In the days and weeks following the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia several people came together to take up the cause for truth and justice. A big part of that was a consequence of the choices the Nationalist Party was making.
I remember when my wife decided to call up her friends so they would go camp outside Castille in protest. She was travelling for work and read how the Opposition stayed in Parliament to debate some mundane every day drivel a week after Daphne Caruana Galizia was killed and the government disagreed that was a matter for urgent debate.
I suppose part of that decision was that though she’s lived in Malta for twenty years she still has French expectations of popular action.
The PN was very feeble in the face of what was happening. Its leader had been in office for a couple of weeks and even if he was a political genius that alone is a disadvantage. But Adrian Delia had made it his mission before her death to dilute the credibility Daphne Caruana Galizia enjoyed because if she was to continue to be respected he could never outlive the stories she published about him.
That inherent contradiction conditioned the Nationalist Party throughout the many months since that watershed moment.
But the party never stopped resenting having to share political space with others who openly said they were having to do its job of opposing government abuse and corruption, and impunity for those it protects.
It did try to do things the nice way. In December 2017, the truth and justice campaign had been going on for less than two months. One of its leaders was Michael Briguglio, a long time veteran of activism. One morning he told me Pierre Portelli had asked to speak to him and he asked me if I would go with him. I said I would.
I hadn’t been at the Dar Ċentrali for a long time. After the 2013 election I moved on to work in the private sector and was no longer active in any politics. Though I did volunteer to help out during the 2017 election campaign I was told to stay away. I belonged to a past the PN did not want to remind people of.
When Adrian Delia was campaigning after that election his team thought it was time I rejoined. Adrian Delia treated me to lunch and his chief campaigner, Pierre Portelli, visited me outside my work office telling me he thought I should have a role in Adrian Delia’s transition team when he took over as leader and something more permanent after that.
Going back to politics was not really what I had in mind and as I learned more about Adrian Delia, as I saw his reaction to Daphne Caruana Galizia’s story, as I met him and got a feel for him and his way of thinking, I was sure that would not be what I would want to do.
By the end of that leadership campaign my relationship with Adrian Delia’s team had well and truly soured. They expected my support and were getting the opposite. On my blog I openly wrote I did not think he was a suitable candidate for leadership and after his election my criticism was unambiguous.
It is perhaps why I was called to that December meeting in Pierre Portelli’s office ostensibly as Michael Briguglio’s wingman. I was soon to find out my presence there was not incidental.
The argument put to me at that meeting is something you’ve heard many times since. The Labour Party needs defeating. The votes of campaigners for truth and justice after Daphne Caruana Galizia’s assassination are needed for the PN to be able to overcome Labour. But the subject of Daphne Caruana Galizia itself was politically harmful to the PN.
It was my duty and my responsibility, I was told, to steer supporters of the truth and justice campaign in the direction of support of Adrian Delia and the PN.
I listened politely. And then I said that if Pierre Portelli seriously thought that people marching in protest at the killing of a journalist could be told what to think and who to support — and that they would listen and somehow obey like sheep — he was completely misunderstanding them.
He was also misunderstanding why I had quit my job to write full-time. Not to mention why so many people had paused their life to campaign and protest, each in their own way.
I left that meeting and never returned to that building. Michael Brigulgio did. He became a candidate of the PN for the MEP elections and clearly lived up to his duty as Pierre Portelli understood it to be: to use his influence to persuade people of conscience they needed to support Adrian Delia and the PN.
When the PN realised it could not persuade me to fall in line with the promise of reward or with appeals to partisan duty, it switched to other methods. The one that stuck for a long time was that I was planning to run for some election on behalf of the Partit Demokratiku. It was easier for their people to think I was writing for some hidden motive than that I was writing for the sake of doing it.
It’s incredible to me now that the assumption of a hidden motive could still work when someone was following in the footsteps of Daphne Caruana Galizia. That after her example and her story had ended in the way it did, people would still measure others by their own yardstick and assume that an opinion or a journalistic endeavour could never have an intrinsic merit but must be at the service of some grand political plan.
As the MEP elections draw near the ‘he’s doing it because he’s running’ trope became tired and less and less credible.
With time the PN stopped believing it as well.
And there was something else they stopped believing. That civil society campaigners were somehow doing my bidding, that they were somehow extensions of my will.
That’s when the PN turned its guns onto activists themselves.
The ongoing onslaught on Occupy Justice activists is not about trying to get me to behave in a way that accommodates their interest. That sort of street level wise guy craftiness has withered under the pressure they are feeling.
Now they are treating civil society in the only manner these people have ever treated anyone who was not on their side, like they were a political party. Scratch that, like they were THE OTHER political party.
It has now come to a very ugly place. Leading activists have been singled out individually and are the subject of outrageous accusations. It has come to the point when the PN is accusing them of fleecing donors and pocketing thousands of euro.
The supreme irony of that squeezes exquisite tenderness when so many of us have spent so much of our money and given up so much of our time and effort that would have otherwise been consumed in generating income and profit for ourselves in our jobs and businesses.
That’s what the PN is willing to use its official means to discredit activists. Its unofficial means — its trolls and agents — are willing to go much further.
It would be dishonest and purely rhetorical to say this doesn’t affect campaigners. They may say, in moments of pride and determination, that nothing will stop them. That Daphne Caruana Galizia’s example of never giving up until a bomb killed her, would spur them on no matter what is thrown at them. That lies will not detract them or slow them down.
It does affect them. Many have given up and left. Their bosses at work told them to make a choice, like my own had told me in October of 2017. And many have no choice but to choose to clam up.
My wife, Clemence, who was there since the very first day, told her friends and me that she also has had enough.
Her job supports our family since I have stopped working to do this. For as long as she was giving time and effort to the cause, she was happy to do so. But now she has been singled out and the matter has been personalised. She made the front page of Il-Mument yesterday in a story that accuses her and her friends of fraud and exploitation of gullible donors.
On Facebook it goes further. Our marriage is the topic of general discussion with innuendoes for the more restrained. The more enthusiastic speak about her promiscuity. One went as far yesterday as saying I wrote about the migrants at sea because she wanted to sleep with them.
As we do that we contend with onslaughts of abuse in our electronic mailboxes and we can’t go to a restaurant without being looked at like child rapists.
All the while she is risking her job and our only income.
They tell you it’s a taste of your own medicine. Labour had actually drawn up an arms length website with that name designed to burn Daphne Caruana Galizia’s life before other, more definitive methods were found.
Trolls are out there in droves telling Occupy Justice people they must now “resign because of the allegations”.
Resign from what? They have no position, draw no compensation, seek no election and pursue no ambition they can resign from.
Resignation is not what these people want to secure. They want to secure silence so they can have the world for themselves to bustle in and profit from.
They have won my wife’s silence. She never promised to give up her life and her children for this. She never promised it to the many who supported her cause and the cause of her friends while they went on with their lives and took no risks.
The risk has become unreasonable and the consequences disproportionate. Because whatever the PN might believe, these activists are not a political party. They are not professional politicians. They are not campaigning for elected office which some might see as some form of reward for all the shit you’re made to eat.
They call the leaders of Occupy Justice “desperate housewives” because of course “women” and “housewives” are the same thing in these people’s minds. They are desperate because they spoke up, because they gave up their time for the public good.
But sometimes they ask themselves if they’re desperate enough to be beaten in the street, to be losing their job, to be called whores on public platforms like Facebook by people they do not know, to have their names and their reputations plastered on political newspapers, to face down accusations of fraud when they denied their children a holiday to spend the money and the time on a public cause.
Sometimes their answer is the same as the answer so many people give as they egg you on to protest and march but tell you they don’t want their face to be seen because they’re not ready to give up anything for the cause they say they believe in.
Sometimes their answer is no. My wife said no yesterday.