The song VIVA GRENADA by King Short Shirt says it best: “March 13 of seventy-nine; most historic freedom time / The people of Grenada rose with dignity / Rose up from oppression; rose up from iniquity and shame / From the darkness of desecration / Shaking off the paralysis of corruption, tyranny, violence and subjugation / To shine out before the Caribbean /And strike terror into repressive regimes / And unscrupulous politicians are now trembling in their pants.” It is one of Short Shirt’s greatest songs – his recounting of the events on that fateful day in Grenada. It summarises the reactionary response from other repressive regimes in the Caribbean, and heralds its importance to all peoples yearning for a betterment.
This writer was all of 18 years old, and quite radical, never mind the stern Wesleyan Holiness upbringing. Coming of age and participating in the historic demonstration for the Antigua Grammar School headmaster, Lloydstone ‘Jakey’ Jacobs, and sneaking-in to listen to the Afro Caribbean Liberation Movement (ACLM) brethren as they expounded on things historical, cultural and political at their headquarters on Alfred Peters Street; and hanging around Black Power gatherings, complete with African tumba drummings, and assorted rap sessions on St Johns Street, it increased my consciousness to be an agent for change and empowerment. So too did the creative and contemporary dances, the great theatrical performance by the Harambee Open Air Theatre and the other Black cultural awareness sessions at the University Centre. And not forgetting sitting at the feet of the Rastafari brethren at the ital shack of the Rastafari I-mprovement I-ssociation on lower Bishopgate Street.
It was an exciting and eye-opening age. I called it the age of enlightenment. We read the CARIBBEAN CONTACT newspaper by the Caribbean Conference of Churches, and the OUTLET, by the ACLM under the great, Leonard ‘Tim’ Hector. No longer were we willing to abide the diminution of our selves by lustily singing RULE BRITTANIA RULE and GOD SAVE THE QUEEN. After all, the British were the people that’d enslaved our ancestors and were still subjugating us – never mind the baby step called Statehood in Association. They were responsible for our underdevelopment and virtually all that ailed us. In the sixties and seventies, progressives were anti-establishment in their thinking; they were no longer willing to abide the nostrums and remedies of the past, that had been keeping us in a state of docility and compliance, so very full of inferiority complexes, self-doubt and self-hatred. We were now dancing to the beat of our own drums. It was the tenor and temper of the times.
So when that day dawned in March of 1979, as so poetically described by King Short Shirt at the beginning of this piece, I was ecstatic. Sir Eric Gairy, the weird Prime Minister who’d taken the country into independence in 1974, [they say that he believed in the dark arts and Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO’s), among other oddities], was an autocratic leader, notwithstanding his populist posturing as a man of the underprivileged and the dispossessed. It really was all about him, and the feathering of his nest and that of his cronies. Plus, he was given to dealing harshly with those who opposed him, even resorting to downright murder. We can never forget how Rupert Bishop, the father of Maurice Bishop, who eventually deposed Gairy, was brutally murdered, reportedly by Gairy’s infamous Mongoose Gang – a band of homicidal thugs.
Anyway, while Gairy was at the United Nations waxing fatuously, about UFO’s (his enduring obsession), Maurice Bishop and his New Jewel Movement (NJM) seized power in a coup d’etat. But as happy as were progressives here in the Caribbean, reactionaries, like our Sir Vere Bird and other conservative ‘Old Guard’ leaders, opposed it. Vehemently. This prompted King Short Shirt to echo the sentiments of many when he sang in the chorus to VIVA GRENADA: “Stand up Grenada; stand up again Grenadians / All of them who oppose your revolution are political bandits just like Gairy in their own island / Fight for your rights, protect what you have / You fought a good fight, protect what you have / Don’t give in a single inch, don’t retreat not even a pinch / Don’t compromise your revolution / For those scandalous, tiefin, oppressive, political scamps in de Caribbean. / No way! You hear what I say, no waaaay!”
Unfortunately, the revolution was undone from within. What a dastardly shame! First, we heard that Maurice Bishop and a number of his closest allies had been placed under house arrest by Bernard Coard, the deputy prime minister, and a band of usurpers. Apparently, Coard was pushing to share power with Maurice Bishop. We also heard talk that he was dissatisfied that Bishop was not radical enough in his policies and methods. Shortly thereafter, we heard the shocking news that Bishop, a pregnant Jacqueline Creft, the then-minister of education, and a number of others, were lined up against a wall in Fort George and executed by firing squad – October 19, 1983. Sigh!
What might have been, eh? Talk about hijacking a revolution! The PRG had been making great strides in moving Grenada forward from the backward, self-serving and vindictive policies of Gairy. She was an inspiration and a shining example to other progressives in the Caribbean. Sigh!
Darkness descended on Grenada, indeed, on the entire Caribbean on that terrible day. Let us never forget the many lessons. And may we stand up, as did Grenada.
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