“From 1964 to 1972, the wealthiest and most powerful nation in the history of the world made a maximum military effort, with everything short of atomic bombs, to defeat a nationalist revolutionary movement in a tiny, peasant country – and failed. When the United States fought in Vietnam, it was organized modern technology versus organized human beings, and the human beings won.”
– pg. 469, A PEOPLE’S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES, Howard Zinn, HarperPerennial
At this newspaper, we try to be careful with words. Indeed, we have to be careful with words, because our newspaper words do not just quickly blow away into the wind: our words are printed in black and white, and they will last for generations. The words we use are there for us to be judged by, and so our words bring a weighty responsibility along with them.
We have a phrase we have been using at Amandala for decades, which is, of course, “power to the people.” It was used by the Black Panther Party founded by Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton in Oakland, California in the late 1960s. But it was a Belizean who was visiting Belize from that said city of Oakland, California in the spring/summer of 1969, who introduced the young UBAD cultural movement to the South African word Amandla. (This Belizean was Bert Simon, who soon returned to the United States and converted to the Nation of Islam. He is now Nuri Muhammad.)
Our understanding of Amandla at the time was that it translated roughly in English to “power to the people.” Over the years, we have come to understand that Amandla is part of a call-and-response ritual in South Africa where the speaker cries Amandla, or power, and the people respond, Ngawethu, which means roughly, the power belongs to the people. (In that summer of 1969, we chose to call our newspaper Amandala, adding an extra “a” to make the word more easily pronounceable.)
Now then, every few years the people of Belize transfer their power to a government by means of a process called elections. Once a government is installed, it is the government which has the power: they become trustees of the people’s power. It is not accurate to say that the people are the government. The government is the government. The government represents the people, or, at least, this is what the government should be doing.
As the process of elections evolved in Belize, following the introduction of universal adult suffrage in 1954, universal adult suffrage being at that time the right for all registered citizens 21 years and older to vote in elections, the election process became more and more unwieldy, more and more sophisticated, and more and more expensive. It became the case that you did not stand a chance of being elected if you did not belong to one of the two major political parties, and none of the two major parties could establish viability and credibility if that party could not raise enough campaign finances to organize, mobilize and proselytize.
Because the masses of the Belizean people are poor and lacking in political education, we lost control of the two political parties, which nowadays solicit their campaign financing from millionaires, multimillionaires, and billionaires. When the leaders of our political parties solicit moneys from these oligarchs, the oligarchs lay down conditions. It is in satisfying those pre-election conditions that our political leaders, after they are installed in Cabinet, begin to compromise the theoretical power of the people and make a mockery thereof.
But, even though we, the Belizean people, have lost control of the two major political parties, we have not lost control of our individual and collective selves. At least, we should not have so lost. It is, we think, time now for us to examine ourselves as a Belizean people. What is our worth, and of what stuff are we made?
We lament in Belize that we live in difficult times, and that difficult times lie ahead of us. Yes, indeed, but do these difficult times provide justification for us to become whores and harlots, for us to destroy the integrity and dignity of our democracy in return for handouts and payoffs? We are enslaving our own selves, even in a system where the power belongs to the people.
In the twentieth century there were a people called the Vietnamese, a humble Asiatic people. They fought the Japanese and the French for their nationhood and freedom, because the Vietnamese wanted to be a nation and they wanted to be free. But, after they had defeated the Japanese and the French, there came the Americans, who had become the greatest military machine on planet earth.
The Americans pulverized the Vietnamese with massive aerial bombings, widespread spraying of chemical poisons and defoliants, and hundreds of thousands of American troops. This was a war that it was impossible for the Vietnamese to win. So it seemed. Go and check the history books. Amandla. Ngawethu.
In their deaths, the Rt. Hon. George Price and the Hon. Philip Goldson, despite their human frailties and whatever their political indiscretions, are honored across party political lines. This is because the historical record shows that the two men believed in the Belizean people, they believed in the power and destiny of the Belizean people, and they were willing to give their lives for the Belizean people. Price and Goldson are national heroes.
What is it that we are to say about some of these characters we see strutting and hear fulminating these days in the House of Representatives? We can say, because we wish to be kind, that they do not measure up. But, they are our elected leaders, and their manifest inadequacies ultimately reflect on us, the Belizean people.
People of Belize, we are in a fight for our place in this Jewel. People from outside want to come here and take it away from us. People from outside want to tell us what to do, and they want to do with us as they would. As a Belizean nation, we must know that there is such a quality, such a treasure as our national dignity. It is not for sale. It is not for frigging sale.
Still, passion and rhetoric notwithstanding, ask yourselves if it does not now appear that we, the Belizean people, have become Esau’s and vendors of our birthrights, both our physical and our moral birthrights? This, beloved, is the crux of the Elvin Penner case. This is a grave matter. A member of the elected leadership of our beloved nation decided to put Belize’s national dignity up for sale. This is what all the evidence indicates. The Belizean people have decided, en masse, that this was an abomination. Our people are, therefore, crying out for justice.
Power to the people. Power in the struggle.