Civil society needs a new procedures manual

Dear Editor,

There are cascading, almost unceasing waves of words, postures, and movement that characterize local civil society. Despite this determined flurry, one inescapable conclusion emerges: Civil society is too civil. It is just too civil in thinking, in strategy, in action. It ends up getting what it gets and going where it is headed. In sum, nothing and nowhere.

It should be helpful to start with the context of existing circumstances. Words are up first. For every word uttered, the PPP propaganda machinery can and does respond with a hundred of its own; sometimes directly, most of the time peripherally or circuitously. It has the channels and limitless resources; there are the willing henchmen, too. Thus, the Powell doctrine of overwhelming force brought to bear is applied, and the PPP suffocates through sheer volume and quantity.

Then there are the players. A paltry few are genuine; the rest are best classified as pretenders and Trojan Horses. From its catbird seat, the PPP’s reach and reaction are tried and tested: buy out or stamp out. Buying out is easy, as money is not an obstacle. There is enough to burn, with loads left over. On the other hand stamping out requires more subtlety, an oilier slickness. Stamping out through engagement is counterproductive –it entangles and could expose. There is a better way: silence.

Silence nullifies righteous words, capsizes patriotic stances, and diminishes noble intentions. It is the equivalent of arguing with self; or boxing all day long with an absent opponent. Rail loudly, exhaust yourselves physically and mentally, if not emotionally. Go ahead, make your own day more taxing, sorrier.

Now what is civil society’s reaction to all of this? It is more words, more postures, and more boxing with self. This is the set script adhered to unfailingly; there is no revision, no deviation. When the situation calls for – demands – radical revision of thinking, it is merely more of the same that went before. For there comes a time when the territory has to be stretched, the envelope pushed to it farthest limits. Instead of talking to ourselves through endless expression, there is a need for a probe for openings (any openings), sensitivities, and Achilles heels. They are there.

In place of another gathering, and yet another speech why not take a place in the street? Many places. How about embracing and owning the pavement? Then think economics; always think economics. That was the ancient lesson relearned and implemented at a bridge in Linden.

Economics – as in squeeze and result – incentivizes involved parties. It motivates hitherto disinterested, uninvolved onlookers, to work the phones, to appeal for relief. Economic fallout galvanizes presidents (whether behind the curtain or the front man) to discover reason and sanity and to blink. It has to be eyeball to eyeball before the blinking occurs. Economics is the catalyst; money (or loss of it) the revolutionizing agent of change.

All else are floating, isolated wisps of immaterial presences – respectful, obedient, meek –observed with utter indifference, even scorn, by the resident Kremlinologists and KGB trainees. Therefore, to get some semblance of results I say: Get out of the air-conditioned karaoke huts and sing in public. Sing loudly new and different songs, where it matters. For too long the terms have been dictated, the public occasions formulaic. Discard and depart the unsuccessful. Seize the opportunity. Choose the time and terrain. And make the powers stop and listen. Really listen. Instil in them, elements of concern, and perhaps dawning apprehension. None of any of this is ever present. Give pause. Compel listening. Advance remedies. Stay the limit. Last, remember the failed promises that followed retreat, as in Linden.

As said earlier, there has been a lot of civility and obedience, sometimes obeisance. It has all been for naught. All parties are too well versed with the same tattered procedures manual. It is time for a different one. I suggest to civil society that it listens closely, conduct sharp self-examination, purge itself ruthlessly, and start all over.


Yours faithfully,
GHK Lall

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