Used loosely by an increasing number of individuals and organisations purporting to represent the people, the term « grass roots » is gaining in popularity. Of course, some critiques remain sceptical: does one simply become a “grass root” overnight without having lived the life of the commoner? The rebuttal: how do you define “grass roots” in the Guyanese context, and who’s eligible to flaunt this title? Two valid arguments.
As a child in pre-1992 Guyana, I grew up in a depressed countryside, in my grandmother’s thatched-roof shack on stilts which swayed and slanted with the wind, in a scarcely populated squatting area used as pasture for cattle. Placing basins and empty tins to collect water leaking through the used and damaged “roof” always filled me with anxiety, since I had to ensure they never overflowed onto the floor. Looking back, I realise the floor provided adequate evacuation through the wide gaps between planks, from which I could see the bottom house which was neatly daubed with cow dung and mud every week.
That bottom house was the HQ for my sis, cousin and I, where we’d have tea parties using dry coconut shells as cups, or make kites, or trade rubber bands. When there were floods, we’d sit on the stairs and look at the tadpoles, frogs, fishes, snakes and other life-forms in general which inhabited the waters. At the time, there was no tap water, so I’d help grandmother wash dishes in the “front drain”. I must have transformed it into a graveyard for cutlery. Truth be told, I preferred to catch tadpoles than wash dishes; fond recollections from my grass roots!
Getting ready for school meant having to fetch buckets of water either from the nearby trench or from neighbours living in another area, to bathe. When rain water was scarce, we’d sometimes resort to black water for drinking. As kids, we loved bathing in the trench, never mind the caimans were then resident inhabitants and had even snapped off a chunk of the neighbour’s arm once.
By 1995, tap water was available and so was electricity. Growing up in a single-parent home meant being resourceful enough to make ends meet at the end of the month. So maintaining kitchen gardens and poultry was part of daily childhood chores. Life was simple for villagers; most times it was tough, though it gave character to our resilience. But even as Guyana developed with the years and the landscape transformed, grass-root problems trapped rural Guyana. Domestic violence, unemployment, alcoholism, illiteracy, suicide, incest, lack of or inaccessibility to information and education which could empower us, marginalisation, and deficient State services and infrastructure are among the list of setbacks which still hinder rural Guyana’s development.
Experiencing the life and hardships of a rural Guyanese is essential to understanding it, but what does understanding it mean if we do not apply knowledge to progress? Some extract themselves to rise above the grass roots, forming a sort of intellectual bourgeoisie hoping to save Guyana. But those claiming to represent grass-root interests can only gain credibility through validation by the people of rural Guyana, and through the people’s integral participation in their own development.
The APNU/AFC, in its neglect of the small woman and man, has yet to incorporate this principle into its governance of our country. Regrettably, the Parliament of Guyana prefers to waste the nation’s time on a Tobacco Bill, which relies on data pertaining to every other country but our own, rather than to discuss sound economic measures to save the sugar industry and its thousands of workers, through for instance, modernisation. Had the Bill suggested an analysis of the impact of smoking in Guyana, one might have been more lenient.
While the country is confronted with the troubling consequences of what can only be defined as deliberate neglect of the aggravating circumstances culminating into two consecutive prison breaks under Ramjattan’s watch, the Government is wasting hard-earned tax dollars on a CoI into the alleged assassination plot against Granger – alleged!
Today, everything other than the welfare of Guyanese, especially rural Guyanese, is prioritised, by a Government that uses Guyana’s Parliament unabashedly to slaughter our democratic rights. But even seven extra hours of Government propaganda per week on TV and radio stations made compulsory by the newly-amended Broadcasting Act, to complement the DPI, NCN, the Guyana Chronicle and other State media, wouldn’t save the coalition from the grass roots come 2020.