The People and Parliament

Social Media worldwide buzzes with talk, pictures and videos of a new hangout in Georgetown, dubbed ‘the People’s Parliament’, taking shape at Brickdam and High Street, just outside the National Assembly.

The real Parliament, adorned with fresh paint, sits in its new political form, its well-dressed politicians pontificating about this nation’s affairs.

The citizen outside its fancy iron gates bustles about Stabroek Market and Demico House in apathy, refusing to believe that inside that big, bright concrete building his or her welfare really matters.

This Guyanese apathy towards their government system, by the passive governed, is a reality in most societies, worldwide, today.

Even in North America and Europe, citizens watch their rulers make a mockery of that much-touted idea of democracy of the people.

So the global Occupy movement started at Wall Street in New York to protest alleged sinister collusion between the US Congress and global corporate giants.

Outside our Parliament, as the destitute and deranged unwittingly continue their silent sidewalk vigil against the falling apart of our social fabric, the authorities prepare to erect a new fence. This fence wants to rid the city of Georgetown’s budding Occupy movement, that gathering storm under the banner of ‘The People’s Parliament’.
Inside Parliament Buildings itself, the ruling party and the opposition parties haggle and fight over the public purse.

Outside on the street, the dream of our people becoming as empowered as their Parliamentarians takes shape as the local Occupy movement.

And the authorities seem worried. The police raided the movement and dismantled tents, asking the people to vacate the street. The movement re-grouped and reappeared at a public mini-park at Brickdam and High Street, a very visible intersection of the city.

Now, authorities have started to erect a fence to keep the park free of public access.

This new Occupy Georgetown movement, ‘the People’s Parliament’, attracts high-profile government critics and public-minded citizens, who show up to give talks and to discuss national affairs.

It attracts people from all walks of life who drop by to gaffe, to lament the state of their country, and to vent. Some offer solutions. UG students drop by to feel the energy of critical thinking.

People bring food as donations, offer chairs and umbrellas and other necessities, and words of encouragement.
Across the internet, the movement gathers momentum.

This movement could become government’s most pressing concern yet, for it proposes nothing concrete. It makes no demands. It has no discernible leader. Like Occupy Wall Street and other such movements around the world, its shadowy nature worries the authorities.

In Canada, the police moved in and broke up the movement as soon as it started, passing local by-laws to ban such occupation of public spaces.
In the US and Europe, thousands of such protesters have been arrested.

Here in Guyana, the movement is bound to attract government’s wrath, as it threatens to become the most dogged, determined and disruptive of citizen protest. At worse, it’s a devastating public relations disaster for any government to have to deal with the public eyesore of Occupy protesters taking over public spaces.

Yet, this is an important development in our nation. It speaks volumes as to the new direction this society is heading. With Social Media wide open as a global publishing and broadcast platform, the discontents who form the movement have instant access to the public ear and mind.

Government’s social media reach is limited, not trusted and lacks the energy of citizens blogging about their plight.

This week, the global Occupy movement marked its first annual anniversary. The mainstream media mentions it now and again, but serious coverage is blacked out.

The movement doesn’t mind. It uses the far more powerful forum of Social Media to spread its influence and gather its members.

The ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions may have spawned the idea of the movement. Whatever caused it, it has become a frightening occurrence to the status quo, especially the political establishment.

This frightened response may have some merit, for the movement seems to threaten a sort of anarchy, a massive discontent with government and governing authorities, yet offering no real alternative.
In fact, a Robert D. Kaplan’s 1994 essay published in the Atlantic Monthly magazine, an influential US think tank publication, echoes through the global Occupy movement.
Titled ‘The Coming Anarchy’, Kaplan’s essay warns of massive social chaos in our time, these first few decades of the 21st century.

His essay has become quite influential in the corridors of global politics. Along with the thesis of Samuel P Huntington, as outlined in his work titled The Clash of Civilizations, and the work of Francis Fukuyama, in such books as The Great Disruption, Kaplan’s map of today’s world reeks of pessimism.

The world faces decades of social disruptions as the now dead Industrial Age gets dismantled for the Information Knowledge Age to take its place.

Such disruptions will cause enormous social upheavals around the world, Kaplan warns, as nations grapple with a citizenry empowered with information and knowledge, and unwilling to settle for authoritative absolutes, especially of political systems.

The Parliament of politicians across the street fears the Parliament of the people in the park, because of that Kaplan warning of anarchy.

Kaplan suggests that political systems must become fluid, flexible and able to accommodate new social realities.

Nationalities, a lot of it imposed under colonial misunderstandings, may disappear. In Huntington’s world, societies would have to cater for sensitivities towards civilizations, rather than expect national patriotism to sync citizens into a cohesive, obedient mass.

In Guyana, this means we may see discontent among citizens based not on ethnicity or race, but on their identity with their ancestral heritage. We may be seeing this already, with the surge of religious schools taking shape.

A significant percentage of the Guyanese population educated in all-Hindu, all-Muslim or all-Christian schools would be entering the adult population within the next decade, many aspiring to leadership positions.

As we saw in the November ‘11 elections, our society is undergoing serious social and political transformation. ‘The People’s Parliament’, playing on the global Social Media platform, demands its place in the power structure.

And for the politicians across the street, this evokes Kaplan’s threat of social disruptions, akin to anarchy.


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