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Creating a Peoples’ Agenda


The Argyle International Airport is now a fait accompli and it is back to business, hopefully, not as usual. Since 2008, this country has been seriously challenged.

Mistakes have been made, divisions have grown, emotions have soared, the conversation had at times become bitter; an element of secrecy crept into the picture, sacrifices had unwittingly been made, but the people have remained the darkened theatre audience, clapping at times and at points being critical, while some, for different reasons, made whatever contribution they could. In the process a lot was revealed about our country and people.

Who are we who make up this country and what are we about? Our natural tendency is to look at the actors on stage and to quarrel among ourselves. Any critical review about the action on stage creates a dialogue marked by bitterness and cussing. Dialogue is always difficult, in that we start with different assumptions, expectations and levels of understanding. Facts at times become ‘alternative facts,’ as the Trumpites will say. But what are we about? How we define ourselves? Or is it that we leave others to do that for us?

We will do well to try to understand and define our role and what is expected of us in the process of nation building. We, the people, fail to realize that we have been and are the builders of this nation. Our foreparents slaved on the plantations. When presented with the opportunity, they built communities. They struggled against the planter class and demanded the freedom that they were told they had in 1838. Over the years, they struggled, the 1862 Riots and the 1935 Riots being high points in that struggle. They welcomed the emergence of the first mass-based organization, the Workingmen’s Association in 1936 and even though they were not brought into the formal political process then, they made their presence felt. In 1951, they forced the hands of the colonial government and they gave us their Westminster system that grew out of their class system. At the same time, they facilitated the development of trade unions, realizing that it was in their interest to deal with an organized entity whose rules they provided rather than to have to confront the people on the streets as they had to in 1935. In 1951, hell began to break loose. The politicians in whom they invested their hopes and expectations created divisions among themselves. The Eight Army of Liberation, as they called them, began to move into different camps and the unity of the people was sabotaged.

We, the people, who had demonstrated their strength in 1935 and set the terms of what was to follow, believed we had reached the political kingdom in 1951 and left those whom we had put there to take the struggle forward, but in a colonial political context that catered first to the interests of the ‘mother country’. The system facilitated a process of divide and rule and the people began to suffer; the united voice that emerged after 1935 was no longer in existence. We have since 1951 witnessed a political atmosphere where our resources and strength were divided among different camps. It was the hope of those who fought for independence that 1979 was going to make a difference, but they never created the climate and lacked the mindset to overturn what was handed to them. We were an independent people in name, pledging our loyalty to nation by singing vigorously the national anthem and on the 27th of October every year professing our independence. When British interest and colonial favours began to decline, we turned to our big neighbour, who said that we are in their backyard, to come to our assistance. In the period of the Cold War they were ready to do so, but with the Cold War over, their overt interest was no longer. We looked to our brothers and sisters and helped to form the Caribbean Community (Caricom), but with like-minded neighbours who were just as powerless and confused. We feared unity, but were forced into positions where we had to work together, but were never serious about that, fearing competition among ourselves. We are still kidding ourselves that we can find a solution with a Caribbean Single Market and Economy that became stalled at some point.

This month is Black History Month which we copied from an America where our brothers and sisters are in a minority still subjected to elements of racism and where black lives still don’t matter. March, we have proclaimed National Heroes Month. What does all of this mean to us? We have one national hero so far, but what has this brought to us? What does a national hero mean to us? We have been asked to identify national heroes with a process that was flawed and reflected our divisions. What do we want of our national heroes? Will all of this eventually help us to define ourselves and remind us of the strengths we had in withstanding slavery, building our towns and villages and telling the colonial administration in 1935 that this is our time. What will it take to create a peoples’ agenda that should really have been set in 1979?

Dr Adrian Fraser is a social commentator and historian.