Look how easy it is to craft a fictitious narrative and set it loose as truth. Look how easy it is to ruffle the well-coiffed feathers of those unaccustomed to citizen commitment to country. Look how an ordinary moment can shape itself into something extraordinary, just so just so.
Deep into Monday night, Government Chief Whip Dr Roodal Moonilal shifted the blinds on the windows of the Parliament chamber and looked down onto Wrightson Road; there he saw citizens on the pavement saying a thunderous and enraged “nay!” to a suspiciously hurried item of legislation designed to change the way we vote through a provision plucked out of the air. He and his colleagues, Opposition members, photographers, passing motorists and, I suspect, the watchful police officers present were united in their shock-and-awe that a small group of Trinidadians and Tobagonians persevered through the night, passionate and unwavering in their view that the Constitution (Amendment) Bill 2014 ought not to be passed.
The next day, shock, and I reckon fear, converted committed citizens into “PNM affiliates” out to “bully” and “intimidate.” This narrative started late on Monday night when a Government member asked of a colleague in the Parliament chamber: “Who pay dem people to stay outside there?”
I wonder if Patrick Manning asked a similar question between 2005 and 2009 when some of these same citizens, dubbed, under the PNM, “professional protesters,” faced him down over the introduction of smelter plants. Mr Manning was known for labelling every critical voice a “political detractor.”
Dr Moonilal should place a call to the Port of Spain City Corporation who will tell him that the spot on which lobbyists stood all day and night Monday was perhaps the cleanest location in all of the city on Tuesday morning; activists collected every discarded bottle, placard, snack wrapper, cigarette pack, sno-cone cup and deposited them in garbage bags which were then neatly tied. The clean-up exercise was initiated by an activist Attillah Springer’s enlightened comment—we can’t be asking them to clean up their act if we don’t clean up ours.
Perhaps Dr Moonilal made a secret exit from Parliament after 4 a.m so he didn’t hear a pore-raising rendition of the national anthem being sung by the lobbyists while MPs were leaving the building. Officers of the Guard and Emergency Branch clipped their heels to attention; Opposition MPs also stood at attention; Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan and Stephen Cadiz paid due respect but every other Government MP flew past, hustling towards their chauffeurs and flashing blue lights.
The proposal to sing the national anthem came from a well-turned-out youth who had been chilling at the Hyatt during the afternoon. She was conversant with the Constitution (Amendment) bill and spontaneously joined the activists for the night. As the vote was being taken inside the chamber, she identified the national anthem as one uncontested thing that unites all citizens and suggested that it be sung as MPs exited.
Dr Moonilal, I suppose, did not see his colleague Rudy Indarsingh repeatedly parting the blinds to make gestures at the lobbyists. I assume in this age of technology, a video recording exists. I expect therefore that when Dr Moonilal complains to the Speaker of the House, he will also lodge a complaint about Mr Indarsingh’s behaviour.
The complaint should include also the sno-cone vendor who donated his ice and syrup to the lobbyists’ cause; the woman in the RAV4 who couldn’t join the group so she dropped off eight large cups of coffee and a few sweetbread slices; the woman in Laventille who sent a message that she wanted to cook a pot of food and bring it but she couldn’t safely traverse that zone after dark; the five cases of bottled water that appeared on the pavement, donated anonymously; the unknown person who distributed some packs of potato chips; the Longdenvillle family of five who drove to the capital late in the night so their children, all under five, could see evidence that faithful citizens exist; the young man from Princes Town who also drove into Port of Spain to meet Dr Merle Hodge, express his thanks and take a selfie.
Dr Moonilal is the brightest man in the country if he could take a fleeting glimpse through blinds and label these nationals “PNM supporters and associates.” Dr Moonilal is the daftest man in the country to not recognise that blind UNC and PNM loyalists of the day had dispersed leaving behind citizens serious and self-assured that what his Government is doing is wrong and dangerous. Dr Moonilal, however, knows from his experience in politics that Monday night with Dooks and Caro inside and citizens outside, the trap is tightening around his Government.
And citizens sense it too.