“[…] This series examines the conditions, circumstances, personalities and forces which came together and gave birth to the most dynamic show of people’s power ever witnessed in the Caribbean. We also examine some of the achievements of the Revolution, as well as the principles and philosophy which guided the Revolution.
“[…] While the players will change from time to time the system remains the same, becoming more specialised and technologically empowered over time, in the execution of its techniques of exploitation, oppression and deception…”
The following is Part One in a NJAC series on their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society after the ‘Black Power Revolution’ of 1970:
Fifty years ago, in 1970, the Trinidad and Tobago population took to the streets in their thousands to demand a New and Just Society. Under the leadership of Makandal Daaga (then Geddes Granger) and the National Joint Action Committee (NJAC), they commanded the streets of our nation in daily demonstrations for fifty-five inspirational days, from Thursday 26th February to Tuesday 21st April.
In what came to be recognised as the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970, also called the Black Power Revolution, the movement engineered and charted far-reaching changes in every area of national life. Drawn from north, south, east and west Trinidad and Tobago, supporters came from all walks of life belonging to all age groups, to create a mass People’s Movement for change. Their call was for Power to the People, a demand for the institution of mobilisation, consultation and participation as essential principles for our nation.
Today, NJAC presents the first in a series of twelve articles to commemorate 12 December Rededication Day. This date is one of the most important days of the 1970 Revolution.
It is the date on which the first demonstration was held after the lifting of the seven-month State of Emergency (April 21 – November 20, 1970). This demonstration was held to rededicate NJAC and the people to the ideals of a new and just Society.
It was also a firm statement that the seven months imprisonment and psychological warfare of the SOE could not destroy the will of the people to achieve a better society.
This series examines the conditions, circumstances, personalities and forces which came together and gave birth to the most dynamic show of people’s power ever witnessed in the Caribbean. We also examine some of the achievements of the Revolution, as well as the principles and philosophy which guided the Revolution.
One of the most critical factors influencing the evolution of the Caribbean has been the very nature of our historical experiences. In 1970, NJAC was right on target when we said that meaningful change could not be guaranteed by merely replacing a government. We knew that what we were up against was more than merely a government, but a cold, calculated and inhumane system of control and oppression which affected diverse areas of our lives.
While the players will change from time to time the system remains the same, becoming more specialised and technologically empowered over time, in the execution of its techniques of exploitation, oppression and deception.
The very foundation of colonial society was built on slavery, indentureship and imperial dominance. Our lives were subject to colonial dictates which affirmed (1) that the metropolitan powers of Europe and North America had a God given right to dominate the ‘subservient’ colonised people around the world; (2) that might is always right; (3) white supremacy and black inferiority are realities of life.
This imposed system, has morphed into the total state. This is a state which seeks to manipulate all institutions (of politics, economics, religion, education, etc) to advance its goals of domination and exploitation.
Our society was, however, also influenced by forces which encouraged resistance to oppression and the pursuit of serious change. Around the world, several individuals and groups took just positions which inspired greater awareness among our people here.
These included Dr Martin Luther King Jr, Trinidad born Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) who coined the phrase ‘Black Power’, Angela Davis, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara of the Cuban Revolution, as well as Muhammad Ali (boxing champion) who took a principled position against the Vietnam war.
Here in Trinidad & Tobago, labour activism in the 1960’s heightened our people’s awareness. As early as 1964, a mere two years after gaining Independence, bus workers went on two month strike.
In 1965, worker militancy continued to grow. Industrial action in the sugar belt and a move by the sugar workers to join the OWTU caused much concern to the government. It led to the declaration of a State of Emergency in Central Trinidad and the placing of CLR James under house arrest.
Poor living standards and inequities inherited from the colonial era aggravated worker dissent and strike action. Thus NJAC had to intensify its community enlightenment efforts and institutional development, two critical needs in the alleviation of these serious societal deficiencies.
Meanwhile over two thousand miles from our shores, at the Sir George Williams University in Montreal, Canada a brewing crisis would add fuel to the flames and change the course of history.
At this fateful university, accusations of racism against a white lecturer, Terry Anderson, were taken to the white administration. After months without having the issue adequately addressed, ninety-seven students, (black and white), occupied the university’s computer centre on 29 January 1969.
The students held the centre for two weeks, when the police were called in. In the ensuing melee a fire started and the computer centre was destroyed. Various charges were then brought against a number of the students.
When news of the incident reached the UWI St Augustine students guild, whose president was then Makandal Daaga (then Geddes Granger), the Guild decided to take action on behalf of the Sir George Williams university students, 38 of whom were from the Caribbean, including 12 Trinidadians.
As fate would have it, the Canadian Governor General Roland Michener was visiting Trinidad while this incident was brewing. On his itinerary was a tour of UWI. On arrival at the UWI entrance, however, he was denied entry by protesting students led by Makandal Daaga.
It was too much to ask students to welcome a white Canadian Governor General onto the campus at the same time that our students were on trial in Canada for standing up against racism. Arising out of this issue NJAC was formed on the 26th February 1969 as a Federation of organisations. NJAC would later become a unitary organisation.