The Protest that never Was Print E-mail
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Written by Jamil Matar   
Thursday, 16 September 2010 00:00

I will be the first to admit that I am no expert at organizing protest marches, having been involved in only two such ventures, so my remarks here will be limited to the little experience I have gained over the years.  I make reference in this discourse to the protest march organized by a radio  station here in Orange Walk Town on Tuesday 14 September, against the public health provider, Northern Regional Hospital (NRH). The parade of protestors through our town on Tuesday numbered fifteen in total, counting the TV interviewers.

Orange Walkeños had been hearing about this anticipated “massive” protest march against the NRH for some weeks now, both in the    morning show on this PUP radio station, and in its repeat in the evenings. We heard the commentators say time and time again that it was not political, but more so of a plea for the hospital administration to be, well, more sensitive to the needs of the poor, the sick and the needy.

A noble cause, as far as causes go, if one wants to garner public empathy and outrage. Everybody knows that championing a fight for the poor and disenfranchised will always draw popular support, even if the cause is clothed in spurious pretences. Only sometimes, like this Tuesday, it backfires and leaves some very embarrassed individuals holding an empty crocus bag.

I will tell you a little about protest marches, and then give my opinion why this one failed so miserably. In the first instance, when trying to organize any such protest, pick your fight and your timing well. Let me give a personal example. About four years ago, I woke up one morning in extreme back pain and went to the NRH to see what was wrong with me. I was treated very well the two days I was there with my inflamed sciatic nerve. I later commented in writing about the good treatment and professionalism at the Hospital in a local newspaper, even if one had to purchase his own medication elsewhere. Now, I did not care if at that time the Minister of Health was a PUP hustler; I gave acknowledgment to the doctors and nurses who were the ones actually delivering heath care at the hospital. That is not to say that I did not forcefully denounce the Minster for not caring to provide adequate medication and equipment to the hospital; but here I picked my place and fight with the real culprit, who was the policy maker.
The second free lesson is that if you are going to lead a protest, let it be advertised in as many media outlets as possible. If you want to  convey the idea that it’s not political (yeah, right), then you must promote your “noble” cause all around. Don’t confine yourself in your small corner believing that when you speak the whole world is tuned in to your “wonderful” message. It does not work that way, believe me.

The third thing here is don’t trumpet the high moral ground that a protest is not political when it actually is. Most protests in Belize are programmed to cause embarrassment to the government, especially when  initiated by a PUP radio station. The more you harp about the protest being non-political the more people believe you are not telling the truth. People hate to be lured into something and later find out they were used in a political agenda. So they will hesitate to come out and support a suspect cause.

Case in point, in the evening news following the said protest, one lady participant said plainly that she believes that “something” is wrong at the hospital, so we should change the government! It’s like the angry man on TV the previous night who, in commenting on the murder crisis in the city, said that Barrow is eating steak and we are eating noodles. That was the principal reason, he claimed, of the murder spree in the old capital, not gang activity.

The main cause for this PUP protest failure, however, is the actual performance of the NRH itself. It is a hospital that is well kept, organized, professional, and has a staff of well-trained doctors and nurses. If they are swamped with work, and the patient load is too great, that’s another issue. But spearheading attacks on the entire staff based on a few complaints without investigation is not conducive to growth in our society. I understand that the hospital attends to nearly 2,000 patients each month, works diligently 24 hours each day and is serving the North to the best of its ability. Of course no one is infallible, no doctor is God, and a few oversights will occur from time to time. But we must remember the old adage not to throw out the baby with the bath water. Take care fellow Orange Walkeños and have a happy Independence Day!