Protest action is in order

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Recently we have been hearing a smattering of voices giving air to a pernicious and deceptive argument that the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament, the Honourable Jamale Pringle, was somehow derelict in not participating in the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC), and further, that he was a slacker in walking out of Parliament after his passionate engagement with the good Speaker of the House this past Thursday. Well, we here at NEWSCO beg to differ with those arguments that suggest that Pringle has to participate as part of his “constitutional duty,” and that if he refuses, he is being “unpatriotic” (a false claim promulgated by our Prime Minister, the Honourable Gaston Browne, and debunked by the learned Attorney Charlesworth Tabor in yesterday’s Daily Observer) (see SPEAKER SIR GERALD WATT WAS WRONG).

There is also talk in some circles that Pringle should have stayed in Parliament, never mind his clearly-stated disgust at what he perceives as bias and unfair treatment at the hands of the Speaker. The argument is that he must be a part of the legislative process, and by walking out to voice his disapproval, he is abdicating his responsibility. Again, with that argument, we disagree. The reality is (by virtue of our Westminster democracy) whether Pringle is there or not, whether he is able to voice his reasons for support or opposition to a Bill or not, (never mind that it is good for the parliamentary record to reflect the reasoning and arguments of a Member on a particular Bill), the Bill, no matter how indefensible or odious, will become law. Pringle is in the minority, and “the ayes have it.”

Another sad reality is that, not only here in Antigua and Barbuda, but all over the world, governments that rule by virtue of their majority, often use the Opposition in parliament, and on other toothless but grandiose-sounding committees, to lend the appearance of legitimacy to their self-serving goals and the undermining of the people. The Opposition becomes a tool in their cynical claim at being bipartisan and all-inclusive. Opposition parties have learned not to become pawns in the twisted pappy-show.

Pringle, to his credit, has been standing on principle, and has refused to be party to a political charade. Remember, the good Minister of State in the Ministry of Finance has boasted that the regime already has a three-point recovery plan, and the shoddy and disrespectful manner in which Pringle was invited to be a part of the Committee smacked of disingenuousness. Indeed, when Pringle gave voice to what was clearly disrespect, our good PM ‘social-mediaded’ an apology that read something along the lines of “I apologise. Now go do your job.” Sigh! Talk about insincerity!

There is absolutely nothing wrong with political parties or even a disgruntled body politic refusing to be a part of a ‘Punch and Judy’ show aimed at giving ‘aid and comfort’ to a tyrannical, biased, unpopular regime or parliamentary debate. History is replete with Members of Parliament walking out of parliamentary proceedings in protest at a process that they are convinced is unfair or inimical to the interests of the people. Political parties have boycotted elections for those very same reason. Entire countries have boycotted the Olympics, and even in the world’s greatest deliberative body, the United Nations, countries have turned their backs or walked out when the speakers of certain countries with whom they disagree, have taken the podium. And yes, in the United States Congress, opponents of the President have sat on their hands or refused to stand, as is customary, to display their displeasure or disagreement to articulations of the President with which they disagree.

The notion that MP Pringle had to stay in Parliament and abide the ridicule and condescension from the Speaker of the House and the rah-rah goons that egged him on in his wrong-headed bid to shut him down (see the aforementioned piece by Attorney Tabor) is absurd. Whatever happened to “Righteous indignation?” Or “Conscientious objection?”  Whatever happened to “Voting with one’s feet?” And “Abstention?”

Political parties and their representatives have to look themselves in the mirror. They have to live with their consciences, the dictates of their moral compasses. They must needs follow the wishes of the people that they represent. For them to sear their consciences and participate in a façade does the people a disservice. And by the way, based on what we’re hearing, the people of All Saints West and St. Luke, as well as the entire United Progressive Party overwhelmingly support Pringle’s principled stand. As do we!

Interestingly, the Speaker of the House, warned MP Pringle that he was “skating on thin ice.” To which, Pringle responded by showing scant regard for the so-called “thin ice,” and the threat that he [Pringle] could be censured/punished in the Parliament for “a long time.” Pringle, again to his eternal credit, told the good Speaker to, in not so many words, do whatever he felt he needed to do in his capacity as Speaker. Talk about a profile in courage! Talk about an act of, shall we say, civil/Parliamentary/people disobedience in the grand and noble tradition of Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. and Muhammad Ali, who objected to the Vietnam War and the treatment of Blacks in America. And who can forget Tommie Smith and John Carlos, two African American athletes who raised black-gloved clenched fists, and wore Human Rights medals on their uniforms, as acts of defiance, and in support of Human Rights, during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics?

Here’s what John Rawls, an American philosopher who wrote extensively on protest action (see his theories on Justice and Fairness) had to say about civil disobedience, and by extension, non-participation in ‘pappy show Committees’ and farcical parliamentary debates, where Opposition members are given Bills a few hours before they are to be debated, and there are first, second and third readings of said Bills as a matter of course: (italicised words are ours)  “Walk-outs and other acts of defiance under the threat of the so called “thin ice” and “censure” are public, non-violent and conscientious breaches of law and protocols undertaken with the aim of bringing about a change in laws or government policies. On this account, people who engage in civil disobedience are willing to accept the legal consequences of their actions, as this shows their fidelity to the rule of law. Civil disobedience, given its place at the boundary of fidelity to law, is said to fall between legal protest, on the one hand, and conscientious refusal . . . on the other hand.”

Chupz to those who say that Pringle ought to participate just for the sake of participating. And, mark you, that is what his participation on the ERC would amount to, because this administration already has a recovery plan, as they have pointedly indicated to the Opposition. Chupz, chupz to  those who say that Pringle should sit in Parliament and listen to words like “Fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.” Pringle did the right thing. His protest is perfectly in order. And we support him . . . with raised fists a la Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

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