by Dr Wendy Grenade
Last Wednesday, 7 February, 2024 Grenadians at home and abroad celebrated Grenada’s 50th anniversary of political Independence.
I wish to commend the Government and people of Grenada for what was an outstanding demonstration of talent, creativity and patriotism. I particularly thank Dr Wendy Crawford and her team for their hard work and commitment to ensure such a successful outcome. Based on my observation, there was a general feeling of pride, sense of belonging and common bond that unified our Grenadian spirit. It was heartening to see so many members of the Grenadian diaspora participating in activities at home and abroad. While Independence celebrations usually generate a heightened sense of nationalism, 50 years is indeed a big deal and there was an awakening of the best of what Grenada represents. In this article, I wish to explore the theme “one people, one journey, one future” to argue that it is imperative for us to capitalise on this momentum to build a healthier nationalism as we embark on the next 50 years.
What does ‘one people’ mean? Oneness here does not suggest uniformity or some single homogeneous form. Instead, it is a tapestry of diversity, where various parts of a whole are weaved together through time to shape a unique Grenadian way of being. The tapestry of diversity combines various religious, class, ethnic, gender, political and other differences. ‘One people’ suggests an interrelationship between and among units and the whole. The Grenadian whole is meaningless without its diverse parts and the parts are richer because they are connected to the whole. ‘One people’ is a complex interplay of unity in diversity. What the past week of celebrations has shown is that within the Grenadian tapestry of diversity there is a common thread that weaves the Grenadian cultural nation, or community of people together. It includes but is not limited to:
- Shared history of resistance, rebounding and resilience
- Common identity
- Symbols (e.g. flag, anthem, coat of arms etc.)
- Unique language
- Cultural heritage (including music, art, jab jab, other mass, dance etc.)
- Myths and folklore
- Bonding and a sense of connectedness (even across distance i.e. the diaspora)
- Shared values
- Attachment to a homeland
I often argue that the Grenadian cultural nation pre-dated the establishment of the independent sovereign state on 7 February 1974. A nuanced distinction needs to be made between the cultural nation as outlined above and the civic nation/sovereign state. Among other things, the Constitution creates the parameters for rights and obligations within which citizens live in a civic nation. What then is the relationship between nation and state? In one of our recent town hall meetings, a member of the audience rightly argued that the state often gets in the way of the nation when the struggle for political competition and the need to control the apparatus of the state undermines the fabric of (cultural) nationhood. Therefore, from my perspective, ‘one people’ is a noble aspiration that becomes a reality when the common thread that binds us together (the cultural nation) is stronger than the array of differences that can pull us apart.
The common thread is most effective when we celebrate successes — whether the triumphs of our sports women and men, cultural artistes or at independence when the gold, green and red are symbols of unity. Our differences are most evident during general elections campaigns and post-elections allocation of state resources when the colours are markers of difference and polarisation and can be used to stigmatise and marginalise the best of us. There is an opportunity to build on the momentum of the past week to ensure the feeling of national unity is sustained and becomes tangible in the way we live and treat one another. ‘One people’ must be characterised by Grenadians focusing on our strengths, sharing common experiences, engaging in constructive dialogue across differences, cultivating tolerance of the ‘other’ and co-existing in a society where social antagonisms are minimised.
As we embark on the next 50 years, what must’ one journey’ and ‘one future’ mean? I wish to endorse the sentiments expressed by Reverend Dr R. Osbert James in his sermon during the Independence inter-faith service on 4 February. He made a call for a new kind of politics that transcends the cut and thrust of political parties. While some observers may consider this to be idealistic, I have always argued for a politics for sustainability to replace the politics of survivability. We need a new political praxis where political life builds on the strengths of our cultural nation to deepen civic nationhood and advance development. ‘One journey’ must be undergirded by a common vision and a plan. As he shared his Vision 75, it was refreshing to hear Prime Minister Dickon Mitchell humbly state that although his administration did not develop the National Sustainable Development Plan 2020-2035 it is a wonderful plan and even if it is not a perfect plan, it IS a plan and there is an opportunity to improve it and not reinvent the wheel. When political leaders espouse a nationalistic outlook, it is easier for the citizenry to unite as one.
The journey towards the next 50 years must also be grounded in democratic renewal. The term ‘one journey’ becomes empty and meaningless if it is not genuinely inclusive. Despite political and other differences, the conditions must be created for all Grenadians to ‘aspire, build and advance as one people.’ If Grenada is to thrive and stand tall in its ‘smallness’ the future has no place for the marginalisation of opposition parties or for discrimination on the grounds of religion, class, ethnicity etc. Every Grenadian must be given equal access to opportunity despite how they choose to vote or worship and where they are located on the socio-economic strata.
‘One journey’ also requires participatory democracy, where grassroots movements, civil society organisations and citizens as a whole have avenues to participate in their governance. Town hall meetings and meet-the-people tours should be institutionalised. Community groups must be reactivated. It is also important to showcase our culture much more. The event ‘Folk in the Town’, which occurred on the evening of Thursday, 8 February and the various cultural activities that were held throughout the tri-island state should be a new norm. Oral histories and other forms of storytelling should be part of regular community fun days. Community centres must become platforms for cultural activities and debates on national issues. The intellectual class must ground with other citizens to glean native intelligence from the people as the society is nourished with ideas. For example, as part of our Golden Jubilee celebrations, Dr Oliver Benoit will transform the St Paul’s Community Centre into an art gallery from 15 February to 30 April. This will be a retrospective exhibition featuring work created by Dr Benoit over the last 30 years. The exhibition, termed Reflexion will also feature 2 educational and interactive phases. If we are to build a healthy nationalism, community centres throughout the tri-island state must become learning centres, cultural hubs and spaces that build a sense of community and belonging.
If the future we see is one that lifts Grenada to new levels of prosperity, environmental sustainability, enhanced quality of life and human and social development for all Grenadians, then the journey must by necessity include a break from the shackles of unfreedoms such as: poverty, ill-health, illiteracy, self-doubt, gender injustices etc. There must be systems in place to care for the poor, even as the most vulnerable among us must be given booths and booth straps to break the cycle of poverty and ensure inter-generational progress. As we look toward the future as a proud, independent people, poverty must not be a permanent state of being. Similarly, a truly independent country is one where human health and well-being are prioritised. I was pleased with the Prime Minister’s nuanced analysis of healthcare. One of my takeaways from his Vision 75 ‘Ted Talk’ was the need for individual responsibility for health. For instance, as I sat with some friends to enjoy Oil Down 2 days ago, we all looked at one another and it dawned on us that we were eating excessive amounts of starch and salt — landmines!
Finally, in linking the journey to the future, education and youth development must be critical pillars. The parameters of this article would not allow me to elaborate sufficiently on the important role of formal education, curriculum overhaul, skills development and consciousness-building. I am pleased that Dr Nicole Phillip-Dowe’s book Collins Junior History of Grenada will now be used as a main history text in the lower forms of our secondary schools. I also commend Dr John Angus Martin on the publication of a new and revised edition of A-Z of Grenada Heritage. As Dr Candia Mitchell-Hall reminded us on GBN’s To the Point on 2 February, an understanding of our history will help us to know where we are in the present, from whence we came and where we are going. I join with others, like Sister Gloria Payne-Banfield, to call for the reintroduction of civics in our schools. This will help to build consciousness and engender meaningful citizenship which in turn will lay the foundation for the Great Grenadian re-set we all deserve.
In going forward, even as the main celebrations subside, the Sub-Committee on History, Heritage, Identity and Documentation, which is a sub-committee of the National Organising Committee, will continue to host a series of public education sessions throughout the tri-island state to include a public lecture series, town hall meetings, interviews with Grenadians and an academic conference on the Independence theme. The sub-committee will also engage in several activities to foster a better appreciation of our heritage and identity. It will also advocate for the establishment of a national archive, a national library and legislation to support these institutions, including a Records Management Act. We hope to keep the momentum going as we seek to build a healthier nationalism as we go up up from here!
Dr Wendy Grenade is a Political Scientist and Chair, Sub-Committee on History, Heritage, Identity and Documentation.