:: by Kimalee Phillip ::
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter
One thing is clear; there are multiple stories about what happened and why, when reflecting on the Grenadian revolutionary period of March 13, 1979 to October 19, 1983. When assessing its ongoing impacts, it is evident that there remains a vast array of experiences, many similar, many contradictory and usually the focus centers on events that did and did not take place from October 19 – 25, 1983. The previous four years and more, of Grenadian mobilization and self-sovereignty is usually erased and/or significantly minimized.
The Grenadian Revolution has clearly left an indelible mark on the Grenadian, Caribbean, African and global psyche. The diverse colours of those memories reflect a rainbow of diverse emotions and in some cases, facts.
The Grenada Country Conference took place from March 8-10, 2016 at the University of the West Indies (UWI) Open Campus at Marryshow House, St. George’s. The theme of this historic gathering was, “Perspectives on the Grenada Revolution 1979-83”. Thirty-seven (37) years after the overthrow of Sir Eric Gairy, scholars, activists and others who value social justice, continue to explore and document the “revo” and its ongoing impacts. Yet, the diversity of those narratives that speak to the learnings and trauma experienced during the “revo”, invasion and post-invasion, continue to be dominated by a singular story, “Thank God for U.S. and Caribbean Heroes of Freedom”; a message that is etched and continuously maintained, on a dilapidated building near the Coca-Cola Bottling Plant in Tempe, St. George’s.
One of things that was made clear at the conference, was that we must remain cautious that many of these important conversations and reflections do not remain within silos of academic spaces, made almost inaccessible to the general public. Thousands of Grenadians were involved in and continue to be impacted by the Grenadian Revolution therefore, it is critical that they play a central role in these post-Revolution conversations.
The other obvious reminder of the Grenadian Revolution is one that usually goes unnoticed in the Grenadian imaginary on a daily basis – those two large white arches near our International Airport which remains one of the longstanding achievements of the “revo”. Though facts state otherwise, the Airport was framed as a military base for communist mobilization and thus used by former US President Ronald Reagan as one of the reasons to “intervene”. The placement of those arches near what has been renamed the Maurice Bishop International Airport, can only be described according to David Scott as, “on the one side, the mocking cynicism of imperial power; on the other, the limp prostration of the absolute defeat of spirit. It is empire’s sneering reward for a people’s audacity” (Scott 2010).
The final marker that I would like to reflect on is our “Thanksgiving” celebrations on October 25. The purpose of this national public holiday is to mirror the invasion of 1983. “
“Bloody Sunday”, “Bloody Monday”, March 13, October 19 and other key historical dates are barely recognized by the state, much less given public holiday status. What message is the government sending to the populace when it chooses to erase the significance of the days aforementioned, days upon which the people of Grenada decided to take change into their own hands and the state chose to respond in violent and repressive ways such as the killing of Maurice Bishop’s father on “Bloody Monday” and the shooting at and beating of Bishop, Unison Whiteman and Selwyn Strachan just one day prior, on “Bloody Sunday”?
What is allowed to remain, how it is remembered and the placement of sites of memory is important in understanding the intended purpose of a monument, piece of art, plaque or any other tangible embodiment of memory.
How is it that such a diversity of complementary and contradicting stories surrounding the Grenadian Revolution, have become sanitized and reduced to mainly one, further instilled by the national holiday on October 25 – “Papa Reagan” and other invading forces, have come to save the day! This truly begs the question, whose memories are we remembering and for what purpose?
Remembering i.e. memory and its representation as illustrated by Edward Said, “touch significantly upon questions of identity, of nationalism, of power and authority. Far from being a neutral exercise in facts and basic truths, the study of history, which is the underpinning of memory, both in school and university, is to some considerable extent a nationalist effort premised on the need to construct a desirable loyalty to and insider’s understanding of one’s country, tradition, and faith” (Said 2000, 176). Therefore, examples such as the selected CXC curriculum that reduces the “revo” and the US invasion to “The US in the Caribbean” and the language, narratives and representation of the “revo” and subsequent invasion/ ‘intervention’ are made obvious. The shaping of memories are very much a part of how we see ourselves as it is a part of how we are seen by others.
We should be proud of our history! We are not the first set of people to make mistakes when attempting to engage in transformative change, particularly when that change attacks the longstanding foothold of global systems of power such as capitalism, colonialism and white supremacy. However, we are definitely the first anglo-speaking, predominantly African-Caribbean nation to decide that only we, can change our fate and we did. We are admired and if not admired, at the very least researched, by so many Caribbean and other non-Grenadian people; why do we not feel that pride?
We must also learn to deal with dissent. If one thing is clear, as humans we struggle with power and dissent and end up marginalizing the very people that we claim to love and to be fighting for. We must find healthy and accountable ways of respecting and integrating difference otherwise we run the risk of turning real and metaphorical guns against the people.
Dr. The Hon. Ralph Gonsalves in the Grenada Revolution Memorial Foundation (GREMFO) and Groundation Grenada’s annual March 13th Lecture, spoke to a packed audience at the Trade Centre. He left us with a few questions, one of which asked us to reflect on the types of political and economic systems that would be appropriate for the Caribbean context. One thing is clear from the Grenadian Revolution and I would also argue, from current day happenings, is that we need to be cautious in adapting political and economic systems, not created by us and the essence of which, is actually to ensure our continued demise. Is capitalism ours? Is socialism ours? Is communism ours? What can a Grenadian-responsive system of economic and political transformation look like? In the words of poet June Jordan, we are the ones we’ve been waiting for, but to secure change, we must believe that and move beyond what we’ve become so used to.
We need to erect spaces, monuments and visuals such as billboards etc. and write our own truths to power in ways that reflect our own stories, experiences and memories. We must be the ones to narrate those reflections, criticisms and affirmations. To those who fought, sacrificed and died for what they imagined to be a better Grenada, we thank you, we see and we will remember always. Forward ever, backward never! Long live the spirit of Grenadians and the Grenadian Revolution!
“I feel my ancestors in my blood.I am a body of people who are asking not to be forgotten”
Co-Director & Project Coordinator
Kimalee Phillip is African-Grenadian women currently based out of Toronto. She is an educator, organizer, consultant and writer who specializes in the fields of legal studies, workers’ rights, gender-based and sexualized violence, anti-colonial, anti-racist pedagogies and organizational development. She has conducted qualitative and participatory research and has created and facilitated various workshops, curriculum and learning spaces across Canada, Ghana, Jamaica and Grenada. She holds an MA in Legal Studies from Carleton University and is completing a certificate in Nonprofit Voluntary Sector Management at Ryerson University. Twitter @KimaleePhillip