MSJ: Let’s stop trying to change the party in power and try changing the political arrangements

On the occasion of the 59th Anniversary of the Independence of Trinidad and Tobago, political leader of the Movement for Social Justice David Abdulah is calling on citizens and patriots to embrace the vision of the Second Republic offered by his party.

It should be clear to all, says he, that the option of changing the party in power, which we have tried as a country no fewer than six times since 1986, cannot and will not deliver the desired outcome and bring durable meaningful change to the everyday lives of ordinary people.

Photo: President Paula-Mae Weekes participates in the 2019 Independence Day Parade.
(via Office of the President)

In a media statement issued on Monday, Abdulah affirmed that, 59 years after the attainment of political independence and almost 45 years after attaining republican status, ‘we are still becoming independent’.

According to Abdulah, ‘the relations of economic, social or political power that existed under colonialism’ remain fundamentally unchanged. Power continues to reside ‘in the hands of a few—the elites, the controllers’, and the nation’s ‘institutions are not functioning in the interest of the majority of the people’, a fact ritually attested to by our everyday lives.

In support of his claim, he cites a long list, including the neglect of agriculture, unemployment, poverty, the shortage of decent housing, an inadequate education system, a ‘broken’ judicial system and an economy that is still not diversified.

The MSJ political leader offers a history lesson purporting to show that Independence in 1962 was bought with the blood and sweat of our ancestors whose organised efforts to secure justice for themselves and their offspring were branded ‘riots’ and often harshly put down.

Lamenting that political independence did not lead automatically to economic independence, he echoes the call of ‘that great Caribbean thinker George Lamming’ for the citizenry to attempt to achieve ‘The Sovereignty of the Imagination’.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago football fans get behind their team at the Hasely Crawford Stadium during their World Cup qualifying clash with the United States on 17 November 2015.
The two nations played to a goalless draw.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

That involves, Abdulah notes, inter alia, recognising and lifting up our achievements, and fashioning ‘a society based on our definition of a Caribbean civilisation’.

The following is the full text of the MSJ statement:

The Movement for Social Justice (MSJ) extends very best wishes to all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago on the occasion of the 59th Anniversary of our becoming an independent nation. August 31st, 1962 was a crucial milestone in our people’s journey through the genocide of the First Peoples, out of the slavery of Africans, through the indentureship of Portuguese, Chinese and Indians, and up to Freedom.

It is truly an amazing journey characterised by the strength of the human spirit as our ancestors conquered the unspeakable acts of inhumanity meted out during colonial conquest and imperial rule. It is those ancestors that we remember on this Independence Day for, without their struggle to humanise this space, we would not today be able to say that we are citizens of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.

The real history of Trinidad and Tobago is a history of this long struggle for freedom by the people from below. Let us never forget the many important moments along that journey.

Photo: The NCC hosts a re-enactment of the Canboulay riot.
(Copyright Ministry of Community Development)

The official records document these as ‘riots’ but they were, in fact, examples of the mass movement of the people reaching a peak in the resistance to their conditions of subjugation. Political Independence in 1962, therefore, would not have been possible if there wasn’t the ‘Royal Jail Riot’ of 1849, the ‘Belmanna Riot’ in Tobago in 1876, the Canboulay ‘Riot’ of 1881, the Hosay ‘Riot’ of 1884, the Arouca ‘Riot’ of 1891, and the Water ‘Riot’ of 1903.

Those popular revolts led up to the 1919-20 General Strikes and then the better known June 19th, 1937 General Strike and revolt, and the 1946-47 strike movement.

In the 59 years since August 31st, 1962, we have come to know other truths. Political independence did not automatically mean that we became independent economically. And, just as importantly, we need to achieve what that great Caribbean thinker George Lamming calls, ‘The Sovereignty of the Imagination’.

This means that as a people we must be anchored in our own history and identity, recognise and lift up our achievements, and fashion a society based on our definition of a Caribbean civilisation.

Clearly, while we attained political independence 59 years ago and republican status in 1976, we are still becoming independent. We have not fundamentally changed the relations of economic, social or political power that existed under colonialism. Power resides in the hands of a few—the elites, the controllers.

Image: A satirical take on capitalism.

Our institutions are not functioning in the interest of the majority of the people. We know this from our everyday lives—either no water or flooding, the neglect of agriculture, unemployment, poverty, the shortage of decent housing, an education system that creates a ‘missing generation’, workers still being exploited, a judicial system that is broken, an economy that is not diversified. The list is long.

We have been seeking to get out of this difficulty by changing at election time the party that is in office. From 1986 to now, there have been six such changes in government, but the problems remain and the issues are the same. This is because the colonial system remained essentially intact after Independence.

The challenge that we now face as a people is to recognise that we need to once again ‘evolve’. We need fundamental change. To do that we must be prepared to challenge the status quo. And that requires a ‘revolution of the mind’.

Our ancestors engaged in many revolutionary acts: against the slave owners and against the colonisers and brutal oppressors. Our task is, in many ways, easier. It doesn’t require us to summon up the courage needed to face the troops of the British Navy as happened in 1903 and 1937 or to fear the loss of life as slave-owners put down revolts.

What is now needed is for us to have the courage of our convictions; to step out of the box and not go with the flow. We need to engage not in a physical battle but in a battle of ideas.

Photo: A woman protests for change in the wake of the killing of Andrea Bharatt.

What is now required is for those who recognise that our independence project is incomplete to be a part of building a new mass movement that will challenge, from below, the status quo and those who are the controllers on top.

In this way, we can bring about a new social settlement, a society that is based on social justice, equity and fairness for all, a society where those who benefit are the many and not just the few, and a people who are independent and confident in our collective identity as a nation.

That is the vision of the Second Republic that the MSJ has offered to Trinidad and Tobago.

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