Is Freedom another word for Nothing to Lose?

On Wednesday tens of thousands from all over the world came together to celebrate the 1963 March on Washington, among them Saint Lucia prime minister Kenny Anthony.

On Wednesday tens of thousands from all over the world came together to celebrate the 1963 March on Washington, among them Saint Lucia prime minister Kenny Anthony.

Time was when the media could count on the prime minister’s press secretary to proffer detailed accounts of her employer’s activities, before they actually occurred and afterward. Not anymore. To judge by her more recent crumb offerings her generosity toward the media is fast becoming a thing of the past. The once-upon-a-time butterfly is fast metamorphosing before our perplexed eyes into a Scrooge for all seasons—stingier than a Venetian merchant when it comes to details of our peripatetic prime minister’s peregrinations.

And not without cause! Perhaps she is wary of certain sections of the media that seem hell-bent on fact-checking every word spilled out of her split-toothed, en-rouged lips. Remember when she bragged to the whole world via the Internet and the parroting local media that her smooth-talking boss had been specially chosen to deliver the keynote address at a partisan gathering of Socialist International boys and girls in Johannesburg, South Africa?

Just perchance there were among us some cheapskates who might’ve cribbed about having to pay for what was at bottom a strictly Red Zone affair, Jadia JnPierre-Emmanuel made it abundantly clear that all related expenditures would come out of her boss’ presumably well-lined pockets and not from the anemic Consolidated Fund.

As for the purpose of his personally funded visit, it later emerged that Socialist International had long relegated him and his OECS cohorts to silent observer status, their socialist Labour parties having neglected for years to pay membership dues.

Yes, so no surprise that Jadia’s release on Tuesday (curiously headed “Let Freedom Ring”) offered not a word about the purpose for the prime minister’s latest outing, what this broke and desperate nation stood to gain in consequence, and the cost to taxpayers.

It began this way: “On Wednesday August 28, 2013, leaders and freedom fighters from the international community will join the family of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.” The invitation came from a daughter of the slain civil rights leader, by Jadia’s sugared account.

The legendary original March on Washington was organized by what would become famous as “The Big Six”: the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee; the Congress on Racial Equality; Southern Christian Leadership Conference; the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and the National Urban League.

The man who brought together the above-mentioned institutions was Bayard Rustin, who was posthumously awarded by President Obama the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor. Rustin, along with astronaut Sally Ride, are two of the few openly gay people to ever receive the award.

For sixty years Rustin had fought for peace and equal rights, demonstrating, organizing and protesting in the United States and around the world. As earlier noted, in the summer of 1963 he was the main organizer of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that drew some 250,000 participants including the Rev Martin Luther King Jr. with his seminal “I Have a Dream Speech.”

Rustin had organized “the largest demonstration the country had ever seen” in just two months, according to several historians.

Rustin is described as a black man, tall, with high cheekbones, and he was a gifted singer. Alongside Paul Robeson he played a bit part on Broadway and often performed for his audiences as he toured the country conducting race-relations workshops.

Rustin was also gay. In 1953 his homosexuality became a public problem after he was found having sex in a parked car with two men. He was arrested on a morals charge. Many trustworthy sources would later claim he had been set-up. When he was chosen to organize the 1963 march, some civil activists objected. The segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond took to the senate floor, where he derided Rustin for being a communist, a draft dodger and a homosexual.

According to the writer D’Emilio, Thurmond unwittingly created an opportunity for Rustin’s sexuality to stop being an issue.  His surviving life partner Walter Neagle says that in the final years of his life Rustin became more involved in gay rights: “He saw this as another challenge, another barrier that had to be broken down, a larger struggle for human rights and for individual freedoms.”

As Rustin himself stated it: “The barometer for judging the character of people in regards to human rights is now those who consider themselves gay, homosexual, lesbian. The judgment as to whether you can trust the future, the social advancement, depending on people, will be judged on where they come out on that question.”

Bayard Rustin, at the end of the highly successful Washington march, stepped up to the microphone to read the demands that the leaders of the civil rights movement would take to President John F. Kennedy. First on the list: effective civil rights legislation—no compromise, no filibuster—and that it include accommodations, decent housing, integrated education and the right to vote.”

Rustin wanted to move the civil rights agenda from protesting to politics and to work within the system—blacks and whites together—to create jobs and other opportunities. By most accounts his effort fell flat, stymied by a more militant generation and the dominant issue of the times: the Vietnam war.

Said Rustin: “It has split the civil rights movement down the middle. It has caused many white people who were in it to say that must wait now until we stop Vietnam.”

Rustin would become the first field secretary for the Congress of Racial Equality, one of the main sponsors of the March on Washington.

He died in 1987.

But to return home: How ironic that our prime minister should choose to accept Bernice King’s invitation, sent around the world, never mind Jadia’s ever so subtle insinuation that there was something personal and intimate about it. Interestingly, the press secretary—who recently bragged via her BBM about her boss’ prowess as a soldier ready to take on anyone who should dare challenge him for his present job—did not specify whether the PM had gone to Washington as a leader or as a “freedom fighter.” After all, it has sometimes appeared that our prime minister subscribes to the Kris Kristofferson notion that “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose!”

Our current prime minister was very much in charge of our country’s affairs when young Verlinda Joseph was brutally raped and murdered in a muddy Saltibus field not far from her home. The day’s attorney general had publicly acknowledged “the system let Verlinda down.” Alas, our prime minister saw no good reason to hold him accountable for his discombobulating declaration, or for the actual letdown.

At the time of Verlinda’s death at least three often adjourned sexual assault cases were pending in court, all related to the 13-year-old. To this day they remain unresolved.

Some six months following Verlinda’s horrific death her stepfather was arrested and charged with murder. He was recently released on bail from Bordelais after ten years behind bars. Yes, the system that had let Verlinda down, the system as it functioned back then and continues to function under its chief operator the current prime minister and participant in this week’s remembrance march in Washington, also let down all right-thinking citizens of this country—not to mention rights advocates everywhere!

As I write Bordelais houses more citizens awaiting a trial date than are convicted felons.

Following several denials the prime minister recently acknowledged that funds supportive of special operations under the Leah Law arrangements had been suspended on the basis of human rights violations by the Royal Saint Lucia Police Force. Perhaps especially ironic—bearing in mind the homosexual Bayard Rustin’s involvement in the original March on Washington—is that the government headed by Kenny Anthony stubbornly refuses even to address archaic laws that clearly discriminate against certain citizens on the basis of their sexual orientation.

Just days before he left for Washington to join in the celebration of the famous 1963 march, Saint Lucia’s prime minister presided over a conference here during which one of the leading attendees issued remarks concerning an opposition politician that reeked of hate and a lack of respect for our Constitution. Others in the government continue to judge fellow citizens by the color of their skin, not by the content of their character. Businesspeople who have dared to express political points of view have been threatened outright been victimized by government MPs.

The prime minister is fast developing a reputation as a close friend of some of the most dictatorial of world leaders, especially notorious for their violations of human rights. Most recently he declared war on a local businessman, on the basis of his demonstrated support of his son’s political ambitions. The same prime minister had sought in an earlier time to muzzle the press via a law commonly referred to as Section 361. He
later repealed it under public duress.

On the other hand, perhaps some good will come out of the prime minister’s visit to Washington, where President Obama, recalling King’s “I Have a Dream Speech” to the marchers, used his remarks to link the black civil-rights struggle to the goal of offering “a fair shot” at reaching the middle class to all Americans. In his address, the President described economic inequality in stark terms, drawing a contrast between impoverished youth facing diminished prospects and the fortunate few benefitting from exploding corporate profits.

Perhaps the prime minister will take home with him a new attitude, after hearing Obama say the marchers in 1963 “were there seeking jobs as well as justice, not just the absence of oppression but also the presence of economic opportunity. For what does it profit a man, Dr. King would ask, to sit at an integrated lunch counter if he can’t afford the meal.” There seems to be a connection between the President’s words and some of the “opportunities” offered in Saint Lucia that remain inaccessible to the majority.

Then again, there is also the impression that our prime minister has little time for anything American. Consider the following State Department cables that refer to a visit by U.S. Ambassador Kramer to dedicate two Southcom-constructed projects.

According to the cables leaked by Wikileaks, the ambassador met informally with Kenny Anthony: “While both ceremonies created positive public impressions of U.S.-St. Lucia cooperation, Ambassador Kramer concluded that PM Anthony is considerably less committed to, and less capable of, managing St Lucia’s diplomatic and security responsibilities than he claims.

“He professed unawareness that St. Lucia had delayed signing an Article 98 agreement, as well as ignorance of his government’s unresponsiveness to repeated United States Government efforts to focus St. Lucia officials on bilateral cooperation or even to return phone calls. Abandoning his earlier banana-related rationale for rejecting Guatemala’s candidacy for the upcoming UNSC election, Anthony has highlighted the vulnerability of small states as a reason to support Venezuela. A former professor, PM Anthony seems more interested in pontificating on what others should do in the international arena than in becoming a responsible leader at home . . . “

Especially relevant at this time: “Despite the positive mood of the day’s events, post considers PM Anthony an unreliable partner whose commitment to security responsibilities consists of self-congratulation and cosmetic solutions, such as replacing local police commanders with British police officers, without insuring the logistical or political support the law enforcement personnel need . . . The force’s effectiveness could benefit
from the replacement of several individuals in leadership positions. The prime minister has not seen fit to make those changes.”

Clearly the present problems plaguing the police began long before 2011!

Finally: “In observing his interaction with his own citizenry throughout the day, Ambassador Kramer concluded PM Anthony is not interested in acting locally or leading globally; his sole focus seems to be on maintaining his position rather than providing a vision for St. Lucia.”

By the way, quire recently our prime minister was invited to meet Vice President Joe Biden and Trade Winds personnel. he chose instead to call on Fidel.

To borrow from Ronald Reagan, here we go again—that vision thing!

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