Shrouded in Darkness
Fifty years ago, the tri-colored Independence flag, symbolically marking Grenada as an independent nation, was raised under the shroud of darkness. Undoubtedly, this was very strange! Why darkness?
The casual observer unwilling to probe deeply would have concluded that the darkness was indicative of a lack of electricity in St. George’s. And certainly, our casual observer would have been correct. ‘Light had gone,’ as we would say in our Grenadian parlance. But was this all there was to that? Light had not gone only in St. George’s. It was all over Grenada. Darkness covered the land!
A deeper probe into this phenomenon would have revealed that this darkness was due to the strike action of electricity workers as part of the general strike that was ongoing. The workers of the nation had shut things down. There was widespread protest leading up to Independence. Grenada was a nation divided and in conflict, emerging on 7th February 1974 to take its independent stance in a world itself divided and in conflict. Had there been an Isaiah living amongst us, we might have heard these words: “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people” (Isaiah 60: 2, NKJV). But there was no such prophetic voice in our midst.
An Autobiographical Digression
As a young man from Laborie, I was born into a poor Gairyite family. My mother was a roadworker, who was derogatively labelled a “travaux,” as she travelled at the back of a big yellow-painted PWD truck. She sacrificed herself with a dream in her head that her children would not repeat the life of hardship she had lived. She gave everything she could so her only son, namely myself, would get the best education possible and so escape the trap of poverty. Needless to say, she did not sufficiently understand the cause of poverty. However, she felt that this man, whom she and others affectionately referred to as “Uncle Gairy,” would lead them, as Moses did, out of the slavery of poverty. I recall, as a boy, hearing the song that my mother’s generation would boisterously sing: “We will never let our leader fall, because we love him the best of all.” Certainly, they loved Eric Matthew Gairy. He had led a widespread strike in 1951, calling for a better life for the poorest of Grenadians, thereby igniting the imagination of ordinary Grenadians, giving them hope and causing them to dream for a better life, if not for themselves but at least for their children and grandchildren.
I recall seeing and hearing Miss Gertude limping through Laborie telling people “We making two bus-loads on Sunday because Uncle coming back.” And there I was, a little boy, sitting with my mother on Mr. Claude’s bus amongst militant looking heavyset women who were excitingly talking about (1) the admirable virtues of Uncle Gairy and (2) how bad those GNP people were, for they had removed such a good man from power. Occasionally, the women would burst into singing the militant Party song and some gospel choruses.
My mother would repeatedly tell me “Uncle Gairy is for we poor people; therefore, you must learn your school lessons well and raise your mother’s nose.” But at the GBSS where I attended school, I got a different picture of Uncle Gairy. My best friend, Howard, and I would argue. Howard was what we would call “Grenadian white”. His family lived in an estate house in Laborie. Despite the vast difference in social and economic status, Howard was very good to me. Never once did I detect a hint of prejudice from him towards me. I ate at his family table and drove in the family car. But he and I had different views about Uncle Gairy. My mother had a simple way of explaining the difference. She would say, “Howard and his family are very nice people. I like them. But they are GNP and their bread butter already. He is your good friend. But boy study your head.”
Throughout my years as a GBSS student, I showed no interest in politics or in the budding student and Black Power movements. I was the happy-go-lucky type getting good grades in my schoolwork, although I was not studying as hard as my mother might have wanted. My apolitical attitude remained even when I was a teacher at the GBSS until one day in January 1974 I was drawn into one of the demonstrations proceeding along Tanteen and into Lowther’s Lane. From that day there was no turning back, for I liked the feel of it and it became easy for me to shout with others “G – O! Go! Gairy must go!” I began marching all over Grenada. And before I knew it, I was standing in St. Paul’s on 21st January 1974 with Hudson Austin and others. I had two big stones in my hands ready to charge the bus-load of Secret Police who had smashed the demonstration on the Carenage, looted the Town and were jubilantly singing on their way home. But a hail of bullets from the regular police scattered us in multiple directions. However, on that day, the birth of my radical political awareness occurred. I was then very active in the Methodist Church as a youth leader and that new awareness impacted my understanding of the Bible, radicalizing it along Liberation Theology lines.
The NJM: The Organizational Expression of Awakening Consciousness
I made that autobiographical digression because I think that my own journey of political awakening would not be too dissimilar to the political awakening of countless Grenadian youths during the Seventies. The radical political awakening was a worldwide phenomenon, impacting every aspect of human existence. With the political awakening of the Grenadian youths and students through the route of black consciousness (Rastafarianism and Black Power) and unto socialist awareness – with that, the anti-Gairy struggle was intensified. The New JEWEL Movement (NJM) emerged out of that maelstrom of developing consciousness of the youthful population. The clarion call of NJM was “Not Just Another Society but A New and Just Society.”
The intention of NJM was clear, namely the transformation of the socio-political and economic life of Grenada. Gairy stood in the way of that. Hence the struggle took the form of anti-Gairyism. To the NJM, Gairyism was one-man dictatorial rule. Thus, NJM came with a brand of collective leadership, highlighting joint leadership between Maurice and Unison while advocating that these two leaders were first amongst equals.
To the NJM, Gairy was a lackey of the colonial and imperial powers. And this warranted his removal from power, even though in 1951 the thrust of Gairy’s struggles against the local plantocracy amounted to being anti-colonial. This, I daresay, could be seen as a sign of the cruel twist of history. In 1951, Gairy led a general strike and he was hunted down by the ruling powers of the day. With the emergence of NJM in 1973, Gairy came under siege, faced a crippling general strike and mass demonstrations and he began hunting down the instigators and leaders of this struggle against him.
Was the Anti-Gairy Struggle Also Anti-Independence?
While NJM was the foremost political force in the anti-Gairy struggle, nonetheless, there were multiple forces and diverse voices and interests therein. It was not a melodious symphony of voices. Because of the all-class unity that had emerged in the struggle, at times there was a cacophony of voices. Thus, some people came away with the view that the pre-Independence anti-Gairy struggle was a popular resistance to and rejection of political independence from Britain. Indeed, there were those who held and articulated that anti-independence view. While they were anti-Gairy, nonetheless, in class interest, they were ruling class and pro-British. But anti-independence was not the posture of NJM.
Prior to Independence, the NJM leadership published a Manifesto setting out its political, social, economic, cultural and foreign policies and strategy. In that Manifesto, the NJM made clear its attitude and position on Independence. Some of what was said can be deemed, in hindsight, to be naïve. But it is to that Manifesto we must turn so as to know the truth.
The NJM: Anti-Gairy and Pro-Meaningful Independence
The NJM leadership wrote in the Manifesto, “NJM has always stood for real independence, genuine independence, meaningful independence.” This they contrasted with what they saw as Gairy’s view and approach to independence. Thus, NJM said that “this will be independence in name only. Gairy believes that independence means pulling down one flag and putting up another, composing a new anthem, creating a new motto, calling the Governor ‘Governor General’ and the Premier ‘Prime Minister,’ playing steelband, jumping up and feteing, cleaning up and beautifying the streets.”
For NJM, on the other hand, “independence must mean better housing for our people, better clothing, better food, better health, better education, better roads and bus service, more jobs, higher wages, more recreation – in short, a higher standard of living for workers and their children.” NJM put this forward as some of the aspects of its concept of meaningful independence. But this was in no way a programme of paternalistic handouts to a passive people thereby providing material comforts with the possibility of engendering greed. NJM wanted independence to be so meaningful that the people themselves would come to see it “as something which does not begin and end on one day but rather as a dynamic process of developing self-reliance and attaining self-sufficiency in all areas of our lives – economic, cultural, political and spiritual.”
The NJM was convinced that the Gairy government could not attain to such meaningful independence. Instead of action and progress, Gairy was leading the country into a downward spiral. Moreover, NJM held that Gairy’s continuation in power was due to electoral fraud and his use of police brutality against the people and the NJM leadership. Why then did Gairy want to take the country into independence?
It was the published view of NJM that “the present move towards independence was an insincere, opportunist move, designed to strengthen the grip of tyranny and corruption.” Thus, they held that this insincere, opportunist move “is bound to result in a sham, bogus, meaningless independence.” Had the Gairy government been sincere about Grenada being truly independent this is what they would have done. “In our negotiations with the British on the question of independence, we could have demanded from them an independent payment of at least one hundred million dollars as partial reparation to make up for some of the money stolen from us and the exploitation, human misery, suffering and degradation we endured at their hands over the last 400 years.” Was this call for a partial reparation naïve or far-sighted? I leave it to the readers to decide.
Independence Was a Necessary Precursor of The Revolution
Sounding a somewhat prophetic note, the NJM Manifesto proclaimed that “history will yet record that 7th February 1974 marked the beginning of a new stage in the struggle of our people.” No wonder the new Independence flag was hoisted while the country was shrouded in darkness. This signaled that what had started pre-Independence will continue after the official granting of Independence. Despite Independence, the darkness still persisted and must be gotten rid of so the glory of the people could shine forth.
What is significant here is this – and it seemed not to have entered into the expressed thinking of the NJM leadership. If it is true, as has been argued by the NJM leadership, that (1) Gairy’s electoral fraud closed the road to the removal of Gairy by electoral means and (2) Gairy’s use of force prevented peaceful mass protest from removing him, then it would have meant that any use of revolutionary force, as was done on March 13, 1979, would have triggered an immediate countering response from the British as long as Grenada remained a British colony. In other words, without Gairy or the anti-Gairy forces knowing it, the move to independence, as opportunist as it might have been, made it possible for Gairy’s removal by means outside of the Constitution. This does not mean that I am here advocating such regime-changing method. It is rather my recognition of the irony of history. The move to cement power that was no longer serving the best interest of the people created the possibility of a move that would remove that power.
Independence Requires an Ongoing Transformation of Consciousness
But is this only the logic of history as some impersonal process? Or is there an Intelligence that is at work – an Intelligence that is purposeful, desiring to bring humanity to the pinnacle of its development? The Isaian passage about darkness covering the earth, and deep darkness the people, is not a pessimistic prophetic word but rather a quite hopeful one. The full passage is “For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but the Lord will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60: 2 – 3, NKJV). So, the end-goal for the earth and the people, who are shrouded in darkness, is light, brightness and glory. God who is the Intelligence operating in history will have His way eventually, even though history might be littered with messiness. The messiness is due to the deep darkness covering people. Here we must understand the biblical symbolism. The darkness is symbolic and indicative of people not knowing the truth of who they really are. They do not know their God-given magnificence. Thus, they live thinking that they are less than who they are. They think they are powerless and dependent on an outside saviour. The dumbing down of themselves only make them easy prey for oppression and exploitative use by others. And the upshot of that is the creation of external circumstances that are inhumane and demeaning to some degree or another. But when the people rise in consciousness to their inherent magnificence and greatness that would testify to the glory being upon them. And the upshot of that transformed self-consciousness would be the eventual creation of external circumstances commensurate with the inherent dignity of human beings and would show forth that God is truly in the land. Then it can be truly said this is brightness out of darkness.
Leon Cornwall was a member of the NJM Central Committee. He holds an Upper Second-Class Honours Bachelor of Divinity degree from the University of London. He does a weekly morning program entitled “Christus Victor” (the Victorious Christ) on Real FM 91.9. Currently, he heads the Rehabilitation Unit of His Majesty’s Prison.