Liberty Party USA Chairman Caution Liberians
Speech Delivered in Stockton, California
July 22, 2017 Independence Day Celebration Keynote
Philip B. Suah Jr.
Chairman, Liberty Party USA
Who Will bell the Cat
There was a time in the land of rats when things were beautiful. It wasn’t perfect but the rats had peace and food. But along came a cat, bringing with him mourning and torment for the rat kingdom. The rats held a convention to brainstorm ideas to solve their common problem. The younger rats blamed the previous generation of rats for not solving the cat issue in their time. They even blamed other rats for escaping the rat kingdom to safer territories while still complaining about the unsafe conditions at home. After many days of heated debate, a brilliant young rat came up with an idea which brought joy and jubilation to the entire kingdom. She said, to better protect the kingdom, the rats needed an advance notification system about the cat’s presence, which would give rats a chance to hide. The idea was to put a tickle bell around the cat’s neck so rats could hear the cat coming from a distance. After an hour of clapping and celebration, an elderly rat raised her hand and asked “who will bell the cat?” The convention chairman quieted the hall and asked “what did you say?” And she replied “who will put the bell on the cat’s neck?” Not only was there deadening silence, rats began filing out of the convention center dejected. No one was willing to take the danger of a shared enterprise upon themselves.
As you see from this story, it is easy to stand from a distance and formulate solutions, but until you get closer to the problem, your ideas will only be words that yield no result. And when you muster the boldness to solve a collective problem, you would soon realize that there can be no lasting solution without personal sacrifice.
This country has taught me the value of personal sacrifice for the good of society. Whether through the defiance of the few who defended the Alamo against the Mexican army, the trauma faced by Rosa Parks as she challenged an unfair political system, or the ultimate sacrifice paid by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so that we can be where we are today, I see the trail of ordinary men and women enduring extraordinary pain and suffering for the good of a nation.
It is upon the moral of such stories that I segue to Liberia’s history.
Liberia was formed when the shackles of slavery were broken from some slaves during the emancipation movement in America. History tells us that the American Colonization Society was formed to relocate former slaves to their homeland. Whether such a move was humanitarian in its totality, or partly out of fear that a few emancipated slaves roaming in the north would encourage massive revolt from those still in bondage to slave masters in the south; or out of fear that freed slaves and their white counterparts could not live together in society as equals, but one thing is certain, freed slaves were sent to Liberia to experience Liberty and live as freed men and women.
But from the conception of our nation, we made many fundamental mistakes that created schisms between one half of our ancestors and the other half. A nation formed on the value of liberty, failed to ensure that such liberty was experienced by all. We limited women, created a class system which limited the upward mobility of those with different ethnic and social backgrounds, as well as those of different political mindsets. Those rifts violently surfaced through a series of events from the coup of 1980 to the atrocities of our civil crisis.
And while we have moved from the war years, we are still entrapped in a psychological and economic battlefield, which leaves women vulnerable and marginalized in our society, children with little or no education or healthcare, youth without technical skills or employment and the elderly with no safety net in their old age. Our Liberian women, strong as they are, succumb to death in child birth as they walk miles to the nearest health centers. We have been listed as the most corrupt nation in the world multiple times; Our beautiful country, Liberia, has been among the top five poorest nations on the earth for many years. Despite the gloom of such reality, our top six officials of government have an operational budget of US$10.2 million a year.
- President – US$3,943,030
- Vice President – US$2,431,003
- Senate Pro Temp – US$1,369,423
- Speaker – US$1,000,370
- Deputy Speaker – US$930,132
- Chief Justice – US$616,374
Total – US$10,290,332
Furthermore, the offices of our 103 legislators (73 representatives and 30 senators) receive over US$41 million a year. Together with the six top officials previously listed, we allocate almost 10% of the entire national budget to the offices of 109 officials.
Out of the US$ 526 million total budget for 2017/2018, US$296 million is allocated to compensation (60% of the budget) and US$81.1 to goods and services. Overall, total recurrent expenditure is about 94% of the budget. And the beat goes on.
I share such information with you today, not to disparage our government, neither to only feed your inner rage against issues in our country. To the contrary, I am here to show you the similarities we have with the rat kingdom. The cat represents all that is wrong in our society. We know our cat problem, we are mad at the cat for the immense suffering and mourning it has caused our society. We know the potential solutions to our cat problem; we speak about those solutions at parties, events and July 26 gatherings, like this one. But when it comes to getting involved to help, we bow out and return to the comfort of our lives, afraid of the personal sacrifice it takes to bring change. Yes, poverty will still persist in Liberia; women will still be overlooked and abused without justice in a country boasting the first female President on the continent; yes, men the age of their grandfathers will impregnate teenage girls without repercussions because they are government officials; yes, our young girls will continue to be sold in human trafficking under the guise of job opportunities in foreign countries; More will be condemned for lives as domestic servants, slaves and prostitutes in foreign lands where they will be beaten, tortured and routinely abused; yes, your beautiful country is now a silent source and transit point for human trafficking. According to the US State department, Liberia is now a tier two human trafficking country, just above the most dangerous countries in tier 3. and yes, some of the very people who have exposed us to the floodgates of hell, ruined our country with corruption, wars, bloodshed and murder roam free without your version of justice. Yes, all that could continue.
So, I ask you this evening – who will bell our cat?
George Orwell, the noted English novelist, wrote “A people who elect corrupt politicians, imposters, thieves, and traitors are not victims…but accomplices.” Whether we put actual votes in the ballot box or not, we vote when we fail to participate in our democracy at home. By not participating, we elect the same leaders we disdain. By walking away, we sustain the same system which caused us to mourn our loved ones and will ruin the lives of even more people.
As we approach this pivotal election season, on the heels of our 170th independence, I implore each of you to consider active involvement. I beseech you to risk a little so that our collective Liberian society may benefit. Get involved, evaluate all the candidates. Despite their shortcomings, select the one closest to your vision of a leader. And don’t only support that candidate in your heart, spread their message to others. Don’t only spread their message to others, make financial contributions to their campaigns because campaigns are very expensive. We can’t sit back and allow others to sacrifice financially only to show up after victory is obtained. We cannot complain about recycled politicians tomorrow when we fail to support a campaign today. Those recycled politicians understand well enough that those who actively support a campaign have access to decision makers. They call it lobbying in this country.
I got involved with Liberty Party in 2008 because I had this epiphany. I realized I had to be engaged to make a difference. I’m aware this is a community event where we support different candidates. So, I will not promote my candidate, Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine. I will refrain from telling you that after 35 years of professional and public service, he remains without a blemish of corruption; not even opponents question his integrity. I will not pontificate about his family values, that he has been married for over 41 years to Mrs. Estelle Brumskine and that he has three children (all successful lawyers) and five grandchildren. That he ran away from the war in 1990 like most of us, opening a successful law firm in the Washington DC area, where he was certified to plead cases before the Supreme Court; I refuse to politicize my speech tonight with facts that he only returned home in 1997 to contest on the ticket of a political party, the NPP, as a Senatorial aspirant for Grand Bassa County.
The truth is, the solutions to our country’s many problems do not rest in the abode of one individual; rather, it is in the collective energies of the people and the institutions we build. That is why Liberty Party has continued to promote the 4Rs as its tenets for a new Liberia. We must first Reconcile to ensure domestic peace; Reform to establish justice; recover from the wasted years and then rebuild. I am convinced that no amount of infrastructure development can help us if we fail to appreciate our diversity.
We can never all be the same but we can respect our differences. We must shame those who try to rejuvenate the native-cougau divide, manipulate the Christian-Muslim faiths, or exploit previous tensions between counties, tribes, cities, towns, villages, clans, quarters, and families. I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Theo Bestman Sr., a Liberian pastor in Dallas: “You don’t need victims in your path to be victorious.” We can succeed without harming others. We can go up without pulling others down. We can move forward without opening wounds that are starting to heal. We can win without destroying the very fabric of our nation.
I once again beseech you to join the evolution of change in our democracy so others can benefit. This July 26 celebration is special and emotional for me. I lost my father on March 19 of this year and had to fly home to bury him. He had been sick for some time. We took him to hospitals but doctors could do so little without equipment, advance technology and training. My father would have been 76 on his birthday this July 26. So, my call to order is not only political in nature, it is humanitarian. Until we rise up, we will always get death news of family and friends, unable to get access to proper healthcare. So, rise up and be a part of one of the many parties or individuals contesting for presidential or legislative offices. Jump in now or lose your ability to complain. Jump in now and join the caravan of dreamers. Dreamers like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, who saw us in his future. And because he cared so much for what he saw in his dream, he risked his life to make it a reality. Today, we are enjoying the freedom he and his family sacrificed for. All our cars, houses, apartments, education, jobs, and accomplishments were paid for by the sacrifices he and others were willing to make.
So, like Dr. King, let us, too, pursue a dream; not of ourselves but of the nameless faces of unborn Liberians who would someday benefit from contributions our generation can make with active participation.
As I conclude, I leave you with the words I gave Liberians in Houston when I spoke at the Education First annual dinner. Let us begin the Liberian dream. It’s a dream where the countenance of every Liberian will someday light up with opportunities that match the mineral wealth below its subsurface. Our dream catapults us from the mile-high Mountains of Nimba to the majestic Wologisi of Lofa, from the pristine surf beaches of Grand Cape Mount to the picturesque coast of Maryland, from the lush Putu landscape of Grand Gedeh to the colossal meanderings of the mighty Cavalla. And with our arms locked in unity, and our shoulders squared in Faith, together we will reach the shores of that Great Atlantic, wherein, under God, we can thrive as One Nation, indivisible with Liberty and Justice for all.