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Three political Octobers in SVG

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Big October 1979, has two older 20th century sisters who are kept hidden in the kitchen and in ‘l’oubli,’ so that the 27th October, 1979 can shine all by itself on the political pedestal.

But the three sisters belong on the podium of our memory, supporting each other, showing up each other. October 1935, October 1951 and October 1979 are three Octobers that point the way forward for a politics of people’s sovereignty in SVG, a real Independence.{{more}} The first two Octobers were Octobers of popular justice and hope; the 3rd October, in 1979, was a festival which feted the people and at the same time, excluded them.

October 21, 1935 is a date that some of our history conscious writers do bring to our attention. In fact, Dr Adrian Fraser has researched and has written a whole book about it. We will see copies of it later this year or early in 2016, published by the UWI Press. What makes the record of the 1935 October important for our Independence? Colonial opinion has put it to us that that ‘riot’ was and is a blemish on our character as a people. I remember trying to discuss what happened at the time with one of the persons who took part in the events, but he would not open up. He seemed to have accepted the ‘official’ interpretation that it was an episode of shame on our people and it disgraced him personally and should be hidden away from exposure to the coming generations. And so, though persons like Dr Kenneth John, educator Oswald Peters, politician Dr Ralph Gonsalves, activist-organizer, Renwick Rose, Dr Fraser himself and others have published pieces on our 1935 October anti-colonial rebellion, is it a part of our memory? Can we put our hands on a copy of the story of our people’s overt defiance against British injustice and dictatorship and its place in our Independence journey? No; it is well and truly dead and buried by the colonial undertaker, and it makes us look at Independence in 1979 as an event, rather than as a process in which we won some and lost a lot. October 21st, 1935 owns its critical place on the agenda of our Independence festival and Round Table wants to make the case.

THE VINCENTIAN PEOPLE PROTEST AND CONTEST

Brutality can come at you with a stone, a cutlass, a rapist’s clutch, or a drone aircraft loaded with explosives, or alternatively the brute can ravish you by having your community lack access to land or credit, while its friends own large estates and access credits, while you and your community have to toil on those estates for next to nothing. The first relationship of brutality is open and transparent. It is violent by any definition. The social structures that distribute rights and education in the second relationship, however, seem so neutral and natural, not wicked at all, you live, accepting it. Colonial rule in SVG, after abolition of chattel slavery in 1838, was mainly this neutral looking brutal governance and in 1935, Vincentians had lived with nearly 100 years of that structural dictatorship in their faces. There was protest and unmasking of this oppression, of course. The Marcus Garvey movement, the educated and ‘returnee’ community, the land hungry rural people and outstanding voices like those of George McIntosh and others raised queries, made claims and stirred consciousness about colonial rule and racism. Vincentians were resenting and resisting the structures. Then a conjunctural opening occurred. New events broke the vile peace, as it were.

A word went around that poor people were to be attacked with new taxes that the Colonial Governor was to pass at a meeting in Council at the Court House. That mobilized the urban aware working people. Their anti-colonial sentiment had already been stirred in their discussions of how another European Colonial nation, Italy, had attacked the proud African homeland of Ethiopia. This was another racial-colonial assault on the integrity and dignity of black people! Vincentian dignity stood up. The Governor’s assembly was interrupted, colonial order put on hold, prisoners were set free and nationwide support in pockets spread the action. During the years 1934 to 1937, similar rebellion arose in other Caribbean colonies.

When the dust settled, the British Government concluded that things had to change in the structures of colonial rule. One of the reforms proposed was to permit some constitutional rights to more Vincentians; rights that our leaders then made use of to advance a black and working people’s agenda in the ensuing decades.

October 1935 was a path breaking moment that swung the momentum of our politics towards self-government and Independence. Independence Month cannot, from this year forward, respect itself without tribute to the 21st October and our people’s mobilization to end Brutish Colonial governance in SVG, in the region and further afield.

PEOPLE AGAIN

On October 14, 1951, Vincentians issued another mass based challenge to British Colonial governance. It was part of another regional submarine attack against the British. At the first general elections in which all adults had the right to vote for representatives in the Legislature, new vigorous political parties with a platform for the working people and greater sovereignty won sweeping victories in all colonies without exception. A people’s momentum was working itself out in the development of governance in our region. That second October mobilization by our militant political forebears has a message for us that we need to listen to. It is this: “The accomplishment and the actual practice of Independent Governance in SVG and in our Caribbean must be Region Uniting, People Respecting, and Dignity Fulfilling”.

Is there anything clearer than that from our review of the two Octobers leading us to Independence? Yet, I have come to see the events of October 1979, and our anniversary festival in 2015 to be far from People Promoting events. They are and were about festivity, yes, but most of all, about exclusion of our people from Governance. This is a sobering conclusion to digest, as we give thanks for our militant anti-colonial parents who went before us on that fruitful rebellion. As we take part in next week’s Big October Day, we should pledge to reclaim our small Octobers and recover that submerged militancy that we have in our political DNA.

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