By Wendy C. Grenade and Kimalee Phillip
Editor’s Note: This year marks the 60th anniversary of that historic moment of national unity for Guyanese, a moment that was sabotaged 133 days after the People’s Progressive Party galvanized the country under a multiracial, anti-colonial, nationalist banner, a moment that has eluded our grasp ever since. This year also marks the thirtieth anniversary of the tragic implosion of the Grenada revolution and the invasion some days later by the United States with the support of some Caribbean governments of the day. This week’s column offers us two perspectives from Grenadian women – one born in 1985 and for whom amnesia is not an option – who urge us to move from the moment of collapse to engage the complex lessons of the years of the Revolution in ways that can bring Grenadians together. There are lessons for us all here. Dr. Wendy C. Grenade is a Lecturer in Political Science, The Department of Government, Sociology and Social Work, at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. Currently based in Toronto, Kimalee Phillip is a member of Groundation Grenada, serves as the Equity Officer with the Canadian Union of Public Employees, local 1281 and does organizing work with the Network for Pan-Afrikan Solidarity.
Reflections and Lessons: By Wendy C. Grenade
October 19 and 25, 2013, mark thirty years since the demise of the Grenada Revolution and the US invasion of Grenada. This milestone presents an opportunity for critical reflection on one of the most defining periods in the post colonial experience of the Caribbean. This article provides an introspection of the highs and lows of the Grenada Revolution and the lessons that can be gleaned for the way forward.
The Grenada Revolution embodied possibilities and contradictions. On the one hand, the holistic developmental thrust of the Grenada Revolution cannot be denied, specifically its emphasis on: raising levels of social consciousness; building a national ethos that encouraged a sense of community; organizing agrarian reform to benefit small farmers and farm workers; promoting literacy and adult education; fostering child and youth development; enacting legislation to promote gender justice; constructing low income housing and launching house repair programmes; improving physical infrastructure and in particular the construction of an international airport; providing an environment that encouraged popular democracy through Parish and Zonal Councils etcetera. In hindsight, one of the fundamental objectives of the Grenada Revolution was to improve the lives of the Grenadian people within a comprehensive social and human development framework, following a mixed economy approach.
Yet despite the positive attributes of the Grenada Revolution, the People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) operated within the authoritarian state formation inherited from Eric Gairy and the colonial establishment that preceded the Gairy regime. The military arm of the state, while necessary to protect and defend the sovereignty of Grenada from external aggression (particularly in the context of the Cold War and US hostility to Grenada), instilled a culture of fear within Grenada, particularly among citizens who progressively became disillusioned with the excesses of the PRG. Additionally, despite the emphasis on popular democracy and community empowerment, there was a disconnect between the vanguard New Jewel Movement party and the masses. This proved to be fatal in the final weeks of the Revolution. Fundamentally, the revolutionary leaders had no mechanism for conflict resolution. In fact, the Grenada Revolution thrived within a political culture where disagreements were settled not by negotiations and compromise but by a heavy-handed military response.
On the external front, Grenada became a theatre for Cold War intrigues; a dispensable cog in the wheel of Cold War politics. In hindsight, the United States was unjustifiably hostile to Grenada. It used its power against a small state as one of its tactics in its larger strategy to reclaim US pre-eminence in the world. However, the PRG demonstrated immaturity in its dealings with the United States. To its detriment, the PRG did not engage in strategic, pragmatic foreign policy behaviour. Ultimately, the implosion of the Grenada Revolution created the conditions for the violation of the very sovereignty the revolutionaries promised to defend.
Thirty years on, there is need for balanced, honest reflection on the Grenada Revolution, not to apportion blame, allot guilt and shame or fuel antagonisms. Instead, there is urgency for a national conversation on the Grenada Revolution to break the silence; foster healing and reconciliation and moreso glean lessons for the way forward.
As Grenada approaches forty years as a sovereign independent nation, there are several lessons that small developing states can learn from the revolutionary experience: despite the realities of neo-liberalism, a mixed economy approach that privileges human well-being over markets and profits is a necessary imperative; participatory democracy can promote civic consciousness and boost productivity; constructive resistance combined with pragmatism should guide the foreign policy behaviour of small developing states; authoritarianism, whether from the left or right, is always likely to incite mass resistance and can engender political violence; the use of military force must never be a substitute for dialogue and compromise; dogma must never be allowed to eclipse and replace the inherent humanity of the people.
Finally, with time, healing and reconciliation can bring about genuine freedom.
Fighting to Remember! By Kimalee Phillip
The goal is not simply to dig up the past and in no way are our attempts to excavate the triumphs and victories won by Grenadians from 1979 – 1983 meant to dismiss or erase anyone’s concerns and recollections. However we can no longer be silent. We can no longer pretend that we did not redefine our own paths. We can no longer ignore the fact that ‘little Grenada’ stood up to external imperial forces that were attempting to control our lives. We can no longer bury the fact that we actually did kill our own.
Frantz Fanon said that “each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it,” and it is with this sentiment that some of us have made a conscious decision to further these conversations and to uncover the multi-layered and complicated feelings of pain, anger and betrayal through writing our own stories.
Just a few days ago, I was fortunate enough to participate in the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in Montreal from October 18 – 20, which was preceded and inspired by the first groundbreaking Congress that brought activists together from all over the world in 1968 – including Walter Rodney who was teaching in Jamaica at the time and was denied back into the island when he returned from Canada. I presented on the organizing strategies and memories surrounding the Grenada Revolution and as I progressively became emotional during this discussion, I realized the incredible gravity that surrounds this period – a complex profoundness that is often rendered unspeakable.
I was born in 1985, two years after the collapse of the Revolution, yet any reminiscing of these events brings about an emotional reaction within. What does this mean for me, who was born after the revolution and, more so, how much are those who actually participated and lived through those years still deeply moved and, perhaps, still traumatized?
This trauma that many Grenadians have not been able to, or have chosen to not deal with has enabled a silence that willfully reconstitutes and covers up many important memories. Part of this trauma occurred not only when some of the leaders who embodied the revolution were assassinated, but also through the kidnapping and destruction of their bodies.
Thomas Sankara said, “while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.” Was the brutal killing of these revolutionaries an attempt to kill possibilities of change and liberation? Furthermore, the Revolution became symbolized by a few persons and so when these persons were killed and their bodies desecrated without any form of closure or burial process, the memory of the movement also became desecrated. In addition, the absence of a grave prevents the possibility of attaching meaning to burial sites.
How do we then remember what has happened? Is it through imperial commemorations such as the murals near the Coca Cola-Bottling Plant on the island that thank the US for saving us? Is it through the recent renaming of our international airport as Maurice Bishop International Airport?
How do the ways that we choose to remember and forget send a distorted message to our children and youth? If we don’t teach our own histories in our schools, how then can we expect to lead our own paths? In many ways, we have done what Fanon would categorize as a betraying of our own.
After reading an interview with Grenadian writer and scholar, Merle Collins, I was reminded of the two intersecting arches that are erected near the Airport and which, though tall and strategically positioned, had never really caught my attention before.
These arches which recognize those “who sacrificed their lives in liberating Grenada on 25 October 1983” and those who “through commitment and sacrifice, returned freedom to Grenada,” play a significant part in shaping our memories of 1979-1983. The erection of public monuments is deliberate and is meant to define how and what is remembered. The arches, similar to other murals and Grenadian public holidays such as Thanksgiving Day on October 25 (the day of the US invasion), illustrate how public monuments and events can help to impose particular versions of our history(ies) that are intended to disappear what was accomplished in the revolution’s short life. I am part of a collective called Groundation Grenada, young Grenadians committed to contributing to the positive waves of changes that were brought about by the revolution. We recently launched an archival project on October 19, called “Forgetting Is Not An Option!” Through this project, we are hoping that many people can submit their reflections on the Grenada Revolution through a range of artistic, visual, video and written submissions. More information can be found on our blog page at http://bit.ly/HaCb2G. Our goal is to launch the final project on March 13, 2014.
I am excited about the changes taking place in Grenada! I am inspired by the growing number of youth who are beginning to ask critical and hard questions and who are organizing within their communities. I am also doubly inspired by the many who are now able to and choosing to speak out for their stories remain important pieces in telling our histories.
We need to fulfill our mission to the current and future generations, and above all to our ancestors. Long live our commitments to each other, to our lands and to our complicated beautiful stories and histories!