This past week-end held two incredibly important holidays for us in the Virgin Islands to both commemorate and deeply contemplate The Virgin Island's Emancipation of Slavery on July 3 and America's Celebration of Freedom on July 4th. There has been some discussion about which one is more important to our Islands.
If we want to truly honor these two important days we must understand that at the core of these two celebrations are the same important message: Individual Freedom.
The re-enactments of the slave rebellions on St. Croix-where human beings fought hard for their rights against oppression by other human beings has at it's core the right of individual freedom. The American celebration of July 4th again focuses on the same important principle. In a true Democracy it is us, the common folk, the majority of plain, hard-working, law-abiding citizens in our Islands and America, who must decide how our rules and laws must govern for the greatest good of all. There is something very wrong when the majority is suffering and a very few benefit from Government. Democracy was born along with our Constitution with the powerful words of "We the People"…with every single person having a say in what laws dictate their lives-how society will be governed.
At the base of Democracy is Freedom of speech and openness in Government. When information is given openly "We the People" are able to discuss these issues. When it is not, we are left to speculate and wonder. This creates confusion at best and distrust of government at worse. Distrust of government is a true threat to Democracy. Senator Long wrote: " A government by secrecy benefits no one. It injures the people it seeks to serve; it damages it's own integrity and operations. It breeds distrust, dampens the fervor of it's citizens and mocks their loyalty". Freedom of speech and freedom of the press are the most important building blocks of Democracy. Without these two, we as a society are in trouble. We must ensure the publics right to oversee it's government through freedom of speech and freedom of the press.
If our Government is not open, Democracy is threatened. If decisions are made behind closed doors, Democracy is threatened. If we are unable to speak freely about our unhappiness with our elected officials, Democracy is threatened.
It is only in dialog; in free speech; in reading newspapers that have government access to information-can every one of us open our vision-learn to expand our awareness on each and every person's perspective in looking at all sides of an issue. We become better informed and more open-minded because we can hear and think of positions that perhaps we have never previously considered. True Democracy makes us all better human beings because it helps us evolve and facilitate listening, compassion and understanding of others. Dialog is the vehicle to raise our consciousness. Before Democracy, people pulled out their swords when they disagreed with one another. With democracy, our words and critical thinking become the manner in which we challenge each other and decide what the real issues and solutions are.
YOU, as an individual, are the other important component of ensuring that our Democracy works. The power of one…one person voting…listening to the issues…caring enough to speak up and question authority. This can only happen when we challenge each other and our thinking on issues. It is usually our individual limited thinking and opinions that need challenging and expansion. There have been too many incidents in these Islands in the past 6 months that threaten our Freedom. Senators voting at the last minute without Public input on issues like Bill #6905.
There are too many times where our Senators do not listen or hear "We the People" as clearly seen in St. John's Sirenusa issue. There are too many incidents where personal gains appear to be more important than the general wishes of our VI constituents. Government officials are in office to serve the majority of the peoples wishes–not special interests. How have we allowed this to happen?
The hope we have is in Governor John de Jongh Jr.'s commitment to transparency in Government. It is imperative that all Virgin Islanders understand our American Constitution. You have a right to Free Speech! Never let anyone take this away from you. Our Ancestors–both those who were enslaved and those who fought for Individual freedom–will not rest easy if we do not honor them and their sacrifices by honoring this message of Individual Freedom. It is the most important gift that we have to give our children and future generations.
Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to firstname.lastname@example.org.