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Where do we go from here?

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Wednesday February 28 was one hell of a day in the history of St.Vincent and the Grenadines. I had not seen it like this for a long time, not even at the height of the road block revolution. Although one got the impression that today’s march would have been a big one I never expected what I saw on Wednesday. It was really a carnival, as young and old came out and joined the march around Kingstown. And imagine at 11 am in the morning! Who could have expected this?

People came out not for love of or rather not necessarily for love of the NDP but because of their seeming disgust with the way things have been moving in this country. A powerful message was sent. What that message is, is for us to decide. Clearly people are fed up with a lot of things. The incident that sparked it was the release of Alex Lawrence on grounds of national security.{{more}} This raised some concerns. First what was the nature of this national security matter was a question on people’s minds. And second, the heightening concern about the relationship between drugs and increasing criminal activity. Additionally the way the matter was handled also came into the picture. Had the News newspaper not brought it to the attention of the nation nothing would have been known. Why was the Leader of the Opposition not brought into the confidence of the Prime Minister and why did the Prime Minister only speak out when the News raised certain concerns about the matter?

Given the nature of our politics the matter began to be played out as a partisan political issue but there are those who preferred to see it not in that context but as a national issue of concern to all Vincentians regardless of political colouration. This really was the spark that created the climate for what happened on Wednesday, February 28. Persons took the opportunity to come out to express their feelings and disgust with other matters in the society. The march itself was publicised as a national and not a party issue. It isn’t clear to me if this was played out in that way although I saw persons there I have never seen before at any such gathering, political or otherwise. I must admit however that I do not know what political colour they wear deep within them.

I have always made the point that Vincentians are a strange people. We often criticise them for sitting down and taking everything that is thrown at them. But history has shown that when Vincentians are driven to what they interpret to be the edge they will stand up and let this be known. Today they demonstrated this. In fact the impact went beyond the actual marchers for not only were they joined by people on the side walks but little work seemed to have been done in town today. As you walked along the street the side walks were packed with workers.

How will the Prime Minister respond? Would he simply dismiss what happened today or would he accept this as a comment on the direction in which the country is heading, a comment with which he doesn’t necessarily have to agree but a comment nevertheless? This was not a single issue demonstration but all persons who came out in this massive show of strength had their particular reasons for participating. There were people of all colours, class and gender. It was unquestionably a show of force. The leadership of the Opposition New Democratic Party has often been under attack by its members for its tepid response to the policies and practices of the governing party. But they have demonstrated that timing is of essence. This march was the culmination of a number of concerns. A number of issues were brought together and forced people to do what they did today.

Where do we go from here? Today’s march would have created its own dynamics. How all of this is played out is left to be seen. Will today’s activity heighten the divisions in the country or have the issues been serious enough to bridge the partisan political gap?

The Prime Minister as Leader of this nation has a major role to play in ensuring that things do not get out of hand. The people who spoke today through the sound of their feet on the streets of Kingstown were protesting a number of issues and concerns. One cannot simply dismiss them as NDP loyalists for if they were, that in itself says something. The Prime Minister needs to reflect on this and to try to pull the nation together. Despite the divisions that have been created the task is not beyond the realm of possibility. But even more what is equally demanded is a resurrection of civil society. There is still a role for this sector to play in bridging the widening political gap. We cannot go back to square one. Today’s march is not just a passing phase for the issue of Alex Lawrence will not simply go away with the passage of time. And as long as it stays on the agenda there will be other issues and fears that will accompany it. Leadership is demanded at all levels to ensure that we do not fall off an increasingly slippery slope.

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