Monday 21 October 2019

Why go to all this trouble to sabotage a peaceful protest?

This article first appeared in Malta Today (*this was written before Sunday’s protest which turned out to be a success)

The Labour propaganda machine is in overdrive, and that should tell you all you need to know. Does it really matter which trees are going to be given the chop for the Central Link Project in order to widen the road? The fact is that a large number of trees and fields ARE going to be destroyed and no one can dispute that fact.

Believe me, when someone goes to all this trouble to sabotage a protest you know the protestors are right.

First they tried to ridicule the whole idea. There were “hilarious” comments dripping with sarcasm directed towards the people who intend to tie themselves to the trees in protest. “Tell me, are they going to stay there all night?” one person sneered. Then they turned their taunting remarks towards the young lady who came up with the idea, accusing her of all sorts of Machiavellian schemes, when the truth of the matter is that this is a person who simply cares and wanted to do something about it. Snide comments saying that she is ‘no Greta Thunberg of Malta’ were really uncalled for: why pick on a 19-year-old who simply wants to protect the environment? Or is this type of pathetic approach justifiable as long as its in defence of this administration?

And by the way, the party fanatics also need to make up their minds: one minute they tell us 16-year-olds are old enough to vote and be elected to local councils and then in the very next breath they are belittling someone because of her youth. Personally I found it refreshing that today’s protest is being spearheaded by a teenage activist because it is about time our youngsters start taking a real interest in the environment and the future of this planet, like their foreign counterparts do every day.

As if singling her out was not enough, there came the inevitable conspiracy theories: that she was being ‘used’ by those who are anti-Government. Seriously, isn’t there anyone who is active on Facebook who is savvy enough to detect the difference between a fabricated issue and a genuine one? Rather than busily trying to grasp at any straw in order to undermine the protest, their time would have been better spent reading all the comments posted by the 9k people who quickly joined the FB group “For Our Trees” and understanding where they are coming from. Had they done so, they would have easily realised that this is a grassroots protest, which has gathered momentum because the average person has had enough of all the manipulation and fudging by Infrastructure Malta which is being economical with the truth. If people have stopped trusting these Government agencies and Ministries then don’t blame the people – blame whoever thinks they can pull the wool over the public’s eyes by simply telling them what they want to hear – and then going ahead and doing the exact opposite, by which time it will be too late.

Those who seem to make it their mission to agree with every project announced by this administration were resorting to all sorts of truly childish comments. “Are you all going to give up your car now?” (Well, we can try limiting how much we use it, what’s wrong with that?). “Are these the same people who wanted the trees uprooted by February’s storms to be removed?” (This is such a non-sequitur, I really have no words). Even a Minister’s wife got in on the act, suggesting that instead of complaining about the trees which are going to be chopped down, we should increase the number of plants we have at home. Oh come on.

And of course, Transport and Infrastructure Minister Ian Borg was not about to let this go by without a fight either and, as if he hadn’t said enough already, he now challenged us to a duel, and told us we must choose what’s more important: either the traffic or the environment. I have seen cactus plants with more brain cells than him. Come to think of it, maybe I should have written that using emojis.

When the realisation finally dawned that the protest is no longer a laughing matter but is being taken seriously by so many people, the ones busy trying to do damage control changed tactics and even questioned whether it was true that 20,000 Euros had been collected within 24 hours to file an appeal against the PA permit. I hate to break it to you folks, but despite your scepticism, yes, that much was actually collected, made up mostly of small donations from thousands of people. At the time of writing, the sum had reached 30,247 Euro and people were still donating. Why all the false accusations? Why this attempt to besmirch a good cause? In my book when there is such a concerted effort to undermine legitimate concerns it can only mean one thing: the Government is worried.

If I needed any further confirmation of this, I got it while watching Joseph Muscat being interviewed about the protest against the Central Link project. His whole body language was tense, bristling in self-defence, and he never once made eye contact with the interviewer. Behind him, Helena Dalli’s eyes were darting back and forth and she was clearly uncomfortable. Aaron Farrugia looked stunned, as if he had been hit by a truck. It seems to me that they have been completely floored at the extent of the outrage which is yet another indication of just how out of touch this administration has become in the span of six short years. A party and Government which started off so completely in tune with the public mood is, on a regular basis, failing to read the public mood and appears to be unwilling, or incapable, of understanding why.

Obviously, with a nine-seat majority, the Labour Government hardly needs our approval; it can steamroll ahead against all our objections and protestations as it has done before. But the signs that it is not listening any more, and is just forging ahead come what may, does not augur well for its political future. Those who are short-sighted may crow all they like that Labour has nothing to worry about because the gap between the parties is virtually insurmountable. But politicians, as I have written before, like to be liked.

Muscat has been showing the strains of office for a while now, and one can tell that the effort of battling a number of ‘fires’ on many fronts is taking its toll. Some of his battles may have been avoided if he had taken different decisions, although as the saying goes, hindsight is 20/20, while other battles are purely of his own making. It can hardly be more evident than it is now that a lot of ordinary citizens are fatigued and stressed out at having to fight their own Government on environmental issues. While there are some people who have just thrown in the towel and checked out mentally because they see no way any of it can be stopped, thankfully, there are others whose slow, burning anger refuses to be squashed.

I am not quite sure how it happened, but whereas up to recently it was difficult to get people to do more than click ‘like’ on a FB page, it seems to have finally sunk in, that one’s physical actual presence at a protest is crucial in order for objections to be taken seriously. While I have no idea how many will turn up at today’s protest*, the vociferous support online is very encouraging. The overwhelming response to the crowdfunding is even more so.

Meanwhile, I have no doubt that more feeble attempts will be made to try and rubbish the entire protest, such as the widespread “information” campaign which sprouted overnight by Infrastructure Malta and several pro-Central Link Project news reports. But the very fact that there has been such a concentrated effort to sabotage this public protest by Joe Citizen should make one pause to reflect. Why throw so much money and effort against something which is supposedly ‘a joke’? If it is based on complete inaccuracies, as has been claimed, why not just let it flounder and sink by ignoring it? If you are really not going to cut down so many trees, you can easily prove it to us, right?

When you give a protest so much attention and go to such lengths to try and diminish it, it means you are not on such a sound footing any more and perhaps even those who voted for you, whom you took so blithely for granted, are now also up in arms, because they know that if they do not protect what is left of the country’s open spaces, agricultural land and trees, then no one will.

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