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2012 — A year of protests/dissent

By LARA PICKFORD-GORDON Monday, December 10 2012

This has been a year of protests and displays of dissent in many forms.

Let me give some examples: Bad roads–SS Erin Road, Rancho Quemado Junction, Erin; La Brea Trace Junction Siparia; Four Roads Tamana, Cumuto; La Canoa, San Souci, San Pedro, La Puerta. You get the idea. Then there were protests by persons who felt their communities were neglected by government–Piccadilly, Harpe Place, Beetham, Laventille.

There were also protests by workers — teachers, TT Post, NIB, PoS Sanitation, health workers, judiciary etc. And protest by the People’s National Movement with the Section 34 controversy.

We had demonstrations against the Debe to Mon Desir section of the Pt Fortin Highway by members of the Highway Re-route Movement and Dr Wayne Kublalsingh.

As Kublalsingh ended his action, residents of Beetham Gardens decided that they had enough of unfulfilled promises and protested for jobs on Thursday.

Their action took the form of burning tyres and blocking the Beetham Highway which immediately had the effect of traffic and delaying commuters heading east and towards Port-of-Spain.

While trade unions organise their protests and get permission from the police, the demonstrations by residents in communities seems to have a modus operandi.

It has become a cliché for persons trying to get attention for their issues to block roads and burn tires and rubbish. Where the protesters get ample supply of old tyres is a mystery to me but I wish they would desist since burning those tyres cannot be good for the environment.

People trying to get attention from the authorities will use whatever leverage they can. So last week in the case of the La Brea and Beetham residents, it was making the main thoroughfare inaccessible. The police generally adopt a lenient attitude to protesters and no one is charged for obstruction. A member of the Beetham community, summed up his view of the advantage held by the residents because of their location near a major highway.

“It will take us nothing to block from (phase) one to five and if everybody put in then the country will automatically shut down.”

The resident observed that the People’s Partnership was not taking the residents seriously and was no different from the PNM administration. He said the whole police service could try and stop the protest but it would not end.

Another resident said persons in the Beetham community had been trying to get food cards but persons in need had not received any assistance.

A third said, “all we need is work, it’s Christmas time, all we need is work, everybody wants to enjoy the Christmas just like other communities. We not seeing anything going on.”

The people of Beetham see activity in east Port-of-Spain and want to know where their share of work is. These work programmes provide a temporary opportunity to earn an income and get trained.

Getting TT people to come out and demonstrate is no easy task. We may be people living in the tropics but we can’t stand “hot sun” for long. Depending on the demonstration, some beers and other alcoholic beverages may be involved and a lively rhythm and dancing to keep the mood light.

Have we ever noticed that large- scale demonstrations in other countries tend to have a serious and sombre tone because they want to be taken seriously?

Getting people to maintain a momentum for protest is also not easy. This is why protests by residents are so sporadic and die down and flare up again.

As a reporter, I have found that several demonstrations could have been avoided simply with proper communication of information, and timely updates to people on the ground.

Commenting on the Beetham protest last week, Minister of Planning Dr Bhoe Tewarie called for law and order and said a community could not just decide every Monday to burn tyres and “cause ruction in the communities and dislodging the entire economic system in protest.”

Works Minister Emmanuel George also called for a different approach through greater engagement between communities and the authorities in improving their areas. Unfortunately, like the child who throws the tantrum and makes a scene, when citizens “get on bad” there is a response. This has been tried and proven to work and people are allowed to vent.

Often their anger is legitimate after the courteous approach of letters, appeals and meetings fail.

There has been an upsurge in persons burning tyres and blocking roads and this cannot be the best way to deal with matters.

Someone is yet to try something different (and I am not promoting a hunger strike). When it comes to protest we are still at the basic level–roads, water, housing, living conditions.

In other countries their protests are for ideological, political, environmental issues. Maybe it is a good thing our protests are tame, then again, I am not sure how many TT people are willing to give up food long-term, get a buss head or broken bones for a cause.

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