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A quiet revolution

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The word “revolution” tends to conjure up in our minds blood, thunder, violence, battles, even death.

Historically we have been fed the images – the bloody guillotine of the French Revolution, the Boston Tea Party and musket exchanges of the American version, Toussaint and Dessalines emerging from the blood-drenched trenches of slavery in Haiti, the excesses of the Bolshevik Revolution, the romantic heroics of Fidel Castro’s Rebel Army…. We could go on and on. {{more}}

Throughout history however, there have been other revolutions, far less dramatic, bloodless, equally far-reaching if not more so in scope and depth, which have had a profound and more lasting impact on the development of humankind.

The discovery of fire, the many inventions and the computer and technological revolution of our own era are but outstanding examples. These have changed human lives and human history in unprecedented and irreversible ways without shedding a drop of blood.

Within the boundaries of nations too, there have been quiet revolutions, changing the nature of society and the way people interact with each other. Vincentian society has had its fair share of Blood and Thunder over the years, beginning with the valiant resistance of Chatoyer’s Callinago people to foreign domination, continuing with the anti-slavery struggles to the fight to end colonialism which led to Adult Suffrage and finally political independence. Are we now about to reorder our society in a fundamental manner?

The question can be asked because after two years of tireless work, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) has put forward a wide-ranging set of proposals for re-organizing the governance of our society which can very well have revolutionary implications. There has been no similar effort as far-reaching neither in our our own society, nor the Commonwealth Caribbean, nor, I dare suggest, perhaps the rest of the Commonwealth.

In the first place the very composition (not personalities, mind you) of the CRC is itself a radical departure from the customary processes. Here is one instance in which money was put where mouth lies, in both a figurative and literal sense. For the CRC was overwhelmingly dominated by CIVIL SOCIETY REPRESENTATION and it was largely funded from the public purse. Secondly, there was the non-partisan nature of its work facilitated by the bipartisan nature of its establishment, by unanimous agreement of both sides of Parliament. We all went into the Constitutional Ark together.

Then there was the process itself, demanding the involvement of the people, at community and national level, in schools and in the media, at home and abroad. Vincentians of all walks of life, even those who can’t walk, were permitted the opportunity to have a say on the issue. For the first time in our country’s history, the word “constitution” not just a legal or political convenience, but a living instrument. It was presented as a tool to be shaped by those who would guide their own destiny.

Especially commendable were the dedication, sacrifice and absolute committedness of the Commissioners themselves and the staff of the CRC Secretariat, exemplarily led by Chairman Parnell Campbell. As a member of the CRC, I can attest to that. It is not generally known that many on the CRC have sacrificed family, business and personal commitments; have suffered financial losses in carrying out the work of the CRC, going beyond the call of duty.

Few know of the long hours past midnight, the weekly meetings, the countless Saturdays given up in order for the CRC to perform its Herculean task.

What is all the more laudable is that all this was accomplished in the face of many sarcastic, cynical and sometimes even disparaging remarks by many members of the public! Worse, there are persons, as politically short-sighted as they are misguided, who persist in senselessly trying to denigrate the CRC Chairman for political reasons, real or imagined. That is why the support of those who understood the import of the Constitutional Review process and mechanism, including the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition was so appreciated and valued.

Those who misunderstand the moment or cannot comprehend its significance, but are willing to listen must be accommodated.

However, there are others, persons who should know, including persons in important public offices, who have shown scant regard for the CRC and its work. Some of them have even gone out of the way, maliciously, to portray that august body as being tantamount to a bunch of joy riders at public expense. Oh woe be to these!

We all should be grateful that the process of forging a relevant constitution has been taken one step further. We can best express this gratitude, not in empty praises to the CRC, but in ensuring that its efforts are not wasted.

This can be done by ensuring a high quality debate in the House of Assembly on the issue; by a wide circulation and distribution of the recommendations; by each of us endeavoring to read, study, discuss and comment on these recommendations; by the media facilitating this process rather than dragging us along the path of trivia, mindlessness and irrelevance.

We must take hold of the process, claim it as our own and proceed to forge a consensus on our own QUIET REVOLUTION.

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