Grenada Revo: Selective memory and dodging

by A B

It’s very easy at this time as the world battles with the pandemic of the Covid-19 coronavirus to sweep aside major events and observations.

The truth is that most Grenadians every year forget or vaguely remember 13 March 1979. On this day, Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel moment seized power of Grenada in the wee hours of the morning and The People’s Revolutionary Government (PRG) was proclaimed. The ensuing 4 years were ones of radical change on the island but has been subsequently shrouded in a cloud of opposing facts and subjective documentation. It’s easy for me to feel a little upset about the revolution’s lack of prominence when we review our history (whenever that time comes around).

As a history enthusiast, I am very conscious that political events no matter how upsetting should be documented and taught as part of a nation’s history. Sadly, students and even history teachers themselves are not clear on the many details of the events throughout the course of the revolution. I often feel like we try to avoid speaking of the revolution, like a soiled part of an expensive piece of linen.

This selective memory and dodging by a large cross-section of the populace is undoubtedly due to the painful memories that still linger. Most importantly, it is due to the pervading view that the revolution was negative. Some revolution advocates attribute this to the post-revolutionary time of American involvement in our politics. I see the logic in this and it is definitely a contributing factor to the neglect this time period receives. It undoubtedly isn’t the singular factor that allows us to let this brilliant piece of history fade into non-existence.

Sometimes as I sift through articles, books, photo galleries and documentaries, I am warmed that I am not alone in trying to remember this period as accurately and succinctly as possible. As a history student, I studied and analysed the revolution for both my CXC and CAPE student research projects. It allowed me to come to the conclusion that there isn’t necessarily a lack of records but rather a lack of urgency on how unique and important this time period was.

When I travel, I go to museums, memorials and even cemeteries. The market for tourists who travel for the very purpose of reliving history is lucrative and fast growing. I’ve encountered many on my travels and when we meet and inevitably chat, a part of me is always saddened. Saddened by the fact that they cannot visit my country and see memorials, documents and monuments like this of such a controversial and momentous time in history. It is even distressing to think that they may meet a Grenadian who can’t give any details about the revolution.

I’m therefore tempted to preach about the coup, the course and demise of the revolution. I try to summarise the events and successes and even failures with as much passion as I can muster to my fellow citizens. Most times it’s met with cold disregard or a complete shutdown. When it is met with equal passion for enquiry, it is an electric charging experience. I see so much vision and possibilities in a more concerted effort at remembrance; from exploring a tourism niche market to inclusion in the national school curriculum.

This passion is met with the sobering reality that radical changes take time. I am also cognisant of the efforts by fellow enthusiasts to keep the revolution alive through meaningful acts of informing the populace. Nevertheless, this simply is not enough to keep the memory alive and pay respect to the successes of the revolution. To those who point fingers at the duration and the collapse of the revolution as the determining factor in forgetting its existence…I beg to ask; do you think everything went well in the major revolutions of the world? The answer is a profound no. These countries yet see it fit to acknowledge major agitators for change in their history.

I am also acutely aware of our nation’s strained resources and limited capacity for erecting and maintaining historical sites. We have somehow managed to procure funds for an array of tourism projects through grants and other resources. Exhibiting our history has huge potential for attracting visitors, as there are many who would love to learn about the unfolding of events firsthand. While obtaining the funds for such a controversial project may entail a complex series of petitions and applications, there has to be public and official interest for the process to begin. It may even be that there are persons in the background working hard on initiatives with the very same objective. There is simply no way to know of and support any such projects if they do exist.

Lest we forget, today marks a day in history that began a unique timeline which culminated in a haze of events on 19 October 1983 where Maurice Bishop and political allies were killed by firing squad. The details of the 6 days which followed have almost fallen into a black hole of history and most citizens are confused and very unclear about what transpired.

How do we receive clarity? How do we commemorate the day appropriately nationally? How do we teach about this period objectively? We have so many things to consider and work on. I sincerely hope that after reading this every Grenadian citizen marks today with remembrance and enquiry into the Grenadian Revolution (1979-1983).

I conclude with the words of Professor Brian Meeks, “My argument is straight-forward. It is that lost in the detritus [waste/destruction] of the 1983 tragedy there were initiatives taken that went beyond any experiment tried anywhere in the Anglophone Caribbean; and that if in the future we are to rethink and rebuild a Caribbean that is in the interest of the people; if indeed we are to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, then we must not only learn from what the Grenada revolution did wrong, but also what it did right.”

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