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Young people, history and politics Part 2

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When I embarked on this piece last week, the intention was not to stir up nostalgia, to hark back to any “good old days” or simply to relive the past. Making the connection with our history is an essential part of the process of political development and I can only hope that by revisiting our past, we can learn something which will help to guide our future endeavours.{{more}}

Prior to 1974, as the militant anti-colonialism of Joshua and his party, the PPP, declined, the mantle of progressive politics in St Vincent and the Grenadines was taken up the Forum group, later to become the Democratic Freedom Movement. In an era of rising black consciousness, this group led by returning graduates, came more and more into conflict with the Cato administration of 1967/72. The birth of the National Youth Council, to which I referred last week, and increasing activity at the youth and community level provided fertile ground for the spread of progressive ideas.

One important aspect which ought not to be overlooked was the thirst for reading material, especially black and progressive literature. That thirst was to last throughout the seventies and much of the eighties and in attempting to satisfy it, the young people of the day were able to significantly raise their levels of consciousness and political awareness. Sadly, it seems to have dissipated in the consumer craze of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

Active and militant political organisations sprang up all over the Caribbean with SVG being no exception. In addition to the Forum, by the early seventies three small organisations were in existence, the ARWEE group, based in the rural community of Diamond Village, and two Kingstown-based ‘Black Power’ organisations, BLAC and OBCA, separate only because of personal, rather than ideological or political differences. Culturally too, there was a progressive contingent, with the New Artists Movement (NAM) and ‘Patches’ Knights Local Entertainers Association in the forefront.

The brutal state reactions, first to the demonstration against the visit of the British princess, Margaret of Windsor in 1972 (by the Cato administration), and one year later by the Mitchell administration following the murder of Attorney General Cecil Rawle, had affected the youth right across the board, politically involved or not. One important outcome was that it impressed on the three political groups mentioned above that it was futile continuing in isolation of each other, there had to be a pooling of resources if they were to be more effective.

This lesson, of the need for unity, is perhaps the most critical one that can be gleaned from the formation of YULIMO in August 1974. It was to be a guiding principle for the broad progressive movement over the next two decades, leading to the emergence of the United People’s Movement (UPM) as a genuine alternative to the politics of the old in 1979 and thereafter influencing the re-emergence of progressive influences at the level of national politics with the formation of the ULP following the setbacks to the progressive movement following the collapse of the Grenada Revolution.

Another lesson that we can draw from the period is what can be achieved politically, even without material resources. The level of activism and militancy achieved by the YULIMO militants gave the organisation a level of political influence far in excess of its meagre membership numbers and far out of proportion to its palpable lack of resources.

Another important lesson is the importance of maintaining close links with the people, of continuous mobilisation of young people and defending the rights and promoting the interests of the working people. Side by side with this was the close working relations with the organisations of the people- the trade unions and organisations of farmers, youths, women and at the community level. Fundamental change for the benefit of the working people cannot be achieved without such links and unselfish support for mass organisations.

Finally, two more significant features. One was the importance of solidarity, of forging relations internationally and regionally, based on a progressive foreign policy approach. In today’s world we can see what huge dividends it has been bringing to the people of St Vincent and the Grenadines, under the leadership of one of the YULIMO leaders, Prime Minister Gonsalves.

The second is the role played by YULIMO’s organ, FREEDOM, which rapidly became the voice of the oppressed, champion and defender of the rights of the working people and a vital weapon in public political education and developing consciousness as well as a key tool for mobilisation.

Times have changed and methods must also, but these few lessons from the YULIMO experience will remain priceless in our political development.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.

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