Last week, I witnessed an arrest outside my office in Los Angeles. The handcuffed adult Latino man sat motionless and subdued on the sidewalk. He did not appear drunk or on drugs. A small gray duffle bag, with a red formée cross, lay nearby. Was the cross a gang symbol? Was he a wanted criminal? Whatever his crime, I figured it must be serious to involve five cops, in three police motor vehicles and a motor cycle. For half-an-hour, they conferred with each other, spoke on their phones, and took photos. After escorting the man to a vehicle, they all left the scene.
The arrest disturbed me. I thought of millions of Americans who have lost their jobs and homes, and face hunger. They wait, handcuffed and subdued on the sidewalk, for our government to do its job of implementing solutions for our economic recovery.
I recalled my own helplessness as a young working mother in my native land, Guyana. When my friends in the civil service complained of compulsory donations to the ruling party and compulsory volunteer work at a government-run agricultural project, I had felt immune as a private sector employee. My time came when the Deputy Prime Minister visited the foreign-owned bank where I worked. During his two-hour speech, he reminded us of our role in nation-building. The tension in the bank’s lobby left me with a nauseous migraine headache, lasting three days.
With dwindling foreign currency reserves to pay our foreign debt, the Guyana government banned the imports of consumer goods, including wheat flour, and froze foreign payments for imports already shipped and awaiting clearance at the port. As a team member in the Foreign Exchange Department, I witnessed our clients’ devastation and loss of business.
Frequent blackouts, intermittent water supply, food shortages, and increased crime became the new order. Rice and sugar, valuable export products, became hard to get as our government strove to increase export sales and earn foreign currency to buy oil and other vital imports.
In Guyana, where the ruling party rigs elections to stay in power, our votes for change have little effect. In Brazil, voting is compulsory and becomes a tool for corrupt politicians who buy votes of the uneducated poor population and those of the working class seeking more secure government jobs. In the United States, millions of Americans do not exercise their right to vote. Some of you, like me, are disillusioned with both the Republican and Democratic parties governing our nation. Corrupt politicians pander to corporations – with US dollar reserves far greater than small developing nations like Guyana – that put them in power.
With the US government hijacked and handcuffed, we cannot sit motionless and subdued on the sidewalk awaiting our fate.
In the 1950s, while British and American corporations contrived to put the party of their choice in power in an independent Guyana, Martin Carter (Guyana, 1927-1997), in his poem “You are Involved,” rallied us with his words:
all are involved!
all are consumed!