Their finest hour

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When Winston Churchill delivered his WE SHALL FIGHT THEM ON THE BEACHES speech in 1940, the German assault on Britain was beginning with astonishing brazenness. But the British remained undaunted, no doubt buoyed by Churchill’s resolve. That sort of defiance came to mind yesterday when NEWSCO’s Algernon ‘Serpent’ Watts and Carl Joseph covered the showdown between poor Jolly Harbour vendors and taxi drivers and the rich and powerful . . . on the beaches. Here’s what Churchill said back then: We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender . . !” 

Now, if that speech sounds familiar to you, that’s because it is. We’re referring to the uncompromising response of those seeking to earn an honest living at Jolly Harbour who, without the courtesy of a notice, were unceremoniously locked out of the area where they were accustomed to conducting business. Said they, in words that will long live in the annals of civil disobedience and determination: “Black people have rights too! Not just Bodog! . . . Nobody ‘tarl ah-pass! Jolly Harbour (blankety blank) lock dong! If our business can’t run, their business can’t run either. Time enough for us to stand up for our rights!”And they did, under pain and peril of victimisation, to the last man and the last breath.

Actually, when the police requested that the protesters remove their improvised blockade fashioned from beach chairs, tents and other assorted objects, the protesters looked them straight in their faces and defiantly refused.  And to their credit, the police did not resort to authoritarian bullying. In fact, even after the protesters leveled some tough barbs at the Law, the men in uniform remained calm and extremely professional, doing nothing to abridge “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition their government for a redress of grievances!” It was democracy at its finest! And the tourists recognised it. They took photos and smiled and applauded.

Of course, they could quickly tell that the stand-off was a classic case of the rich and powerful bullyragging the poor, and depriving them of their means of support. They saw this as ‘advantage’ and privilege most odious!Indeed,many tourists immediately recognised Monday’s brouhaha as the ‘stink’ of officialdom betraying its own people and casting its lot with the rich. It’s a story as old as tourism in the Caribbean where, in many islands, ‘the beach is just the beginning!’ (Pun intended)

Consider, if you will, the Mighty Gabby’s take on an uncannily similar matter in Barbados nearly forty years ago. It was by way of a 1982 Crop-over-winning calypso entitled JACK. “I grow up bathing in sea water / But nowadays that is big horror / If I only venture down by the shore / Police tellin’ me ah cyarn bathe no more / ‘Cause Jack don’t want me to bathe on my beach / Jack tell dem to keep me out of reach / Jack tell dem I will never make de grade / Strengthen security; build barricade / Dah cyarn happen here in this country / I want Jack to know dat de beach belong to we / Dah cyarn happen here; over my dead body / Tell Jack dat I say  de beach belong to we / Dah beach is mine, I could bathe any time / Despite what he say, I could bathe any day / Dah beach is mine, I could bathe any time / Despite what he say, I can bathe any way. . .Tourism vital I cant deny / But it cyarnt mean more than I-and-I / My navel string bury right here / But a touris’ own could be anywhere / I use to sell coral and lime / But Jack insist dat is a crime / Now when I see a police face / I run in haste wit my briefcase / If I cyarn [trade] there, tell me who can / For after all, I is [Antiguan]  And if dey ban me from my beach land / I hope de sea carry-way de sand . . .” Hmmm! The more things change, the more they remain the same, eh? Different island, different era – same foolishness!

But here in our fair Antigua and Barbuda, the vendors and taxi drivers at Jolly Harbour are not tolerating it. They stood eye-ball to eyeball with the self-serving and the rich, and the self-serving and the rich blinked. It was a most wondrous moment in our democracy – that moment when the authorities heard the cries of the people for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and ordered that the gate be reopened and the boulders blocking the entranceway removed. We here at NEWSCO certainly join with many Antiguans and Barbudans in saluting the intrepid Jolly Harbour agitators who stood up for that in which they believed. We will never forget the many lessons in solidarity and resolve that they taught us. And as per Winston Churchill’s ode to the British, we say, Truly, this was their finest hour!” Big up to the vendors and taxi-drivers of Jolly Harbour!   

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