R. Rose
August 29, 2014

Young people, history and politics

More and more, calls are being made each week about the urgency of restoring the teaching of history to its rightful place in the education of our young people. I concur most wholeheartedly, since knowledge of where you came from is vital in charting where one wants to go. Indeed, as we celebrate the anniversary of the birth of the great black leader, Marcus Garvey, we can recall those famous words of his, “A people without the knowledge of its history, is like a tree without roots.”{{more}}

The young people of my generation waged a battle, not just for the teaching of history, but for the teaching of relevant and truthful accounts of our past. The generations of today are facing an even greater tragedy, one of not even having any knowledge of historical events. How do we expect them, highly educated and qualified as they will turn out to be, to chart a path forward relevant to our experiences as a people?

In this clamour for historical restoration and relocation, it is also important that our youths get a clear grasp of our historical evolution and development; for how else can they appreciate independence, understand “from whence we came”, so as to map out the future course of our country?

I was only this month looking through some historical stuff relating to the political development of our country over the past four decades, since 1974, to be exact. In this same month of August of that year, a group of young people, myself included, launched a political organization called YULIMO, uniting three strands of small ‘Black Power,’ socialist and community organizations which had existed over the three years prior to that.

St Vincent and the Grenadines has changed a lot over those 40 years – physically, socially, economically and certainly politically. In August 1974, SVG had not yet achieved political independence. We had a curious arrangement with the colonial power, Britain, under which we were supposed to be self-governing internally, but Britain controlled our defence and external relations. It was not possible in those days for our government to go out and negotiate scholarships for our young people to study in Mexico, Taiwan, Austria, Cuba or Japan. We could not join any arrangement like Alba, or gain benefits from the likes of a Petrocaribe fund, nor could we even dream of a “coalition of the willing” to build an international airport at Argyle. Any talk of Argyle those days, would have been talking ‘peanuts’, since that is for what the area was renowned.

In those days, our pool of university graduates was small, since scholarships were few, loans for such education only just being put in place via the Development Corporation, and opportunities for higher education scarce. On successful completion of the then secondary school examinations, the GCE, young people mostly hoped for a job in the public service or for an opportunity to migrate. Illiteracy was relatively high and the economy still underdeveloped and backward.

Yet, amazingly, the ’70s witnessed a high level of youth mobilization and political activity. The National Youth Council and its base groups were vibrant, whilst the Jaycees continued to provide valuable leadership training for young people. Some young persons of political inclination got involved in the major political parties of the time, and the returning graduate component, influenced by exposure and international developments, organized a pressure group, bringing a welcome influx of progressive political thought and beliefs.

By and large though, most young people of the time were disillusioned with politics and the staleness of the existing parties. Black consciousness was sweeping the Caribbean and the youth of SVG were not to be left behind. There was a hunger for knowledge and an eager search for literature from the likes of Nkrumah, Stokely Carmichael, Malcolm X, Marcus Garvey and C L R James. The Black Power upheaval in Trinidad and Tobago and the army mutiny of 1970 had a stimulating effect. Our youths began to organize, at the community level and at the level of independent political activity.

Out of this was to emerge militant, though small political organizations, challenging the status quo and paving the way for the emergence of YULIMO, as mentioned above.

What relevance was this to the political development of our country? What role did this creation of 40 years ago play? We’ll leave that to my next column.


Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.