The third Emancipation is about equal rights and equal opportunity

Dear Editor,

The theme for Emancipation 2012 is ‘Reclaiming Our Rights through Unified Purpose.‘

This is the 174th anniversary of our Emancipation in Guyana and as we celebrate this event to honour our ancestors, we at ACDA acknowledge the 50th anniversary of  the Independence of Uganda, the country we celebrate this year, as well as the 50th anniversary of Trinidad & Tobago, and the 50th Anniversary of Jamaica, which is represented by the Ascot High School Dance Troupe of Jamaica, who for the 6th successive year won 8 gold medals in their national championship as well as Most Outstanding School and Community Group.

We also celebrate the greatest entrepreneurial event of the post-Emancipation period, the Village Movement, by honouring the village of Hope Town, which was bought by the Blaire brothers. The name Hopetown was chosen by them as they “hoped” for a better life after slavery. It is reported that the Blaire brothers walked 4 days with their coins in a wheelbarrow to pay for Hopetown.

We must also pay tribute to the incredible contributions of Africans to this nation of Guyana.

History has recorded that Guyanese Africans “had driven back the sea and had cleared, drained and reclaimed 15,000 square miles of forest and swamps. This is equivalent to 9,000,000 acres of land. In short, all the fields on which the sugar estates are now based were cleared, drained and irrigated by African labour forces. All the plantations now turned villages and cities were built by unpaid African labour.“

In the process of building these plantations, careful research has shown that Africans installed the following (1) 2,580,000 miles of drainage canals, trenches and inter-bed drains; (2) 3,500 miles of dams, roads and footpaths; and (3) 2,176 miles of sea and river defence.

The Venn Commission also reported that “to build the coastal plantation alone, a value of 100,000,000 tons of earth had to be moved by the hands of African slaves“ (without machinery).

As Guyanese enjoy the cultural programme at the National Park on August 1, and as they visit the various information booths and enjoy the wide variety of foods, craft, clothing and other things on sale, ACDA would like to remind everyone that “when we speak of the culture of a place, we are talking about far more than its artistic or its ‘cultural products’ – literature, music, dance, art, sculpture, theatre, film and sport. All of these, of course, are important expressions of the culture of any social group and are part of its shared joy in the business of being alive. Culture is about shared patterns of identity, symbolic meaning, aspiration, and about the relationships between individuals and groups within that society. Culture is also about the relationships between ideas and perspectives, about self-respect and a sense of security, about how individuals are socialized and values are formed and transmitted. it is also deeply intertwined with structures of power and wealth”. Culture is about common bonding, common vision, shared values and shared goals.

ACDA’s theme for Emancipation 2012 reflects this quest for “common bonding, common vision, shared values and shared goals.“ We in Guyana have to “reclaim our rights through unified purpose.”  We have to have a third Emancipation. This time, an Emancipation of the heart for justice and racial tolerance.

The first Emancipation was about freedom from chattel slavery. The second Emancipation was called Independence which was about freedom from colonization and economic slavery.

Now we need a third  Emancipation which must be about equity, equal rights, equal access and equal opportunity for all Guyanese, regardless of race, culture, religion or political affiliation.

Emancipation and freedom are not the same. It was Bob Marley who said “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery; none but ourselves can free our minds.”

Freedom and Independence are also not the same thing. It was Rabindranath Tagore who said “Emancipation from the soil is no freedom for the tree.” Without economic, political, cultural and social equity, there is no Freedom.

Freedom is a basic human right and above all, economic freedom, economic independence are basic human rights. Otherwise, as Jean Jacques Rousseau said, “Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.”

Let this Emancipation 2012, as we acknowledge the Independence anniversaries of Uganda, Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago, be the catalyst to freedom, and let us reflect on the sacrifices of our ancestors and gain strength by knowing we “stand on their shoulders.” Let Emancipation 2012 be the catalyst for all Guyanese to work in the spirit of Umoja or unity. Let Emancipation 2012, help us to move beyond Emancipation and Independence to economic freedom, social justice, racial respect, and harmony, and above all, freedom in its every form – economic, political, cultural and social freedom. To do this, we must honour the sacrifices of the Linden Martyrs as they stood tall for economic rights and economic freedom.

May Emancipation 2013 next year, find Guyana at peace with itself, and a people and nation ‘Reclaiming our Rights through Unified Purpose.’

Yours faithfully,
Eric Phillips

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