My Vote – by Ron Persaud

My Vote – by Ron Persaud

On Monday, the 27th. April 1953, I finally understood what my vote really meant.

On that date, the first general election, under Adult Suffrage (one man/woman = one vote), took place in that British colony in South America that we all know or remember so well. The vision of Internal Self Government greatly excited the generations of my parents and grandparents. Inevitably, that enthusiasm rubbed off on my generation, on the cusp of my teenage years.

I was bombarded on all fronts – at home, at school and by various relatives – in Leguan especially, where I used to spend all my school holidays.
My dad would be called a political junkie today. He clipped and pasted newspaper cuttings as a hobby and in the months leading up to the elections he clipped and pasted everything, or so it seemed.                    

So my cousins and I would collect other newspapers (my grandmother subscribed to the “Daily Chronicle”) and my dad would read, choose, clip and paste into our exercise books (remember them?) which were full – used up! Consumable stores were things like Gloy, Gum Arabic paste and used razor blades.

I have to admit that he was a loyal British subject (not quite an Anglophile) and while he looked forward to the change in governing style, he was definitely not enamored with the PPP. (There were five other political parties campaigning for the election but they did not feature too much in the drawing room discussions). My dad was suspicious of Ms. Janet Jagan (nee Rosenberg and American by birth). She had to be a communist. After all, were not Julius and Ethel Rosenberg being tried as Russian spies?  However when the two were executed, he grudgingly admitted that America might have made a mistake.

Whenever he came across an item that was funny, important or coincided with his own thoughts, he would read the item aloud and then there would follow a discussion with my grandmother, his brother and sister. I started out as a sort of captive audience (homework) but after a while, I would bat my ears to follow the discussion. I soon started to read the items which he had cut and pasted and even dared to read the clippings which he had stacked (stashed?) ready for pasting. I learned about the Nomination process, a Party Candidate and an Independent. I enjoyed the thrust and parry of politics, staged for the public on Bourda Green.

He took me to a political meeting on the Green one night for the same reason that he took me to my first Band Concert on the sea wall – to broaden my education.
His special favorite clipping was one headlined:

Vote for anyone but not one of these.  by Lionel Luckhoo

The piece consisted of one liners about the PPP candidates. I remember.
Hath a mean and hungry look. Such women are dangerous.
Calls himself an Indian – a red Indian.
Led by the nose…

By far the most enduring sound bite was a retort by the Governor, Sir Alfred Savage, to a question by Mr. Sydney King, around the time the Constitution was suspended in October. The telephone conversation must have gone something like this.
King: I have noted your failure to apologize for using the Public Works trucks for the transport of Her Majesty’s troops. I am still the Minister of Works and Communications.
Savage: And I am Governor of British Guiana.

But I digress.
I was learning about the registration (to vote) process, nomination process, a bi-cameral legislature, the casting vote and the (Speaker’s) Mace.  In school we answered questions like:
Who is the Financial Secretary?  Chief Secretary?  Attorney General?

I became aware of the (remote) control exercised over the colony by names like (Sirs) Anthony Eden and Hugh Foot. Can you imagine what fun we had with the latter name?
During trips to Leguan, I would get caught up in Island Politics. The Essequibo Islands were a single Constituency and Theophilous Lee was almost a household name. Sam Pandit supported him while his brother Cyril ‘Baranka’ was a staunch PPP follower. I doubt that you can imagine what it did to my ego when these two uncles of mine would ask for my input.

Election day arrived and I was sent to see what a polling place looked like (my dad again). My grandmother’s shop (Singh’s Parlour) was within the 200 yard (no talking, assembly) boundary of the polling station.  We and customers communicated in whispers all day!
People were taken to the polling stations in cars, bicycles, led by the hand and even in stretchers (from the Palms). I remember vividly the story of an old lady who must have been legally blind; she expressed the hope that she “marked the ballot in the right place”.
No one except the voter was allowed in the voting booth to help out in such cases.
No Exceptions!

As the results came in my dad would suck his teeth as each PPP winner was announced; and I swear that he could suck teeth over a range of two whole octaves.
Many lives were changed on that day. The life of and on the colony was irrevocably changed. We were caught up in a brand new adventure and, individually and collectively, we coped.

For me, I looked forward to attaining voting age; and I have voted whenever possible. I noted with mixed feelings that US citizenship had only two advantages over a green card holder – the privilege to vote and to obtain a passport.

My most compelling thought currently is that it is a very good thing to reduce voter fraud but  any imposition – like the photo ID requirement – which makes it difficult to vote should be neutralized by simplifying the process  to obtain such ID.

To not do so is voter suppression.

A few additional thoughts….
My dad took the second prize in an essay competition “What my vote means”. The competition was sponsored by the “Argosy” newspaper. It impressed me no end that he acknowledged that the first prize winner wrote a more comprehensive essay – it included the nomination process.

My dad’s hobby changed my life in two ways.
During this period he came down with “arc-eye” – a temporary condition of blurred vision caused by exposure to the brilliant flaring arc of electric welding. The result was that I had to read the whole newspaper to him. I, who up to that time, was interested only in the comic strips and the gory stories of murder and fatal road accidents.
And this torture went on for five days!

You see, it was not a plain straightforward act of reading the newspaper. He taught me to make sense of my reading and I came out of the experience with a greater appreciation for features like the editorial, letters to the editor and articles that would now be called op-eds.  But please know that the learning exercise was not amiable.

The second benefit was that those volumes of clippings became an authoritative reference for the politics of that period. I won a few bets and I am sure that there were clippings that the “Daily Chronicle” would disavow.

Prior to 1953, one had to be a land-owner or prominent citizen to vote. The reader is invited to copy & paste the following to view what it was like in the colony a bit before my time.

“The constitution of the British colony favored the white planters.”

“The reform-minded governor, Sir Gordon Lethem, reduced property qualifications for officeholding and voting, and made elective members a majority on the Legislative Council in 1943.”

This commentary is probably the most objective that I have come across.

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