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It will certainly go down as one of the great moments of protest here in our fair State. We’re referring to the pensioners’ picket of the Prime Minister’s (PM) office this past Thursday. Glorious things of them will be spoken many moons hence.

So there they were, the great men and women upon whose shoulders we now stand, those who gave their entire lives in yeoman’s service to this country. They’d had enough of the routinely late pension payments, and they wanted our PM to know that their patience had worn thin. Not that he was unaware of their plight. Not that he had not been hearing their voices of rising discontent. But he had other pressing matters to which he had to attend. For example, there was the critical matter of playing blind man’s buff to YIDA’s atrocities in the North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA). And playing footsie with the Peace, Love and Happiness (PLH) folks among the sand dunes of Palmetto Point, and the mangroves of the frigate bird sanctuary. We mean, how could the commander in chief be bothered with such pesky matters as pensions, when he was busy preparing to play a round of golf with the rich folks on the new golf course at PLH? And what about flying on their gulf stream private jets to the new airport in Barbuda? How could the pensioners expect to get their pensions on time when the commander in chief, much like his twin up North, had to spend inordinate amounts of time on social media responding to every slight, real or imagined? How could pensioners expect their pensions on time when the self-annointed ‘monarch of all he surveys’ was, . . . well . . . busy surveying the sugar lands here in Antigua, and the lands held in common by Barbudans on Barbuda, for all foreign comers and the well-connected, but nothing for the locals? Papa Bird is turning in his sainted grave!

Clearly, according to the curious thinking of this administration, the pensioners were expecting too much. After all, the Wizard of Oz was preoccupied with judiciously managing the $500M that lesser wizards in the administration had bragged about having in the national kitty. To date, nobody can see hide or hair of that mysterious $500M. Certainly not those suffering laid-off workers who have been waiting, albeit in vain, for a stimulus package, as has been offered to the hurting citizens in nearly every other country in the world. Schoolchildren are saying that the elusive $500M is being stashed away by this hapless administration to fund the next election campaign. After all, they have been screwing-up so spectacularly, and falling apart in such an embarrassing manner, that they will need every penny of those monies to get reelected, and even then, it will not nearly be enough. 

Anyway, last Thursday dawned bright and fair. It was a perfect day for the application of a bull pistle (known locally as a ‘bull bud’ or a ‘Bylay special’). You see, nothing concentrates the unfocused mind like one lash from a bull pistle, and the pensioners were intent on applying just-such-a-lash to the tushy of the source of their angst and outrage. They were animated and passionate – all 250 strong, awakened, a tad belatedly, from their somnolence. There were yells and cries of frustration and pain. They were not going to be denied.

That’s when John Wayne, made like one big, bad hombre and strode out to meet the picketers. He was going to show these annoying pensioners who was the real bad-ass in this town. He was going to tell them, “Lookie here pardners: this town ain’t big enough for the two of us. Now git!” He sauntered out confidently, like a gunslinger getting ready for a shoot-out at the OK Corral. He clenched his jaw and his fist. He pushed out his chest and squared his shoulder. It is not difficult to imagine him humming the words to the Mighty Sparrow’s SOLOMON to himself: “This land is mine; I am de boss / What I say goes; who vex get lorse / If you ain’t like it, get the hell outta here / . . . I am goin to do what I feel to do / And I don’t care who vex or who feel blue . . .”

To be sure, there was a reason for his arrogance and swagger. He’d confronted and stared down protesters before. This was going to be another stroll in the park for him. For example, just before the 2018 election, when public servants had decided to protest for their long-overdue backpay and wage increase at the Botanical Gardens, he and his side-kick had had the temerity to crash the protest, commandeer the microphone, and threaten the public servants with words to the effect that, If aryou tink aryou bad, just strike ‘gainst this Labour Party government before this election . . .” The public servants backed down.

Then there was the grand photo-op event at the Ministry of Agriculture where he’d posed as a man of the people during the Agriculture Extension workers’ protest against the then-Minister of Agriculture, and for better working conditions. There, he sweet-talked the workers, nodding in agreement with them, and offering up a surfeit of pabulum. He even fired the offensive Minister of Agriculture on the spot. The Extension workers applauded. And John Wayne turned and strode away with a bop, like the badass hombre that he is.

Noteworthily, at a protest down in Point, he was not nearly as successful in placating the people with any such malarkey. If you recall on April 12, 2019, the people of Booby Alley protested against the high-handed approach of the administration, what with the disrespectful lack of consultation on the specifics of their proposed relocation. They took to the streets, setting up barricades, burning mattresses and Labour Party T-shirts, and spray-painting slogans saying that the representative for the area had to go. They yelled at and booed him. They called him all manner of names to his face. John Wayne began to sweat. He cast about like a deer caught in the headlights, and appeared to have lost his bluster and bravado. So much so that, he meekly asked the angry throng, “Allyou don’t love me no more?” And when they responded in the negative, with more catcalls and boos, he was prompted to put on a last-ditch show of machismo by shouting, “ME NUH ‘FRAID ARYOU!”

Then history repeated itself this past Thursday. John Wayne spoke about the opposition being beaten 16-0 in the next election. The election seemed to be the preeminent thing on his mind. He dismissed the pensioners as UPP supporters, much as he did the Point protesters.  He waved wildly and snapped his fingers with the traditional ‘licks’ gesture. He tried to speak to anyone who would listen. Few seemed to care to hear anything that he had to say. After all, they knew that it was going to be nothing more than the same-old, same-old baloney and mamagism. Then, as is his wont, he told the pensioners to go and picket the Social Security office. Sigh!

John Wayne walked around as though he was lost, clearly discombobulated, and as did his counter-part up North at a recent press conference, he said that the protesters were being disrespectful. Ah, rich irony! He glared at the pensioners. His body language was aggressive and arrogant. And yes, much as he did last April in Point, he was forced to declare to them, “MEH NUH ‘FRAID ARYOU!”

But neither are they afraid of him. They ‘stood up and fought back, because they had nothing to lose.’ [Jimmy Cliff]. As Sparrow so nicely says it in NO, DOCTOR, NO: “They better come good, because ah have a big piece of mango wood!”  Apparently, Trinidadians favour the mango wood as an instrument to help concentrate the mind. Here in Antigua and Barbuda we favour the bullbud aka the bull pistle. Just check the Mighty Swallow’s, BLOW FOR POLITICIANS, where he declares, “Anyone ah dem I catch is a bullbud across dey back.” Good grief! Seems, John Wayne got the message by way of a bullbud in the form of a great protest.

     He reportedly paid the pensioners the next day.

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