are going to fight steadfastly for that in which they believe. Even under pain and peril of death. So too have the tens of thousands of Russians who, some four days ago, staged a protest in Moscow demanding free elections. Seems, they too are yearning to breathe free, and risking it all!

     Hopefully, WE CAN SEE CLEARLY NOW (Jimmy Cliff, 1993). After all, we have MANY RIVERS TO CROSS (Jimmy Cliff, 1969) Be guided accordingly!

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