Today in the month of May, we talk of independence here in Guyana. Many yesterdays ago, also in May and 231 years to be exact, the young American nation somehow came up with a sacred instrument that is revered there and at least recognized everywhere else. It is the U.S. Constitution. Gouverneur Morris, the delegate from Pennsylvania, succinctly declared, “I have many reasons to believe it is the work of plain, honest men.” Those two simple, well-worn adjectives say all that had to be said; they cover much ground. They are enough.
In this long half century interlude of Independence, I look around and ask: do we have plain, honest ones here? Do we have enough of such men and women to sway the tides of obstruction, calculation, and stagnation? Or is it that we are too clever for our own good? And too untruthful and too unwise to agree and enshrine what is right, just, and good for this nation that continues to reject out of hand every opportunity to give itself a chance? Enshrine possesses an indefinable sacrosanct element that has been so distinctively anemic in deliberations and visions. As we celebrate Independence, there is great fruitless searching for that freedom of the spirit, that freedom from fear that invigorates the genuine and the cleanly heavily committed. Where is it? Where are they who know only the binding constraints of unswerving principle, idealism of rare order, and a sprawling soaring patriotism?
It takes plain, honest men not captive to delusions of personal grandeur, or angling for nuanced advantage to move mountains with bare hands wherever they may be. The issue might be real constitutional reform; or substantive toothy campaign financing laws. Or it could be powers or groups and how to balance their interests and manage insecurities. It is instructive that, on what ought to be this mesmerizing day that is the 26th of May, it took blood and barbarity to remind of the paltriness of our natures, the vehemence of our passions, and the singular negativity that saps the vitality of a society grasping for footing while reaching in vain for nonexistent lifelines. It took murders and suicide and crimes to overwhelm temporarily the daily concerns and apprehensions about oil, about governance, about the tenuous freedoms that feel more like burdens, chronic pains, and unmoving yokes.
Plain, honest men: can we be? To rise above the swirling conflicts and simmering animosities to breathe workable compromises from slender consensus; to stagger away from the crucible that devours character and visions and the will to craft the new norms of a truly free day and way. The plain, honest men of a then shaky United States, united more in name than in reality, had their own enfeebling destructive race issue. They called it that “peculiar institution” of slavery. Through civil war and daring constitutional amendment that divisive issue still remains too psychically embedded; too environmentally fertile two hundred years later. There is that hard lesson for Guyana.
For on freedom day in Guyana there is still the slavery of all too vivid emotions, settled mentalities, and the overpowering reach of a pervasive corrupting ethos. Break out. Break away. Break through. But to where and what are the questions. Those actions remain all too elusive at the individual and collective levels. We persist in what has embittered and twisted beyond recognition, in defiance of commonsense, in denial of potential. This is what prevails. Some freedom it has been….
It will take plain, honest men (and many such women, too) to lift out of the molasses of racial and national doggedness. Again: does this country have them? And now increasingly relevantly and importantly, do they care to risk their inconspicuous plainness and treasured honesty for what just might be a lost cause? Or in even more stark terms, one not worth sacrificing for?