Over the past 12 years or so –– under the last Barbados Labour Party (BLP) administration of Owen Arthur and the Democratic Labour Party (DLP) administrations of David Thompson and Freundel Stuart –– Barbados has undergone a prolonged period of virtually unrelieved national hopelessness and despondency.
At the core of this dispiriting “wilderness experience” has been an abysmal lack of political, spiritual and social leadership. The simple truth is that the Barbadian people have been badly let down by their elected politicians; by their national Government; by the country’s religious establishment; and by the supposedly leading institutions of their civil society.
But perhaps the brunt of the blame has to be placed on the backs of the DLP administration that has governed this country since 2008, in that over a period of close to eight years they have fed the Barbadian people with a message of national helplessness.
Over and over again the DLP administration has told our people that Barbados is in the grip of an international recession, and that there is little or nothing that we can do about our predicament, other than to gradually surrender the social benefits that previous generations had established for us by dint of their hard work, initiative and sacrifice.
And to make matters even worse, the Arthur/Thompson/Stuart administrations evinced an almost total abdication of the notion that the assuming of national political leadership meant taking upon one’s shoulders a sacred responsibility for the fundamental interests of the nation.
This notion of politics being a vocation based on assuming responsibility for the “general welfare” has been replaced with the idea that party politics is the arena to get involved in if one is in search of social advancement, celebrity status, becoming one of the “in-crowd”, securing a good pension, or putting oneself in a position to acquire money and property.
Needless to say, all over the world this type of political ethos has brought with it such maladies as vote buying; corporate financing and control of political parties; bribe taking; politicians who sell out the national interest for their own self-interest; and the granting of outrageous government contracts that permit favoured business entities to plunder the public coffers.
And so, the negative experience of the past 12 years has brought Barbados to its knees –– psychologically, economically and culturally –– and has placed us in the very precarious position of not having a national Government that we can look to for leadership or motivation.
But, in the midst of all of this doom and gloom, I wish to suggest that Barbadians still possess an objective basis for hope and optimism about the future.
Our basis for hope and optimism resides in the fact that, in spite of all the negativity and destructiveness of the recent past, we Barbadians still possess such resources as a compact and relatively well-organized society; a literate and relatively well-educated population; an extensive communications infrastructure; a cohesive and distinctive culture; a relatively large stock of domestic savings and capital; a strategic geographical location; and a number of national economic resources and enterprises imbued with the potential for future development.
I therefore totally reject the DLP mantra of Barbados being a helpless society! On the contrary, Barbados possesses resources which –– if properly organized and mobilized –– can take us forward and upward as a nation, international recession or no international recession!
Indeed, my message to the Barbadian people may be summed up in the slogan: Don’t Agonize! Organize!
There is no need for us to remain in a negative helpless posture of national hand-wringing and despondency. Rather, let us recognize that our salvation lies within our own hands, and that all we need to do is to organize ourselves and our national resources for social and economic production.
I do grant you that one of the major encumbrances in any such process of national mobilization and organization is that we possess a Government –– perhaps even a whole “political class” –– that is more part of the problem than part of the solution.
But there are two ways in which we can deal with this unfortunate reality. Firstly, we can make a commitment to mobilize and organize ourselves and our resources, as much as possible, at the people or civil society level, and outside of the formal structures of Government.
Thus, our neighbourhoods, community-based organizations, credit unions, churches, trade unions, cooperatives, trained professionals, business enterprises, professional organizations, educational institutions, artistes, scholars, service clubs, farmers, fisherfolk, artisans and craft people must commit to a process of collaboration, intellectual brainstorming, planning, and organizing for production. There is much that we can do for ourselves outside of the structures of Government!
At the end of the day, however, we cannot afford to persist with a situation in which a Government that should be leading, supporting and amplifying our national developmental efforts is instead depressing and subverting such efforts. And so, part of our organizing must be seeking to sort out and reform our dysfunctional political governance system.
A good place to start is to use the polls to say “no” to any politician known for such acts as vote buying and/or self-serving social climbing. We –– the people –– know who these politicians are!
And if the two traditional political parties should insist on giving us a choice of two such candidates in any constituency, then the community must take it upon itself to put forward and vote for its own alternative candidate! If we adopted such a practice, we would have made a good start in sorting out our dysfunctional political system!
Remember: Don’t Agonize! Organize!
(David Comissiong, attorney-at-law, is president of the Clement PayneMovement.)