–‘Guardians of Democracy’ say, as they stand ready to do it again
THE five months following the March 2, 2020, General and Regional Elections was a period when many persons feared democracy was under siege in Guyana, but even as uncertainty grew, so did the courage among Guyanese.
Amid political instability and purported attempts to derail the electoral process, the ‘Guardians of Democracy’ assumed position, not with artillery, but with eyes, to stand guard and defend the integrity of the votes cast.
Also known as the ‘containers watchmen’, the Guardians of Democracy were an instrumental group of people who sacrificed their time to ensure that the ballots cast on elections day, that were stored in containers, were not tampered with; they endured long days, and sleepless nights, but in the end, they are willing to do it all over again.
The ‘guardians’ were persons who shared no relations prior to establishing the group to fight for a common cause, and shared a first-hand perspective of the journey they endured. One of them even spent 72 hours in jail for a crime he did not commit.
Asif Mohamed was one of the main persons behind the establishment of the group. He told the Guyana Chronicle that subsequent to the shenanigans which constituted an attempt to thwart the will of the people who voted on polling day, there was a realisation that the Statements of Poll must be protected at all costs.
“If you’re not in a democratic country, nothing goes on, the economy drops; I have children and lately a grandchild and I would not want them to grow up in a society where the environment is not good for them. So, democracy means a lot to me,” Mohamed said, as he explained why he helped to form the group.
Before being named the ‘Guardians of Democracy’, the group was referred to as the ‘containers watchmen’, as they took up the mantle to maintain watch of the containers.
“As we started to watch those containers we started to get support from everywhere. People came out in the hundreds to support us on a daily basis; people would bring things. We didn’t have to depend on no one or no party; it was regular people; it wasn’t a party thing,” Mohamed said.
Further, he related: “It was not directed by no political party, we had persons from all political parties and all races and religions… we never short of nothing, water, sanitizer; we were supported by regular people.”
At one point, the group got so large that a shift system was implemented to ensure that the containers were watched 24/7.
Mohamed said the common belief among the persons who volunteered, was that the safe keeping of the ballot boxes was their only chance to secure the future of Guyana and that of their children and their grandchildren.
“We gave our devotion; no one ever got paid, no one ever asked for money or anything. They just gave everything and wanted to see the process over and that we get a government in place,” Mohamed said, as he recalled many persons, especially a prominent attorney-at-law, who donated generously to the group.
“It was real challenging. You leave your home in the morning and come out; you don’t know what would be the end of the day. People were trying to steal a whole government … we were in the way of those containers, so you don’t know what they would do,” Mohamed said, noting that COVID-19 also posed a threat.
Mohamed told this publication that every second they were there was worth it, as he believed that, in the end, Guyana got a “fair and democratic process.”
For this reason, he said he stands ready to do it all over again, since it was the ‘ordinary citizens’ who played the most crucial role in preserving democracy.
Mohamed posited that while the ‘Guardians of Democracy’ might appear to be “sleeping” at the moment, the group is exploring the possibility of being registered, with the intentions of scrutinising upcoming elections and passing the mantle on to their kids, and even grandkids to ensure that the will of the people is never forsaken.
72 HOURS BEHIND BARS
Audwin Ashby, a father of a two-year-old girl, related that it was integral for him to join the fight as there was no way he could “sit back” with a clear conscience and allow “what was transpiring, to transpire.”
He also joined the effort so that his child and the next generation will be able to benefit from a free and fair society, where the rule of law is respected.
Ashby and 11 others were locked up on the night of March 2, 2020. They were all accused of allegedly stealing ballot boxes at the St. Ambrose Primary School, Alberttown, Georgetown.
The ‘guardians’ spent 72 hours behind bars under rigorous conditions, which Ashby described was synonymous to treatment handed out to murderers.
“So, we said we’re going to go the full hundred yards, if this is what it takes and it costs our life to ensure that democracy is restored so be it,” Ashby said, as he recalled the sleepless days and nights.
He said that he was proud to have the opportunity now to reminisce on the role he played in preserving democracy in Guyana.
Ashby related that it was his firm belief that “bad people prevail when good people sit back,” and the ‘Guardians of Democracy’ played its role to ensure democracy for everyone, regardless of creed or colour, was maintained.
“Democracy for me means everything … in this 21st century every voice must be heard, every voice must be respected… this is not the ancient days where one person is superior, gone are those days. Democracy is an essential part of life, that’s my life, that’s my daughter’s life, and without a doubt I’d do it again,” Ashby said.
TEARS OF JOY
Gomati Kalicharran shared similar views, as she explained that democracy allows every person to play a part and for every vote to be counted, so democracy is imperative in order for there to be a secure future for generations to come.
“In the end, it was worth it all, tears of joy … when that moment came it was joy,” Kalicharran said, as she remembered the moment the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was declared the winner of the March 2, 2020, elections.
But tears of joy were not the only tears Kalicharran cried, however. She maintained a “cool and calm” mind because she knew what she was fighting for, and had nothing to be afraid of.
“At first, I felt really angry that elections are supposed to be free and fair and we had to fight for it; for five long months it was one thing after the other, but, nevertheless, we didn’t give up, we stood together and found a way out,” Kalicharran said.
Another ‘guardian,’ David Williams, said: “I want to see democracy prevail in this country. Democracy is very important for me. If democracy didn’t prevail, then we would be heading into a dictatorship, so it was very much important to be a part of the ‘Guardians of Democracy’.
Williams recalled that, while growing up, he experienced the days where himself and others joined “long lines” to be afforded access to basic household items such as kerosene.
He said that he was fearful that “in a modern, civilised country, in this era,” Guyana would reverse the progress made since then, because “a group of people feel greedy for power” – one of the reasons why he joined the “fight” with the Guardians of Democracy “to see democracy prevail.”
“I am delighted with what I did and I am happy. I wish that the generation before me had done the same thing so we won’t have endured that long twenty something years of dictatorship in this country. Gone are those days,” Williams said.