There is a saying, commonly attributed to late US President Thomas Jefferson, that ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’
There is no period in our modern history where that becomes more relevant.
I hope by now people begin to realize just how tenuous and precious a thing liberty and freedom of choice is and all that is required to snatch it away is a scribble of a pen, or a word, by those in ‘power’. This pandemic has revealed to us just how easy it is for us to lose those hard-fought rights almost overnight – albeit for a unique and arguably justified reason in this instance.
The real threat arises when leaders, having now seen that what they previously thought was impossible to do can in fact be done, decide to subtly push the envelope to see just how much they might be able to get away with – all in the name of an emergency health crisis. For instance, Article 13 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights has already suffered and continues to do so in certain countries, and that is ‘the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state, and that everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and return to his country.’
As I said previously that may be ‘justified’ in the current situation – but what citizens need to be wary of are leaders using the existing situation to establish platforms that can lead to or make it easier for further erosion of rights or abuse of power down the road, and of those continuing to breach these established human rights without just cause.
In Grenada, a situation has now arisen that seems to fly in the face of Article 23 of the Universal Declaration; ‘the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.’ This follows a pronouncement by the Grenada government – not yet legislated mind you – that hospitality workers must be vaccinated or else they cannot return to work.
At a glance, some might argue that there is nothing wrong with such a move, especially as COVID continues to haunt us. However, is it really justified to take away the right of someone to choose whether to get vaccinated or not by threatening them with their very livelihoods? Just because something is policy, or can be justified under certain rules and regulations, does that make it right?
Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, so just when does compelling someone to rescind his or her right to choose become right and just – even in the current environment?
Let’s call it what it is, we all have, in the context of this health crisis, voluntarily ceded many of our freedoms to ‘those in power’ creating an artificial state of dictatorship all over the world. Having ceded it can any of you take back those freedoms tomorrow?
Not so easy to get-back, is it? The mutual understanding is that those liberties will be returned once more …but what if they are not? I am not sure many of us realize just how bad the timing of this COVID driven lockdown has been.
Even before the pandemic, the world was already seeing worrying signs of an erosion of democracy in many places. As early as April 2019 a study by the University of Gothenburg had discovered a decline in democratic rule in several countries, pointing out that ‘60 of the 75 democracies that at some point have gone through a process of autocratisation have ultimately become dictatorships.’
It suggests that many countries were already on the verge of seeing an erosion of democracy even before COVID pushed everything over the edge. But what really stood out to me in that study is its finding that ‘what is unique about the decline of democracy today is that the process is slow and it is happening unobtrusively.’
I can only imagine that our experience over the past 16 months has only served to deepen this crisis.
Let us reflect on the fact that dictatorships are often characterized by suspension of civil liberties proclamation of a state of emergency, rule by decree, repression of political opponents/critics particularly the media, not abiding by the rule of law procedures and cult of personality.
All of us have experienced at least some of these following the advent of the pandemic, and in many places responsible leaders have rolled back restrictions, but it has not occurred everywhere, and more and more we are seeing how much easier it is getting for leaders – including in some places long held as beacons of democracy – to lock down people and their rights, and to say that you cannot do this and you cannot do that.
I am not one to subscribe to the convention that if someone does ‘A’ it follows that they will automatically do ‘B – but it certainly makes it much easier doesn’t it?
And so, we come full circle; the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Freedom should not so easily and hastily be abandoned.
We must educate ourselves about what is taking place in the world and we must begin paying greater attention to the actions of those who govern. Social media allows all of us a voice in this modern era, do not be afraid to let your voices be heard.
I leave you with a quote from Walter Cronkite; “There is no such thing as a little freedom. Either you are all free or you are not free.”