For a host of reasons the formation and launching of the United People’s Movement (UPM), the subject of this column last week and today, was like none other in the history of our political development. I state this, not only because of a personal bias, having been intimately involved, but because it was a product of a unique set of circumstances which influenced the course of our history.
It is a common occurrence, in the Caribbean and indeed internationally, for political parties to be formed to contest upcoming elections. Some are based on personality, others a patchwork of varying forces largely determined by opportunism. This one, the UPM, arose out of a set of historical circumstances. While it was in practice an alliance of existing political groupings to contest general elections just four months away, it was much more than that.
For one, there was a common basis for the alliance arising out of the political orientation of the groups involved. They all had their origin in the black and socialist consciousness movement which had been sweeping the Caribbean since the sixties and was grounded then in the desire to end colonial rule and the plantocracy which still dominated the region. So there was a commonality of purpose which went far beyond winning an election and gaining office.
Secondly, this was no overnight marriage, conceived secretly behind closed doors. For more than two years before the UPM was formed, there was a public debate, in the media, on street corners and ‘blocks’ about the wisdom and purpose of these progressive groupings coming together. It represented an historical necessity to unite the various strands of the progressive and popular movements to challenge the status quo and bring about radical change in our society.
In so doing it was a positive response to the impatience of our youth – restless, largely unemployed but becoming more and more conscious. In addition there were powerful external influences as well. All three of the component parts of the UPM, the Democratic Freedom Movement (DFM) led by returning intellectuals such as Dr Kenneth John and Parnel Campbell, the rural-based ARWEE movement with the late Oscar Allen and Simeon Greene in the forefront, and the activist YULIMO with Caspar London, Mike Browne, Ralph Gonsalves and yours truly in the leadership, were in one way or another connected and politically influenced by external trends.
The year 1979 is immortalised in Sparrow’s classic calypso, “Wanted Dead or Alive”. It was an unprecedented year in that never had there been such a successful global rebellion against dictatorial and undemocratic regimes. Starting with Iran in February, where the brutal Shah was forced into exile, and continuing with the downfall of African dictators of both the black types (Idi Amin in Uganda and Jean Bokassa in Central African Republic) as well as the odious racists John Vorster in apartheid South Africa and Ian Smith in white minority-ruled Zimbabwe, dictators fell like ninepins.
The Caribbean was not untouched because right near to our shores there was the overthrow in March of the murderous Gairy regime in Grenada, arousing strong support from the youth of SVG and the region. More was to come for the embarrassing Patrick John regime in Dominica which was flirting with racists and mercenaries was forced out of office, and in the wider region the Sandinistas ran the military dictator Somoza out of his palace, his office and Nicaraguan territory.
All these helped to create a revolutionary atmosphere throughout the region as well as to put pressure on the leading progressive organisations to form a united front to try and rid our country of a government which was increasingly seen as being undemocratic. The direction and shape of events are not simply dependent on the thinking and whims of leaders, objective circumstances play a major role in charting directions.
So it was, with revolution sweeping the world, with dictators being condemned to the rubbish heap of history, there arose from the bowels of the struggles of our people, a movement which dared to take up the mantle of Chatoyer and the gallant Garifuna, George McIntosh, the 1935 rebels and the early Ebeneezer Joshua, pledging to end colonial rule and centuries of injustice against our people.
Thus was the UPM born, with high hopes among the youths of our country, many of them not even registered to vote but enveloped in the nationalist tide which was launched in the Market Square on August 3, 1979.
To be continued.
Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.