Home Commentary Open forum 'PEOPLE WILL BE MORE OBSERVANT, LESS TOLERANT'

'PEOPLE WILL BE MORE OBSERVANT, LESS TOLERANT'

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Dear Source,
Civil disobedience is the very core of our democratic political system. It was Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence who stated that citizens have a right and an obligation to speak up when their government is not functioning in the best interests of the people. People choose their leaders to make decisions for them. When the leaders don't make the right decisions, they get chastised or removed.
In a perfect world, these elected leaders would put all their efforts into improving the lives of all citizens equally without regard to special relationships or monetary reward. We're still waiting for that perfect world, so in the meantime it may be necessary for the people to raise their voices occasionally. How occasionally will depend on the behavior of the leaders. As Momma said, "If you don't want to be scolded, don't misbehave."
Although the Honorable Governor Turnbull admitted that the demonstrations over the inauguration ceremonies were within the legal rights of citizens to express themselves, he and his speech writers then attempted to discourage further involvement from the disgruntled masses by enumerating all the ways the protestors has been disrespectful. His comments were a blatant appeal to people who have not yet accepted the citizen's role in holding the elected to responsible leadership — a strong attempt to keep more people from speaking out.
Many of the residents of the Virgin Islands come from countries where public protests and demonstrations can bring down the government or cause serious instability, as is currently happening in Venezuela. Demonstrations make them nervous. Their history is not based on the "power to the people" that Virgin Islanders used to influence their governments even before we came under the United States flag.
But this governor is an educated man and a historian who knew full well the effect his words would have — and, furthermore, is well aware of the role civil disobedience has played in the history of America, particularly in bringing equal rights to people of African origin.
The loud blast of Buddhoe's conch shell was the most significant sound in our history. Surely Governor Von Scholten must have muttered something about how disrespectful that man was to take all the laborers out of the field where they were needed to keep up the economy, and most of all making noise that would be heard in Denmark to make life difficult for the good governor.
Martin Luther King Jr., whose birthday we honor this week, learned the methods of non-violent protest from Gandhi's struggle against British domination. I was fortunate to have worked with Martin Luther King Jr. and, although we all believed in the power of non-violence, it was sometimes necessary to exert some behind-the-scenes moves that got the message across to reluctant listeners.
I am reminded of a discussion I once had with my then teen-age son. He questioned why I came down on him so loudly when I exerted my parental authority. I explained that I had already taught him right from wrong but recognized that sometimes it was necessary to gently remind him about his behavior. Then, seeing no change or response, I would make a stronger statement of what my expectations were — and quite frequently, as teenagers will, he defied my request. At that point it was necessary to "bring down the roof" adamantly, sometimes embarrassingly and always loudly. Then I got the desired response.
Would the governor have listened if the people had not been a mite too loud, had not truly disrupted all the pomp and circumstance? I think the press got it right when headlines, indicating the most important news, minimized the empty remarks of our elected leaders and emphasized the most important sounds of the ceremonies — which came from the disgruntled citizens. That's democracy flourishing.
The governor fails to see his responsibility for the demonstrations in sending the pay raise bill to the Senate. As far as I'm concerned, he shows major disrespect for the hard-working, tax-paying citizens of the U.S. Virgin Islands in padding his pockets and the pockets of his family and cronies instead of paying back-owed salaries, paying off excessive debt and providing better education and social services for people in need. That's the major "dis."
People are alive and suffering, and I don't have space here to tell him how I would like to have spent the 20 percent of my annual income I have to give up to provide him with his fancy house, bully security and a healthier bank account.
He says the demonstrators are educators and professionals who should know better. Possibly they are more in the know than he would like them to be. Probably the up-front demonstrators are more secure in their jobs and finances than the hundreds of people who honked their horns in loud support from the safety of their vehicles. He should be listening to the words of those songs that are the symbols and reminders of the people who sacrificed in the past to change wrongs.
Governor Turnbull and his Senate bedfellows forgot that they were elected by a very slim margin and they took one giant step over the line that even the most tolerant Virgin Islanders could not accept. The base nature of these "honorable" elected officials has been exposed. Trust has been destroyed, and the wall holding back the discontented has been broken. From now on, the people will be more observant and less tolerant. Be prepared, Governor and Senators, to hear from more and more people — louder and louder.
Carol Lotz Felix
St. Thomas

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