Commentary: Democracy in exile

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Tyrone Hodge is an Anguillan currently living in California and an educator, who values education and one’s heritage. He has written extensively for the Anguillan newspaper and is a panelist of the Mayor Show, which originates in Anguilla every Saturday, in which we focus on identifying problems and offering solutions. His father was Walter G. Hodge, one of the original stalwarts of the Anguilla revolution of 1967

By Tyrone Hodge

“People who shut their eyes to reality simply write their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” ~ James Baldwin.

In his book “American Nightmare Facing the Challenge of Fascism,” Henry A. Giroux uses the phrase ‘democracy in exile’ as a metaphor for what is currently passing as a democracy in Trump’s America. Giroux talks about spaces of resistance which serves to energize efforts in which increasingly totalitarian practices are revealed, analyzed, challenged and undone.

When we see what’s going on here and around the world, it should scare the daylights out of all of us for we are all complicit in what we allow to happen.

It is often said that as America goes, so go the rest of the world, and while that was once the gold standard, one could argue with conviction that it is hardly the case anymore. Democracy it seems has taken one in the gut and is gasping for breath right now.

The bold-faced actions being taken by authoritarian governments the world over, has become the norm rather than the exception. All of these bad actors are now emboldened by the actions of the US.

Last year, when we in Anguilla were celebrating the fiftieth anniversary of our revolution, our chief minister, Mr Victor Banks, at the Ecumenical church service told Anguillians in no uncertain terms that if they didn’t like the way things were going, they had two choices, “like it or lump it.”

It now appears that Mr Banks is at it once again, only this time, what he wants to do or perhaps has already done, is to cherry pick those elements of constitutional and electoral reform that will cement his party’s stronghold on power, the results of which will have long lasting repercussions long after we are gone. Anguilla is in the throes of both a moral and political dilemma.

What is really bad or untoward about this is the fact that it is being done in such an under handed manner, that it cries out for sunshine. Mr Banks and his cronies have cherry picked those items that would benefit his party, thus guaranteeing control of the government. All of this is being done behind closed doors and we the people are none the wiser. Mr Banks is running his government as though it’s his own private enterprise. He is aided and abetted by the rest of his ministers who act as a rubber stamp for whatever he wants.

At issue here is voting at large, which would be alright was it adequately debated in the house and that the people actually understand how it would work. This government has been working in secret for the last six or so months and just like the Banking Bill, comes out at the last minute to spring this on the Anguillian people. No debate, no nothing. Is that how a democracy functions?

Mr Banks genuinely doesn’t understand his people, for he keeps on doing things that are contrary to their wishes and more in line with foreigners. There are several glaring examples. Mr Banks campaigned on the premise that he would save the indigenous banks, NBA and CCB. When asked how he planned to do that, he first acknowledged that it was an excellent question, and then proceeded to hem and haw for the next five minutes and then finally concluded that it was an unfair question and that more time would be needed to answer the question.

As everyone knows, we lost the banks. Mr Banks outright lied. You can use all the euphemisms in the book to describe what he did; it still comes out as a damn lie. Mr Banks also promised to repeal the Stabilization Levy and had we asked the right questions he would have had to tell us just how he planned to make up the shortfall of funds which is why the former Chief Minister Hughes created that regressive tax. Again, Mr Banks took liberties with the truth. Mr Banks’ history is fraught with blunders at the expense of the Anguillian people. When Cap Jaluca was finally sold, Mr Banks forgave the owners a $17 million debt and was only able to recoup $13 million from the sale.

Mr Banks has allies in Governor Tim Foy and Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon. Governor Foy, who in the midst of a constitutional crisis refused to meet with the Honorable Opposition Leader Ms Webster and instead left for the UK for a three week vacation.

The opposition member Ms Pam Webster, recognizing what was going on had to rally the troops using hastily called press conferences broadcast on local Radio Kool FM and Klass FM to alert the people what was afoot by Mr Banks and his cronies.

My fellow Anguillians, those whom we’ve elected to represent us have abandoned the ship. Instead of looking out for our best interests, they instead look out for their own. The time has come for all of us to present a people all on the same page to fight for that which is ours. Our chief minister and his cronies must be stopped. He simply can’t have carte blanche to do whatever he pleases at our expense. Do we not remember from whence we came? What short memories we have. Have we forgotten the hard times? Have we forgotten that we were a people left alone in the middle of nowhere to fend for ourselves?

True, during the 80s and the early 90s we were prosperous, not because of any grand scheme put forward by our leaders, we just happened to be in the right place at the right time, but like the grasshopper, we failed to save for that rainy day. Our schools are in disrepair, they lack proper bathroom facilities, cafeterias and libraries. Teachers are still using the archaic curriculum and are failing to teach our children their history. John Kennedy said: “Children are the most valuable resource and its best hope for the future.” If we don’t teach and nurture them they will fall by the wayside. My fellow Anguillians, can you not see what is happening to us? What the devil are we doing?

Mr Banks is using the Anguillian form of gerrymandering to stay in power but, sir, we are watching you. You will be brought before the court of public opinion and believe me, when they’ve had enough you’ve had it. We are making you a promise; you won’t get away with it. You consistently do whatever you want and without much regard for the wishes of the people. You did this with the two local banks, you signed a Banking Act that killed our two local banks and in the process returned Anguilla back to the clutches of St Kitts. You have signed over Anguillian land to an asset management company located in Antigua, which will give them the power to liquidate our country. You have relinquished our sovereignty to St Kitts. Did you not understand what 1967 was all about?

If one didn’t know better, one could easily surmise that this whole scenario was a plot to disenfranchise Anguillians. Anguillians are still struggling since the global crisis of 2008. Some people haven’t had a job since then. Tell me, sir, how are they supposed to pay their mortgages? In your campaign speeches, you told the people that: “It’s all about you.” What did you mean by that? Frankly, it’s all about you, sir.

There is nothing wrong with Anguilla that a robust economy couldn’t cure. Instead of stacking the decks to guarantee your political longevity, why aren’t you out there trying to jumpstart the economy?

Mr Banks, I know that you are a student of history so you will glean what I have to say. You no doubt know what happened in Bermuda a while back when the legislature went against the wishes of the people. You have consistently done that to us. You have treated us as though we were total morons, but know this, what goes around comes around. Your day of atonement will come, and it is hoped that it will be sooner rather than later.

Anguilla, this land that we love is being slowly lost to us. Our government has and continues to behave in ways that one might call treasonous, ways that have not been conducive to our best interests. We want no part of the OECS, CARICOM and, most importantly, the ECCU. Where were these organizations when we were struggling and needed help? You will probably recall that when the majority of these same people were siding with Robert Bradshaw, they were admonished by Ronald Webster when he told them to stay out of Anguilla’s business to which they had contributed nothing. Mr Webster’s admonition still resonates and it will do the rest of the ECCU to heed his warning. Now they want to benefit from our resources at our expense. We have once again become collateral damage?

We want our banks back and we want the money illegally taken from both banks. We want you and the member from East End to recuse yourselves from anything having to do with the banks, given that the member from East End was a member of the board and you were the minister of finance during which all of the banking maladministration was happening, not to mention that a relative of yours ran one of the banks. Do the both of you not see the conflict of interest, or is it because it’s Anguilla and we the people just don’t know any better?

There is an old saying that says, when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. You have continued to dig, and your latest scam is as they say down south is a butte. You have cherry picked those elements of constitutional reform that will benefit your party and all with the blessings of Governor Tim Foy and Lord Ahmad, both of whom are responsible for the good governance of Anguilla.

You are now selling residency by investment to whoever can fork up the money, and not only that, they are going to be called Anguillian? Victor, what the devil are you doing? You are granting Anguillian citizenship to the grand kids of Anguillians who have never set foot on Anguilla, but without screening them they can come in to vote for you simply because you passed a law that gave them Anguillian citizenship. Do you not see what’s wrong here?

Anguilla is no longer a democracy and it hasn’t been one for quite some time now. It appears that democracy is in fact in exile Given the way the Westminster system goes, what we’ve had has been an elective dictatorship which has since morphed into a plutocracy or kleptocracy, take your pick. Of the United States, James Baldwin once said that: “In this country, we are menaced, intolerably menaced, by a lack of vision.” For the last 50 years we in Anguilla has been menaced, intolerably so, by a lack of vision. Every five years we play musical chairs with the government. Have we not learned anything?

Our moment is now, for there has never been a time that scares the hell out of all of us like now. Our government has abdicated its duty. Those tasked with our well being sit idly by waiting for us to self destruct so that we revert to Crown Colony status. We haven’t fared well as an Overseas Territory and we sure as hell won’t do any better as a Crown Colony. It’s just not in the cards.

Day after day, we watch with bated breath, the actions of our elected government and we wonder who the heck are they working for, surely not us. We cannot continue to just talk about resistance. It’s time for action. We saw what happened when we opposed the Banking Bill in the House; the cops were on hand with full riot gear, complete with submachine guns and attack dogs.

In 1967 we simply demanded that the St Kitts police get on Clayton’s plane and leave. Do you honestly think that they will follow our requests this time? Remember, the majority of our Royal Police Force is non-belongers who are here just for what they can get. Do you honestly think that they won’t open fire if given the order? If that happens, Victor and his cronies had better start seeking new permanent addresses, because they will have Anguillian blood on their hands.

So, Mr Chief Minister, astute politician that you are, think long and hard about what the history books will have to say about you, and I promise it will not be kind, and to those fellow cronies of yours, history will not be kind to them either, for they were your enablers, who rubber stamped everything that you wanted to do and, sir, your arrogant style in the house and your treatment of the opposition member who works without any kind of a budget and your lack of cooperation; we will hang these around your neck like an albatross.

Anguillians we need a new plan of attack, one that’s well coordinated, focused and one that’s relentless. Every one of us will have to come together. There can’t be any factions, it’s all for one and one for all, to quote the “Three Musketeers.” As Henry Giroux says in his “American Nightmare.” We’d do well to heed the words of the great abolitionist Frederick Douglass:

“It is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and the crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”

The oppression, with which we are being treated now, leaves us the indigenous Anguillians in a very tenuous place. Mr Banks thinks and has said as much that we are a headless body and you know what that means. He also said that we ought to settle for second class citizenship. So now that we know how he really feels about us, what can we expect? We have to rise up and challenge Mr Banks on his actions. If we don’t we might as well get on that plane heading for anywhere, just not Anguilla, for there will be nothing left to come home to. We simply cannot afford another five years of Mr Banks and company. It’s time for a clean sweep of both the flotsam and jetsam that has gotten us to this place.

So in the end, everyone from Thomas Jefferson to John Kennedy has said, Democracy ceases to exist without an informed citizenry, for being informed allows one to execute his or her civic duty.

Henry Giroux ends his book “American Nightmare,” simply by saying: “In the end there is no democracy without informed citizens, no justice without a language critical of injustice and no change without a broad based movement of collective resistance.”

And so, my fellow Anguillians, are you up to the task? Remember the words of James Baldwin: “People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster.” And so, my fellow Anguillians, in the words of John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” What will you do for your country?” That is the question. May God bless and keep Anguilla.

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