The US Ambassador’s thoughts on our Protest March

Thanks Danger for the heads up, so this was from the Post Courier:

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When historians write about social and political progress in the United States, they devote special attention to the important role played by peaceful protests and demonstrations.

America has always been a diverse country of many different religions, races and political points of view; peaceful protest has been one of the most effective ways available for us to publicly express our hopes, our aspirations and, when necessary, our disagreements with our government and its representatives.

For many Americans today, the phrase “protest march” brings back memories of eloquent and forceful mass demonstrations advancing civil rights and opposing the Vietnam War during the Sixties and Seventies. It evokes Dr Martin Luther King’s famous 1963 March on Washington, when he delivered the “I Have A Dream” speech which captured the imagination of the American people; it led to political, legal and social reforms that changed the whole nature of our society. But the history of American protest movements is long and rich and goes back to before Independence in 1776; in fact, it was public protests against unjust taxes levied by our British colonial overlords that set the stage for the American Revolution. Americans view a society’s capacity for holding such peaceful protests as a mark of its political maturity. In fact, they are as important to the democratic process as other freedoms such as freedom of the press.

Elections play a central role in democracy, but what if elected officials don’t listen to their constituents? What if citizens feel a government is violating the Constitution, or acting unjustly, or abusing its powers? Waiting for an election may not be sufficient. A free people must be able to dramatize its deepest desires and discontents, to register them with unresponsive leaders, officials and legislators, to sing and chant and shout about perceived injustice and unresponsiveness.

Society can also do this through the written word, through the media, at meetings and in telephone calls and in friendly conversations at the supermarket, but none of these carry the same impact as a peaceful mass protest.

On Tuesday, May 4, Papua New Guinea took an important step forward towards greater political maturity when   4000-7000          citizens took to the streets to peacefully petition the Government to withdraw the bill proposing amendments that, they believe, would restrict the powers, functions and responsibilities of the Ombudsman Commission, the so-called Maladina amendment, the first time a mass political protest of this sort has taken place in Papua New Guinea. I do not judge here the legal or political issues which inspired the protest, or whether the Government was right or wrong, matters for PNG’s voters and elected officials to decide. But as an American, I was impressed with how naturally, rapidly and vigorously the people of Papua New Guinea moved to organise a peaceful protest against actions proposed by their Government. It was a dignified protest and should make its participants, and all of Papua New Guinea, immensely proud. Political protests of this sort are not signs of an alienated or cynical public; instead, they signify a public that has confidence in the institutions and freedoms of their country, a public willing to take steps to preserve their integrity in the face of challenge. It also illustrates again that freedom of speech and freedom of expression are alive and well in PNG, unlike in some neighbouring countries such as Fiji. The May 4 protest reminded me of some of the most inspiring moments in American history. In particular, it reminded me of the civil rights marches I observed and participated in as a young man. And it brought back vivid memories of the long and noble history of marches in Washington DC, my hometown, demonstrations and protests over the issues that have concerned the American people such as war, abortion, gay rights, gender equality, taxes. American protests reflect all shades of the political and social spectrum; they have dramatised how strongly the public feels about controversial issues that political leaders, left to themselves, may prefer to avoid. Public protests forced them to pay attention. On May 4, the people of Papua New Guinea made clear they have an important message for their government. It is the responsibility of the Government of Papua New Guinea to listen. A government that pays attention to peaceful mass protest is another sign of a politically mature democracy.One more aspect of the anti-Maladina amendment demonstration reminds me of the United States: it took place over a constitutional issue. Like the people of Papua New Guinea, we Americans have the deepest respect for our nation’s Constitution. Our Constitution, like Papua New Guinea’s, was “home-grown,” springing from the spirit and political will of the people and the leaders they chose rather than an imposition from outside or a pale imitation of some other country’s founding document. Look at any of our most important protest marches and you will almost always find they articulate strong feelings over constitutional issues.

A constitution is the physical embodiment of the compact that must always exist between free peoples and their leaders, a compact which entails mutual agreement rather than acquiescence in the power of a sovereign. The peoples of mature democracies recognise the significance and meaning of that compact when they base their political dialogue and protests on matters of constitutional interpretation. Thus the May 4 protestors illustrated PNG’s growing political maturity in yet another way when they chose to highlight the importance of their issues in the context of respect for their Constitution.

How the Government responds will be another test of Papua New Guinea’s political maturity. I hope that the success of the May 4 march will turn such peaceful mass demonstrations into normal and respected events in PNG. Without our public protests and demonstrations, America might not have moved as far towards true justice and equality as we have. I predict the people of Papua New Guinea will see results as profound and long lasting as Americans have if they, too, develop a practice of peaceful protest over the issues that matter most.

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9 thoughts on “The US Ambassador’s thoughts on our Protest March

  1. I read this and was truly moved. I hope our leaders and even the people of Papua New Guinea read this.

    To the government of PNG, need we say more.

  2. When I read this I was immensely proud of those who had been there and participated in the protest march. For me it meant that people care about what happens in PNG and want to be a part of the process rather than be idle observers.

  3. The organisers of the Maladina protest march are indeed to be congratulated. But has the PNG government and its leader been prepared to listen and accept the message being sent?

    Statements by the PNG PM, who denounced those protesting, have so far indicated an obstinate intransigence by himself and his government. Those Parliamentarians who stood at the door of the Haus Tamberan and accepted the people’s petition have now been lambasted and ridiculed. This does not auger well for PNG’s future. The fact that the PM was forced to make an off hand statement that was supposed to be an apology for his calling his people insane only shows that he intends to completely turn his back on the issue. He intends to ignore the will of the people and continue to pursue his own selfish ends.

    Now is the time when the resolve of the protest organisers and those who are fed up with the way government ministers and leaders are treating their country and its people, will be severely tested. Will they let the issue die, like PM clearly believes it will, or will they continue to stand up for what they believe in?

    The seed has been planted of that great forest tree that represents the future of Papua New Guinea. Will that tree grow strong or will it be allowed to die? Will the PNG public continue to support those who stood up for them or will they allow the heart felt sentiments expressed in protest march to die, as their PM intends.

    People of PNG, your resolve has been displayed and is now being tested by those you demonstrated against. Your country’s future is in your hands. What direction do you want it to take? Backwards or forwards?

    ______________________________________

    Bai olgeta pipol imas tok hamamas long ol lain itokaut long stapim dispela Maladina senis long PNG Constitusion. Tasol bai gavaman bilong ol inap long harim dispela singaut a?

    PM Somare itok nogut long yupela pipol na emi no harim gut dispela laik bilong yu. PM itok nogut tru long dispela lain ibin kisim dispela pepa bilong ol lain ilaik daunim dispela senis long lo. Emi no gutpela samting long PNG. Bihain bai Somare ibin toksave olsem emi sori long liklik aswa ibin mekim tasol emi no sori tru. Emi laik tanim baksait long ol pipol na tingting long liklik lain femili bilongen tasol.

    Nau bai ol lain pipol bilong PNG imas sanap na tokaut long olgeta ino laikim dispela rot gavaman isave wokabaut longen. Sapos oli no hariap long mekim dispela signaut, bai PM inap tokbaitsait long ol, “Ah mi save long ol. Oli no inap tru long mekim mipela save long dispela samting.”

    Tasol ol pipol yet ibin plantim pikinini bilong dispela bikpela diwai emi olsem kantri bilong PNG. Sapos ol inap lukautim gut dispela pikinin tingting bai kru bilongen ikamap na bai gutpela diwai tru isanap bihain. Tasol sapos oli lusim tingting na larim dispela pikinini diwai idai em bai kantri bilong ol ibagarap bihain.

    Pipol bilong PNG. Taim bilong yu istap. Bihain bai yu wokabaut long wanem rot a? Rot igo long gutpela ples oa ples nogut?

  4. Paul makes a good point. The political elite clearly believes they know better than the rest of society with this. There is absolutely no doubt that the pollies will try and push this through the back door. Whether it’s via the Maladina amendment or it gets renamed and presented a different way the elite are determined to break the Ombudsmans commission and remove accountability from their decisions. They have seen the vast sums involved with the LNG and other projects and they are literally mad with greed. If the powers of the ombudsman are removed they will steal and steal and steal. You have not seen anything yet. They are determined to turn PNG into an African-style kleptocracy.

    The protest march was not a victory. It was only the first step in the people reclaiming their government. There will need to be more petitions, more protests and never ending pressure on the political elite to remind them that they are the servants of the people and must act in the interests of PNG and not their own pockets. They will fight this. So far the resistance of the elite has been unsophisticated there was clear surprise by the PM and others that the march did not turn into a riot which would have destroyed it’s legitimacy. Next time they will not be so surprised. They are likely to insert agitators into the movement to stir up violence and bad behaviour thus giving the elite an excuse to use their security forces to shut it down.

    It is time for the educated middle class to stand up for this country. To use reason and patience to make things right. Take an example from Dr King in America, Mr Ghandi in India and President Mandela in South Africa. Do not let the elite destroy our future. Respond peacefully and with purpose. We must take our country back. the first thing to do is strengthen the ombudsman commission and give it greater powers of investigation and sanction. Bravo and thank you Ambassador Taylor for your words of wisdom and encouragement. The movement has only just begun but we take great strength in knowing the great nation of the United States stands beside us in our right to peaceful protest.

    1. This is great encouragement from the US Ambassador. Alot of PNGeans are now thinking, which is good because we have to decide our destiny. Look at issues like the Structural Adjustment Programm, Asian Riots, and the Maladina bill…people have had enough, we have suffered enough. We need to speak out, more louder. I hope this momentum keeps going. I totally support people like Noel Anjo (other people may have different views).

  5. Paul makes an excellent point in reinforcing what the good Ambassador is saying. Amb Taylor points out two aspects of political maturity: 1) that people can be allowed to express themselves freely and to demonstrate their passion for a particular issue by way of protest marches, and 2) that they are being listened to.

    Thankyou Paul for emphasising the second aspect which is still very much lacking in PNG. We have clearly not been heard on many occasions previously by the arrogant old man that is Somare. And he will not in this case too. I still haven’t gotten over the fact this guy chose to brand us as a bunch of lazy people when defending the asian tucker box rats last year and now as sadangs.

    So what’s next PNG ? Should we not be following in the footsteps of the Red Shirts in Thailand.

  6. In Proverbs, it says and I paraphrase “when Righteous rule, the people rejoice, but when Evil man rule, the people moan”

    Oh how true it is for our country. I commend the Ambassador’s article and am truly ashamed of the remarks from the so called ‘father of the nation’. What a way to embrace the demands from your sons and daughters. I guess the father has not been reading his Gosples – the Prodicgal son; NOTE the father’s attitude to the rebelious son.

    You know the Bible also teaches that Fathers are not to exasperate their children but to lead and teach them in love and discipline. I guess you know what the so called ‘father of the Nation’ said about the Protest. And then they say toughen the LAW to fight Crime…how Injustice and Sad

    If there be any aspiring leader reading this, countryman/woman, lead from your heart and not your mind. Because my Bible tells me that and I paraphrase ‘your heart is where your treasure is’ and as a leader our treasure is the people – the most important thing on this earth. GOD does want them to suffer physically and die spiritually.
    You lead from the heart and you connect with people.

    GOD bless

    Arise PNG

  7. Its democracy and free speech are two things I really admire PNG for upholding strongly. So many nations in Southeast Asia trample on basic freedoms. Everyone should have the right to voice their opinion as long as it is kept peaceful. Good job PNG and keep moving forward!

  8. So sad to see the so called leaders in the evil spirit house go about their jobs of being elected members of the parliament go about changing the “checks and the balances” of PNG like as if it’s their own private company.

    Don’t these idiots know that they are to deliver those election garbage they promise the rural people, five years ago? How would they carry on as if they own the parliament and go about doing whatever they seemed to think is good for the rest of PNG.
    Where are the roads and bridges and building of new hospitals and,schools.And in those hospitals are there proud new Doctor sand nurses,specialist in their fields,and have proper drugs in place in the hospitals???So that a rural subsistence farmer can bring his produce in to sell and with that little money to buy a packet of sugar and rice etc.

    Are these pollies humans or what?The color of money and power have gone into their sub-human heads.Surely they were not born with Silver or Gold spoon in their mouth??!!Don’t they know,they are in there for a little while??!!.Or maybe that’s why they do the things they do so as to prolong that stay and STEAL and STEAL and STEAL and STEAL………..Money that is needed so badly for betterment of the nation is squandered.Who are they to do sure despicable things before the resilient people of PNG.

    I say thank you to those of you who took part in that peaceful march or demonstration through the streets of Port Moresby.Lets keep up the tempor,but lets do it peacefully.Do not give up the fight.

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