Organized and Responsible Citizen Power works – By Dave Martins

Organized and Responsible Citizen Power works

 – By Dave Martins

It is sometimes the case with the international events surrounding us that an occurrence in a distant country can have relevance for us, in completely separate matters, in our homeland. This week, we had a classic, indeed startling, example in the furor raging in the USA over the nomination of a judge for that country’s Supreme Court when accusations of sexual dalliance by the candidate, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, were raised by Dr. Christine Ford, which she says occurred when she and Kavanaugh, were both teenagers in school.

With the judge stoutly denying the accusation, the matter came before the Senate and, as various Senators spoke on the matter, a vexing issue that arose from various contentious points, was the call from Dr. Ford, and others, to have an FBI background check done on the issue.  This suggestion was dismissed by the Senate body and also ruled out as “this is not what the FBI does” by President Donald Trump.    

The matter boiled with various women’s rights’ groups and the American Bar Association calling for the FBI review, and came to a crescendo on Thursday last when two women, who had been subjected to sexual violence, confronted one of the Senators, Jeff Flake, blocking his way as he exited an elevator in Washington, demanding that he join the call for the FBI review.    Captured, apparently inadvertently, by television cameras, the encounter showed Senator Flake, who had said earlier he would vote “yes” for the nominee, clearly discomfited in the incident.  The verbiage from the women was loud, intense and persistent; they would not permit the Senator to pass and they kept insisting on the need for the FBI review.

Flake was not rude to them and actually said very little, but he was clearly wishing to be somewhere else and kept averting his eyes until one of the women shouted, “Look at me, when I’m speaking to you.”  It was an astonishing moment; this is a Senator of the most powerful body of the most powerful country in the world being berated by one of his own citizens.

The impact of her remark was reminiscent of an encounter, many years previous in Washington, during the Army-McCarthy hearings when then Senator Joe McCarthy was raising questions of “communists” in the American government and the US Army, and after a long McCarthy series of accusations, Joseph Welch, Chief Counsel for the US Army being investigated for communist activities, said to McCarthy, in an almost pained tone, “Senator, have you no sense of decency, sir?  Have you not done enough?”

That remark, made in 1950, left Joe McCarthy’s assault in tatters and remains a much quoted aspect of the hearings.  The woman’s shout to Senator Flake is in the same category; persons who saw the incident on television are phoning others to relay it, as I did.  It was a quick outburst, partly muffled, but it came across like a gunshot. The incident can be followed readily online, but suffice it to say that Republican Senator Flake spoke to a Democratic colleague Chris Coons afterwards and shortly came out with a statement saying that “to do things in a correct manner, there should be an FBI examination of the issue”. Within the hour, a complete Republican reversal took place ending with President Trump asking the FBI to do the review.

The issue is a many-faceted one, and can be examined at leisure on line with copious assessments from television professionals, but it stands as a striking illustration of the power of organized and reasoned protest in a democracy (other women’s groups had also been holding sidewalk protests calling for the FBI review) and within minutes of Senator Flake’s statement to the nomination hearing, the previous barriers all came down, even the President’s.

Being around a matter in our lives for a long time we can sometimes lose sight of an essential ingredient in it, and that scenario on Thursday in Washington should serve to remind us that within democracies there is the significant power of organized and disciplined protest. Very often, in Guyana, on chats about one Government Issue or another, one hears the comment, “Wha yuh gun do, bhai?  Dem in power don’t listen.”  In fact, as the matters in America reminded us on Thursday, the picture, while varied, is not totally bleak; the power of people speaking passionately and responsibly about an issue often turns the tide.

Television, much maligned on this point or that, must be given some credit here for its ability to bring vivid light to bear on an issue.  One does not have to do a survey on the impact of the women protesters confronting Senator Flake; that clip undoubtedly has gone around the world and into every corner of America and stirred many; several said it brought them to tears for the pain it reflects, and for the shift it triggered.

Indeed, one is reminded of exactly such a reversal here recently, when a plan to bring parking meters to Georgetown was met with organized and mature protest by the Movement Against Parking Meters.  Some of the meters were already in place around town, rates were being proposed, it looked like “boat gone ah falls” on the matter, similar to the Supreme Court nomination in Washington, but the protests succeeded and the plan was aborted.

Those two situations – one from abroad and one from here – show that organized citizen power can bring change when properly applied.

Admittedly, one voice alone does not swing the issue despite how gratifying it may be to the one speaking out, but in these two fiascoes – one in Washington and one in our Georgetown – we see the value of reasoned protest.  For those who feel sidelined and take the “wha yuh gun do?” position, remember that there is a strategic alternative.  Realistically, the evidence suggests that Guyanese are not always inclined to take it, but it is there. If enough reasoned voices are raised, barriers can fall.

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Comments

  • Charmayne  On September 30, 2018 at 8:29 pm

    Very good article Dave. Americans need to call for an FBI investigation into the sexual allegations made against Donald Trump. However, for this to be effective and not fall on deaf ears, the voices have to be en masse right across the country. Why is it that Bill Cosby is paying for sexual crimes committed over 20 years ago but Donald Trump is given a pass on his sexual indiscretions. Bill Clinton was impeached for his affair with Monica Lewinsky while he was President, and that affair was consensual. This is an opportune time for women in America to keep the pressure on and lead the charge in bringing sexual predators to justice.

  • Clyde Duncan  On September 30, 2018 at 11:08 pm

    On the flip side, Brother Martins, in this Guyana Online blog from the keyboard of Adam Serwer, “The Confirmation of Trumpism” …. I got:

    “The Republican Party feels no need to serve any civil obligations, only to pursue its own ideological objectives.

    Until Democrats view the Court in similar terms, THEY WILL CONTINUE TO LOSE.

    The lesson of the Trump era, since his nomination for president, has been that Republicans will pay no political price for the shattering of rules or norms, or for disregarding common decency, because the Democrats are unwilling or unable to extract one.”

    And then I recalled another President in another time and place being told by the Leader of the Opposition they will give him “critical support” …. Yes, the Leader of the Opposition.

    I wasn’t deh – so dem tell me.

    The Democrats are doing the same thing up here, today. Weak – Weak – Weak

    I admit it is another time and another place

    But in the end, Coward man keep whole bones.

  • Clyde Duncan  On October 1, 2018 at 12:07 am

    America Is Finally Listening to Women. It’s Sparking a National Crisis.

    Women are now powerful enough to disrupt the male-dominated consensus that in previous eras silenced them. But they are not yet powerful enough to get justice.

    Peter Beinart | The Atlantic

    “The only consensus,” declared The Washington Post about Thursday’s Judiciary Committee hearings, “was that the Senate — and the nation, had hit a new low.”

    In the Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last added that, “It’s impossible to look at the Ford-Kavanaugh hearings and not see America as a nation in decline.”

    A lot of respectable people believe that. It’s the kind of sentiment you hear from nonpartisan journalists and anti-Trump conservatives, the people who represent the supposedly thoughtful center in today’s Washington.

    BUT THIS IS NONSENSE.

    Claiming that Thursday’s hearings reflect “a new low” and “a nation in decline” implies that, in some previous era of American history, the Senate Judiciary Committee would have treated Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford more fairly than they did this week.

    In fact, for the vast majority of American history, Blasey Ford would have received no hearing at all.

    The Senate Judiciary Committee would not have bothered to inquire into her allegations of sexual assault because it would not have pretended that sexual assault was disqualifying for a seat on the Supreme Court.

    By 1991, things had progressed enough that the Judiciary Committee was willing to publicly interview Anita Hill. But at that hearing, conducted by a Judiciary Committee that included no women, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter told Hill that, “You testified this morning that the most embarrassing question involved — this is not too bad — women’s large breasts. That is a word we use all the time.”

    Thursday’s hearings do not reflect a Senate in decline. They reflect a Senate in crisis.

    That is entirely different. The Kavanaugh hearings have thrown the Senate into crisis because women are now powerful enough to disrupt the amicable, male-dominated consensus that in previous eras silenced them altogether.

    But they are not yet powerful enough to get justice. That is not just true in the Senate. That is true in the nation as a whole.

    The increase in partisan polarization, likewise, does not reflect a nation in decline. It reflects a nation in crisis because one political party is no longer totally dominated by white men — leading the other political party to more nakedly defend the privileges of white men.

    When women and people of color were less represented in either party, and white male privileges were thus less threatened, both found it easier to be civil.

    This isn’t a new story. American politics grew more tranquil after Reconstruction, once both parties agreed that Southern blacks should not be permitted to vote.

    Reasonable people can question the way Senate Democrats handled Ford’s allegations when she first came forward.

    But the notion — which is attractive to people in the respectable center — that there was some calm, polite, collegial way to arbitrate her charges is a myth.

    They could have been buried calmly and politely. But they could not have been arbitrated calmly and politely because Ford’s charges are dangerous.

    They’re dangerous to conservative hopes of achieving a majority on the Supreme Court and they’re dangerous to the many powerful men whose careers would be ruined WERE THEY ACCOUNTABLE FOR THEIR ABUSE OF WOMEN.

    Kavanaugh and the Republicans on the Judiciary Committee know that.

    And they have learned from President Trump that when women or people of color endanger your status, it doesn’t work to play nice.

    On Friday, two women who say they are survivors of sexual assault confronted Senator Jeff Flake in an elevator. Their actions constituted a violation of Senate norms; they weren’t civil at all. But the episode didn’t reflect an institution or a nation in decline.

    It reflected an institution and a nation in crisis — the kind of crisis that always comes when people long denied justice challenge the well-mannered consensus on which that injustice rests.

  • Trevor  On October 1, 2018 at 11:32 pm

    Mr. Dave Martins,
    What does American white issues like historical accusations of sexual misconduct have to do with parking meters in Guyana?

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