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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 15, 2024


In the classic movie "Bad Day at Black Rock," one of the villains repeatedly tries to provoke the hero, a one-armed war veteran played by Spencer Tracy, into a fight. In a scene in the town diner, he pushes Tracy off his stool and pours ketchup in his coffee. Tracy won’t be provoked. Finally, in a wonderful moment, the bad guy goes too far and Tracy delivers a karate chop to his throat that sends him sprawling through the front door.
I thought of this scene when I read the latest account of the Virgin Islands Senate’s response to the referendum on reducing the Senate size from 15 to 9. The position of the senators is that "the people" are wrong, and that not enough of them voted on the matter, anyway. For those reasons, the members of one of America’s most pathetic deliberative bodies say that they are not going to reduce the Senate size.
Now "the people" may well be wrong in this matter. They often are. After all, they elected these senators in the first place, none of whom complained about wrong-headedness or low turnout at that time. And, if one looks at the bigger picture, "the people" also elected Nixon and a lot more like him. But that is hardly the point. The rules are the rules. Otherwise you don’t have a democracy.
In taking this extraordinary position, the senators are crossing a threshold. This action goes beyond the buffoonery, incompetence, corruption and embarrassment that are typically associated with the Virgin Islands Senate, at least in recent years. The Senate’s actions and the remarks of several of the senators are a direct frontal assault on democratic principles. The feeble attempts to put either a legal or a good-government spin on their rejection of the clearly expressed will of the people won’t wash.
It appears that a majority of these senators do not view their positions as a public trust. They, like many others in government, view their jobs as property. They feel that they own them, as well as the various perks and opportunities that go with them. And they are hardly about to allow the citizens of the Virgin Islands to take six of them away.
Will they get away with it? Not clear. If they do, it will be another big step in the accelerating decline of the Virgin Islands. What will it take to get a critical mass of the "good guys" in the territory to deliver a karate chop to these lawless officials? Maybe there is nothing. Maybe they can repeatedly pour ketchup in the citizens’ coffee without provoking any outrage or response. Maybe they can’t "go too far." If that is true, the territory will start looking like the cold war socialist kleptocracies of Eastern Europe, where "the people" were mentioned only when it was necessary to justify some new outrage that was about to be hatched.
A People’s Republic of the Virgin Islands would be a terrible thing. This latest provocation can be an opportunity for people to say "enough" and to take the kind of mass action that is needed. Just for the record, at the end of "Bad Day at Black Rock," the good guys win.

Editor's note: Management consultant Frank Schneiger has worked with V.I. agencies since 1975, most recently as consultant to United Way of St. Thomas/St. John. He is one of the founders of the St. Thomas/St. John Youth Multiservice Center.
Readers are invited to send comments on this article to source@viaccess.net.

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