The protests of November and December 2019 were the biggest and most sustained public political manifestations not called by either major political party in living memory. They were also the most successful. They achieved aims broadly thought impossible just a few weeks before including the resignation of Joseph Muscat from the office he least wanted to leave, the office of the prime minister.
Everyone joined. The left, the right, people who never thought themselves as either. There were expats who made this country their home though they hardly speak the local language. There were veterans of many political battles and newly awakened fighters who had just walked down from the viewing stands for the first ever time.
Newspapers and media formally supported the protests. Unions, lobbies, the strangest bedfellows. Many got over the mutual dislikes and rubbed shoulders with others seduced by the smell of imminent victory.
Waves of political movement do not start on their own. The protest movement that swept Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi and Chris Cardona out of their plush offices was a last ripple from the deafening and inaudible blast that rushed out of Bidnija more than two years ago. They were removed by the truth Daphne Caruana Galizia wrote.
But a lot of work had to happen between that foulest day and the collapse of the conspiracy that killed her.
Daphne’s sons, with her husband, her sisters, her parents and her nieces worked indefatigably to protect the memory of their mother, to tell her story and to make sure everyone understands what her killing truly meant.
Journalists from all over the world covered the story and still do, horrified by the evil that killed her, determined to see the bastards pay for their actions.
And activists here protested for over two years to make it abundantly clear they were not like everybody else. They were not going to simply accept what happened.
We weren’t always in our tens of thousands. Sometimes we met in our few hundreds. Sometimes we protested as dozens.
We weren’t always endorsed by media houses and news organisations. For months we were ignored. Our statements and speeches overlooked. Our actions unmentioned. As if we weren’t there at all.
We weren’t always supported by other organisations. For a long time we were isolated as Johnny-come-latelies or closet nationalists or ineligible campaigners for an ineligible cause.
Prime ministers and ministers and government spokesmen didn’t always quake in their shoes at the sight of our protests. They didn’t always prefer to step aside and let us protest at the memorial in front of the court building for example. Instead every day for two years they crushed it, taunting us with legal letters, sending thugs to intimidate us, to shout at us, sometimes to beat us.
Prime ministers and ministers didn’t always say they “spoke the same language on good governance”. They said rather that we were “traitors” and “fanatics” and “extremists”.
We went through all that for 25 months, month in month out, week in week out, day in day out with no certainty of victory. Only a fool’s hope fed by that other dangerous drug: conviction, the certainty of being right.
If we hadn’t gone through those 25 months there would have been no great November that brought about Joseph Muscat’s downfall. There would have been no coherent cause to rally around, no alliances to form, no focused campaign that could see through the movement that arose to fight for justice for Daphne, for her family and for the whole country.
This is not a plea for gratitude. Thanks is not what we campaigned for 25 months before November and December came along. We did it when we knew we would get anything but thanks. We did it because we could not live with ourselves if we looked away and pretended that it was perfectly ok for our government to kill a journalist. After all they did to her when she was alive. We did it because we could not live with ourselves if we looked away and pretended that it was perfectly ok for the killers of a journalist to get away with it.
It’s not surprising that those who join a campaign last are the first to leave it. It’s not that their support has dwindled or they no longer think it’s a good cause. It’s not that they are any less disgusted with Konrad Mizzi giving himself a fat raise and a parachute payment than they were with Konrad Mizzi staying on as minister.
It’s just that that scent of victory they sniffed at last November has blown away as a result of a combination of the satisfactory results obtained by campaigning and the irresistible desire for a normality where one does not need to fight anymore.
We called a protest for tomorrow because it is clear to us that Joseph Muscat, Keith Schembri, Konrad Mizzi, Chris Cardona and Lawrence Cutajar, Peter Grech, Mario Cutajar and Neville Gafà, Kenneth Camilleri, Sandro Craus and on and on and on the list goes, have every intention of getting away with what they’ve done. We’ve called a protest for tomorrow because it is clear to us that Robert Abela owes his power to these people and he is paying them back by extending to them the protection of his office.
But we called a protest for tomorrow without any illusions. We feel the same steely determination we felt in November 2017, the sort that tells us that it hardly matters to us if we show up alone or that the local press (or much of it) will ignore us, or that partisan media (we tasted that from both sides) will call us abortive, treasonous, fetishistic anarchists, or that politicians and governments will ignore us.
To us it does not matter because we know we’re right and sooner or later we’ll get the job done.
But it should matter to the people who stayed at home for 25 months while our feet squelched ankle-deep in the muddy trenches. It should, because if there’s something they should have realised last November when they joined us when we climbed over the top, it is that if they had joined us earlier the country would have been saved two years of humiliating grief, of uninhibited misappropriation, of injustice and of the burning of evidence.
Tens of thousands who supported our cause outsourced the fighting to us. But we’re no professional army. We’re people who neglect their homes, their jobs, their professions, their businesses and their families in pursuit of elusive truth and justice.
We would find it sooner if we stuck together.
We know full well that Robert Abela pressed a reset button on our protest movement with his “ħalluna niggvernaw”. People who would rather live their lives than protest continue to give him the benefit of the doubt even now. Some have suggested even on the comments boards of this website that tomorrow’s protest is something Robert Abela manipulated us into calling in order to strengthen his hand as he punches out Joseph Muscat.
It’s incredible to me now that with all that we’ve experienced people still think of political leaders as universally endowed with Napoleonic foresight and strategic ability. And it’s especially incredible to me now that people prefer to wait for politicians to solve problems they have no shred of a motivation to address than to stand up for themselves and say why change is needed.
But we will not let this simple frustration keep us down. We are not driven by success. Our motivation is our desire for the truth and our ambition for justice. Though we happily admit that the partial wins of the end of last year give us heart.
Please. Don’t just watch us. Don’t just thank us. Don’t just wire us a donation. Don’t just post a comment on Facebook.
Those places in the square to our left, our right, our front and our back don’t get magically filled. If you feel what is happening in our country is not right and want it to change, you can bring the change about. But you’ve got to work for it.
The streets are yours. Don’t stay away.