Key actors in Civil Society, including significant political opposition, must come together to engineer successful protest action in a Barbados space.
The attempts by Caswell Franklyn of Unity Workers Union and others to galvanize protest action by Barbadians is commendable. In a democracy the opportunity for citizens to exercise a right to protest must be protected. History is replete with many examples where protest action by civic minded citizens forced change from those targeted.
One of the biggest protest actions in Barbados was the march in 1981 led by a powerful Barbados Workers Union (BWU) to protest the sacking of David Gilkes by BARTEL. In 2017 there was the BLP led march that attracted thousands to signal to an incumbent Democratic Labour Party (DLP) its increasing unpopularity.
The other protest action of interest was against the construction and lack of transparency of an untested gasification plant by an unproven Cahill Energy. Although the protest did not take the form of thousands marching on the streets, it was effective in generating ‘noise’ and concern among a cross section in the society – traditional, non traditional media or word of mouth were used to catapult the population into a tizzy.
The above mentioned protest actions make for interesting study.
In a Barbados context given our conservative streak, it definitely requires a ‘seminal event’ to trigger mass public support. On paper it would be reasonable to assume that the inability of the NIS to adhere to standard governance requirements to produce timely audited financial statement, inability of successive NIS Board of Directors to hold successive Ministers of Finance accountable, disbursement of NIS funds into questionable projects along with other non compliant decisions should be enough to pique public’s concern and galvanize protest.
The question to be asked – why would thousands not have joined the march yesterday? In the mind of a lowly blogmaster the answer is simple with too many reasons to unpack.
At the top of the list are those leading the protest action. Although many have tremendous respect for Caswell Franklyn, including the blogmaster, he does not have the national appeal to influence a cross section of Barbadians to march. He is perceived as a trouble tree and lacking influence by the establishment. This label will always distract from any attempt by him to draw attention to a cause even if it just. Caswell and his group have been unable to attract brand name personalities to the group from other trade unions, private sector agencies, NGOs , youths and minority groups.
The blogmaster mentioned minority groups because it is with the minority group (White people) the economic wealth and power structures reside in Barbados. One of the reasons for the strong blow back from protest action against the Cahill gasification plant was that the upper middle class; minorities were all in against the project and joined blue collar support (or was it the reverse) and a Mia Mottley Opposition expertly capitalized on the opportunity. There was also full mobilization of social media platforms of which Barbados Underground payed a small part.
Fast forward to today, there is no significant audible or visible political opposition and that powerful minority will always be reluctant to associate with Caswell’s protest group. Unfortunately for Caswell- unlike Frank Walcott- he is a lone wolf because the BWU and NUPW have been neutered. Prime Minister Mia Mottley huge brand and personality continues to suck the oxygen from our space which is NOT healthy for a fledgling democracy. It was interesting to observe Prime Minister Mottley and BWU General Secretary Toni Moore walking almost hand in hand on Kadooment Day.
Let us go back to the drawing board and move from the perception of being too disparate by collaborating with key actors in civil society to be able to capitalize on the next seminal moments that becomes available to achieve effective protest action.