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Forty years – A very rich experience

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It is fairly obvious that one cannot relive four decades within the confines of two short newspaper columns, so many of the details of the forty years that I have laboured in socio-political struggle will have to await more substantial writings, already in progress. What can be done, however, is to share the broad outlines of the rich experiences that I have been privileged to enjoy since 1972, my political baptism.{{more}}

As pointed out last week, the period of my entry into organized struggle was one during which the Black Power/Black Nationalist ideology was the dominant influence on progressive youths of my generation. It manifested itself culturally, in the dress, the promotion of the drum, pride in being Black (Black is Beautiful), and identification with things African, while rejecting Eurocentric views and influences. We would sometimes, in our youthful exuberance, go overboard, such as the early insistence on using capital letters as in Black People, but common letters as in Europe, but that was part of the growing up exercise. It is with a profound sense of pride that I have maintained that black consciousness.

A logical part of this, which again has remained with me, has been solidarity with people of African descent the world over. I was fortunate to be among the organizers of an African Liberation Day rally, planned for “De Ghetto” in Bottom Town in 1973, which was forcibly aborted by police in the aftermath of the murder of Attorney General Cecil Rawle. We made it the next year in an historic ‘Long march’ from Central to North Central Windward, twinning our support for African liberation with a call for an end to plantation slavery. African Liberation Day had been indelibly stamped on the Vincentian calendar!

That coupling of an internationalist outlook with a strong sense of patriotism has been a hallmark of my 40-year experience. Thus, from Day One, we who formed BLAC put out a list of 10 demands, which included the cause of African freedom and a commitment to Caribbean unity, with an uncompromising call for an end to colonial rule, national independence for SVG and land reform to put an end to semi-feudal serfdom, which still existed on the agricultural estates. It is with great satisfaction that one can reflect and take pride in much of these being achieved and in modestly contributing, in one small form or another, to these advances.

In order to successfully wage the fundamental social and political battles for decolonization, national independence, the deepening of democracy and raising living standards, there were two important requisites which helped to shape my social and political outlook. One was the lifting of the consciousness of our people, broadening their understanding, and the other, a never-ending commitment to national unity. In a society steeped in colonial values, divided by a largely irrelevant political system, this has proven to be by far the greatest challenge.

Yet, perseverance has kept many of my colleagues and myself in relentless pursuit of this goal, in spite of many frustrations and setbacks. Within 10 months of having formed BLAC, our group got together with like-minded organizations to form a loose gathering called the Movement for National Independence and Freedom from Colonialism (Dec. 1972). This was to become the catalyst for the eventual unification of these groups in the Youlou United Liberation Movement, the unforgettable YULIMO, in February 1974.

That theme, of unifying the working people and all those who desire a progressive democratic society, has guided me. From the YULIMO vantage point, I became the spokesman for this unity initiative, spearheading debates, lobbying, cajoling and engaging, until we had the satisfaction of at last gathering the various progressive strands together in the United People’s Movement (UPM) and my one and only, reluctant step into electoral politics. My reservations are personal, not political, related to my own character and the difficulty of resolving the contradiction with the demands of electoral politics in SVG.

The UPM was an edification in itself, and had we not floundered from a combination of internal differences, and our failure to resolve them amicably, and the Grenada debacle of 1983, the history of our country, and indeed the Caribbean, would have been very different. Talking of Grenada, that must be the nadir of my entire career. The hostility which persons like me, who had been strongly identified with Grenada’s Revolution, had to face, was an experience I would not wish for anyone else. It was far worse than even the aftermath of the 1973 murder of the Attorney General. Thankfully, I have been strong enough to survive both.

For that I have to thank my parents, my loving wife, close friends and relatives, who stuck by me through thick and thin, (much more thin than thick). That solidarity enabled me to weather the storms and to maintain focus, even when the chips were down, as they were so very often. The sacrifices that one had to endure, the virtual scorn from some sectors of society, and the inconvenience imposed on my children, as I eschewed personal gain for more noble advances for society and people, are experiences that have shaped me.

In the final analysis, I have emerged all the better because of them. The forty years have spawned high-profile media activity, editing newspapers like FREEDOM and JUSTICE, trade union and farmers’ struggles, organizing and educating youths, advocating and standing up for women’s rights and equality, pioneering initiatives in global solidarity, particularly African liberation and support for the Cuban revolution, world peace and even the launching of a consumers’ Association, 35 years ago. How can I ever forget some of my people’s most titanic struggles, for a democratic Independence Constitution led by the broad-based National Independence Committee of 1978/9, and the other two major democratic battles, against the “Dread Bills” in 1981 and in the Organization in Defence of Democracy (2000/1).

It is disappointing that in 2009, all the efforts at a progressive, democratic Constitution were undermined by political partisanship and backwardness. But that is where my experiences have steeled me. Disappointments are a part of struggle. What is important is to understand them and to have the courage and commitment to turn temporary setbacks into advances. My forty years of struggle tells me that it will happen. Those decades are far from wasted.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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