It began as a phenomenon and grew into a movement. Exactly fifty years ago, a group of young Grenadians began a political journey which was marked by two opposites: General Elections by ballot (1976) then Revolution by bullets (1979)! Did they become revolutionaries because democracy failed them? They were the first big wave (dozens) of university- educated Grenadians to return to their homeland and who had been impacted by the Black Power Movement and other liberation philosophies.
They saw things differently! They had energy, passion, and articulation! And they believed, some of them, in something which was eventually said to be Socialism. Uncle Gairy described them as “hot and sweaty, shouting power”! But he had no constructive response to their challenge nor could he present an effective counter to their narrative. In the circumstances, unfortunately, he resorted to brute force against them. They responded by demonizing him, far beyond his guilt. The dice was cast over a series of confrontations up until March 13, 1979, when Gairy was overthrown by armed force and Revolution entered the Grenadian space.
In 2020, there seems to be a stirring among young people and it is fair to say that outside influences are at work, especially the ‘Black Lives Matter Movement’ with the cultural adaptation that ‘Living Matters in Grenada’. One is here referring to the quality of life. They are murmuring against the political order because knees are pressing on several aspects of citizens’ lives and there are several questions to be asked. What has frustrated them? Who has short- changed them? What kind of future do they want for themselves? Who has let them down? Who has failed to make use of the leadership opportunity to promote unity and fairness and justice in Grenada? Who represents riches and more riches when unemployment and poverty are dimming their eyes? Who is showing a disturbing willingness to run roughshod over the people and the courts? Who is prepared to make laws not for the peace, order and good government of Grenada as provided for in the Constitution? Who represents the direct opposite of their ethical and moral standards and is therefore no role model?
The Grenadian people had not heard from them before July and they are yet to introduce themselves to the society in the usual fashion. Unlike 1970, when there was no television, just radio, print and the roadside, in 2020, there is all of that and the highly- influential social media. That is where they put their voices in a direct show of protest equipped with energy, passion, and a narrative, though limited. Today, the young people must be heard saying that they have reached the limits of the IMANI Program, but no one seems to be listening; no one bothered to pay attention! They are saying they cannot develop as good, productive citizens when the contradictions between getting qualified through disciplined study and getting an occasional easy money handout undermine their sense of dignity and steal their purpose in life. The practice of ‘Money Socialism’ has replaced Socialism as a model for economic and social development. The difference is especially important. ‘Money Socialism’ is designed to catch votes and win elections. Socialism proper is about addressing the needs of all in the society, however imperfectly.
Going back to 1970, the popular causes being advocated by the young people were justice, human rights, and property rights, abuse of power, police brutality /political violence, intimidation, and corruption. These themes played well with the working class (labour), students and with the small middle class at that time. The church identified with some of these struggles and was emboldened especially where Gairy conflicted with the upper class that financed the church.
The 2020 confrontation with the State seems concentrated around rights of freedom, economic justice, respect for self- worth and the backward treatment of people. Hence there are certain similarities or common ground. One notable similarity is that in 1970, the youth could not find leadership in the GNP of Herbert Blaize and had to build things for themselves. The GNP was lacking in political talent and devoid of cultural charms. So too, in 2020, the youth cannot find leadership in the NDC, for the same reasons. They have no option but to build for themselves with good sense, including making tactical alliances. An important consideration is to frame a mission statement to guide the building out of their aspirations. That mission must be about a desirable goal or set of goals for Grenada.
However, there are important differences. Firstly, the mystique of the highly- educated has gone! Grenada no longer has a handful of graduates, but thousands! So, there is no advantage of immediate popular appeal. Today’s youth will have to work hard at securing public confidence and support. Secondly, over twenty years of government control by the NNP, under Dr Keith Mitchell, has consolidated financial interests in the hands of some citizens ranging from the new middle class to the upper class. These people can be expected to mount strong resistance to the youth. Thirdly, while there is more access to the courts, evidence of the Prime Minister’s utterances about the court calls into question his commitment to the rule of law and his credentials as a democrat. Additionally, whereas in 1970 the protest was concentrated on Gairy, not his GULP, today, the protest is targeting the NNP brand, not just Mitchell. Lastly, one can expect the church to play the role of spectator because some are visible enablers of the regime while others are diplomatically- cautious, lukewarm or are compromised. As an institution, the church seems unable to promote national unity.
Clearly, seeds of challenge are being planted and it would be interesting to see how these young people develop themselves and their cause; and how the regime responds. As of now, one might say that there is not enough on show to project a political mission on their part. Furthermore, not much will happen if identifiable and respected leaders do not emerge among them very soon. This is a cultural issue of the highest importance. People want to know who is talking to them! Note, people do not wish to be led by those segments of the youth who embody and practice the ‘diva culture’ (my opinion).
In 1970, the youth were agitational on the issues, but they were deficient on discipline, leadership preparation and character issues. These are the very defects which today’s youth must remedy with resolve if their desire is to make change happen in Grenada. If they are serious about the future then they must move quickly to acquire learning on leadership; democracy; values, discipline, and character; understanding the Grenadian culture alongside class and demography; and development, as foundation pillars.
Eric Gairy did not stop himself nor did he tear up his fake robe! He reveled in the thinking that he was a local ground god! The Grenadian leader of 2020 should re-familiarize himself with the lessons and in doing so accept the truth that there is no common king of the Grenadian domain. It is very wrong to personalize the Office of Prime Minister! He would do well to recall that Gairy was not overthrown because the economy was bad. He was shut down because of his [seemingly] abuse of power and mistreatment of people.
By 1979, Gairy had been made into a ‘demon brand’! The popular cry then was, “Gairy must go”! In 2020, the judgment pronounced is, “dey too wicked”! So, all of them must go!