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Where some in Guyana view protest as a bad word or unnecessary, around the world protest has been used as a vehicle for change. Were one following the protest in other societies like the United States (U.S), for instance, protest is ever so present. The U.S is deemed the world’s greatest democracy and in that democracy the right to protest, for or against, on issues of interest is upheld. Within recent times there have been protests against police brutality towards African American and hate crimes against the Asian community. These issues not only brought awareness to the public and condemnation of the actions but also saw agitation to create some form of accountability through court trials and laws.
There is an emerging thinking in Guyana that to protest is wrong and those who are protesting are disruptive. But it needs not be forgotten that the history of Guyana, from slavery to the achievement of Independence and after, has not been without protest. From the enslaved to the colonised they protested the powers that be at given time to bring about positive changes for the aggrieved or deprived. There were rebellions against the cruel and inhumane system of chattel slavery. There were protests by the indentured people against poor working conditions on the plantations. There were protests against Britain to achieve independence.
And there have been protests after independence on any matter, be it considered right or wrong, by Guyanese against their government, employer or to bring attention to any issue affecting them. To accept that protest is now unnecessary even as people are expressing concerns about the way they are being treated is to deny people the most fundamental right to bring attention to issues that affect them, to petition the government for attention to their problems, etc., Protest is integral to democracy as water is essential to life. Only in autocratic or dictatorial society is the right to protest condemned or stifled.
Citizens that protest their government, employer or on any matter that affects them are not enemies of the people or the state. Even if some considered the opinion of the protestors not befitting their attention that is not for them to decide. Respecting the right to protest means respecting the right of even those whose views are not shared. If Guyana is truly a democracy, then the acceptance to protest will be allowed and respected by proponents and opponents alike.
An Inter-American Commission on Human Rights report on ‘Protest and Human Rights’ advises:- “Social protest is a core element for the existence and consolidation of democratic societies and is protected by a constellation of rights and freedoms, which the inter-American system guarantees both in the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man and in the American Convention on Human Rights….Protest also plays a central role in defending democracy and human rights. According to the instruments of the inter-American system, the joint exercise of these fundamental rights makes the free exercise of democracy possible.”