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NJAC Rededication: Women and youth empowered in 1970s revolution

“[…] The women of 1970 showed great strength in the willing acceptance of their new role and responsibility as part of the movement for a better nation. They stood firm and joined the struggle with men, in pursuit of a better nation for themselves and their children. They came to the fore of the revolution and accepted, alongside the brothers, the challenges involved in the building of a new society.

“[…] In 1970, the nation’s youth flocked to the movement in their thousands. They brought with them confidence, boldness and enthusiasm. They also displayed a strong belief in the knowledge that they could be an integral part of the national transformation that could give our people something both new and beautiful…”

The following is part of an NJAC series on their contribution to Trinidad and Tobago society after the ‘Black Power Revolution’ of 1970:

Photo: Students join demonstrations in Port of Spain on 9 April 1970 during the 1970 movement.
(Copyright Apoesho Mutope/NJAC)

The Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970, led by Chief Servant Makandal Daaga ORTT, effected or influenced changes in all areas of national life. It brought changes in politics, national unity, Indian/African unity, the economy, human relationships, culture and the arts, education and Caribbean relations, to name a few.

What is most remarkable is the timeframe within which all this was achieved. The big question is how all this was achieved in such a short period of time. The answer lies in NJAC’s people-oriented approach, which cannot be used by any government or ‘power elite’ whose intention is to dominate and oppress.

First and foremost, NJAC respected the people and sought to bring them into government and the decision-making processes, through the institution of the People’s Parliaments. Additionally, using the slogan Old and Young, All Belong in the New Society, NJAC placed new on the lives of our people.

This is what the chief servant meant when he said: “We want a society based on man.” NJAC’s approach of inclusion, as opposed to the elitist policy handed down from our former colonial masters, infused a new love throughout our society, thus bringing out the best in our people.

NJAC’s strong focus on a people-oriented approach to national and social affairs instilled a very humane and humanising nature within the movement. The resulting essence of the philosophy which grew out of the people’s movement of 1970, was, therefore, one which advocated inclusion, as opposed to the dominant philosophy of the colonial era, which emphasised segregation and exclusion.

Photo: NJAC leader Makandal Daaga (centre) holds a press conference in 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

For the first time in our nation’s history, people’s right to be included was respected, protected and advanced based on their humanity, rather than being determined by their race, wealth, certification, gender or age. NJAC stood firm with a resounding NO to any form of discrimination or marginalisation.

The movement’s vision of inclusiveness, for instance, placed our elderly in a whole new light. Rather than being treated as objects of a by-gone era, the elderly were now given due appreciation and celebrated in one of NJAC’s foundation principles for the development of the new society: Honour the Old.

This principle speaks to that most important quality of gratitude in recognition of the fact that the road we walk today was paved by those who came before us. Our elders were, therefore, respected for their wisdom and their knowledge of earlier times and the reservoir of experiences they had acquired. There was a new appreciation for the special value of the contribution which they could offer to the quality of life in our nation.

The revolution also sought to restore our women to their true worth and value. This was expressed in another of our principles: Respect and Elevate the Woman. Women were seen as custodians of our culture, the ‘living link between the past and the future’.

The women of 1970 showed great strength in the willing acceptance of their new role and responsibility as part of the movement for a better nation. They stood firm and joined the struggle with men, in pursuit of a better nation for themselves and their children. They came to the fore of the revolution and accepted, alongside the brothers, the challenges involved in the building of a new society.

Photo: Makandal Daaga addresses thousands of demonstrators in POS in 1970.
(courtesy NJAC)

During the period of the state of emergency and the imprisonment of most of NJAC’s leadership, the women showed their mettle as they stepped up with a great sense of responsibility and diligence, ensuring that the work of the movement continued along a solid, progressive path. They made a most valuable contribution to the people’s movement in the demonstrations, as organisers, mobilisers and in all the diverse roles they performed.

As a matter of fact, the new role and sense of responsibility that the 1970 people’s movement instilled in our women are largely responsible for the significant growth in the contribution of our women in leadership, politics and national life today. In 1970, women were given a place of pride as fighters alongside the men for the building of a new and just society.

In 1970, the nation’s youth flocked to the movement in their thousands. They brought with them confidence, boldness and enthusiasm. They also displayed a strong belief in the knowledge that they could be an integral part of the national transformation that could give our people something both new and beautiful.

Frantz Fanon, psychiatrist and author, writes in his book The Wretched of the Earth: “… each generation must discover its mission, fulfil it or betray it.” The youth in 1970 were determined to fulfil their mission regardless of the sacrifices that were necessary. They exhibited the spirit of the times in their collective affirmation of intent to make the necessary sacrifices then and not leave the burden to the next generation.

Photo: Scenes from Port of Spain during the 1970 uprising.
(via Angel Bissessarsingh)

NJAC conceptualised the youth as ‘The Future Leaders of Tomorrow … Today.’ The concept is that even as they prepare for greater responsibilities over time, they also have leadership responsibilities, all in keeping with NJAC’s philosophy of inclusion.

The students began to examine the society in relation to their own lives, and they found that the education system was irrelevant, if not contradictory to, their aspirations for the building of strong independent communities. It was found that after independence, the education system continued to promote subservience to Europe and North America.

The rise of our nation’s students and organisations such as NJAC’s NORS (National Organisation of Revolutionary Students) had such national impact, that Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams was moved to call a national consultation with the nation’s students at the Chaguaramas Convention Centre.

Over 5,000 students packed the hall where they presented the prime minister with their perspectives on relevant education for our newly independent nation. In their new confidence as ‘leaders of tomorrow, today’, the students and youth, in general, began to show a greater interest in issues that affected the nation as a whole.

For example, in 1971, there was a demonstration of students in Port of Spain calling for the freeing of the soldiers who had been imprisoned for their roles in the ‘mutiny’ of 21 April 1970. The brutal and oppressive nature of our society was emphasised in the treatment meted out to the demonstrating students, with some of them being beaten by police officers.

Photo: Police remove placards from the bandstand in Woodford Square in Port of Spain, Trinidad, on 22 April 1970. The square was a popular gathering point for Black Power activists in the city.
(Copyright AP Photo)

In Tobago, there was also a march for the freedom of the soldiers. Several hundred students from the Roxborough Secondary school held an 18-mile march from Roxborough to Scarborough for the release of the soldiers. When students from Scarborough got news the Roxborough students were demonstrating, they immediately organised their own march and met the Roxborough students on the way and entered Scarborough with one united force.

The youth of the 1970s more than carried their share of responsibilities for the successes and achievements of the Trinidad and Tobago Revolution of 1970. They brought to the revolution, their strong sense of idealism with plenty of energy and drive. They joined the movement in search of justice and truth, which they were prepared to travel any distance to obtain.

Not only do we owe them a very big debt of gratitude for the positive developments they helped initiate, but we can also learn much from their contributions, struggles and sacrifices of the 1970s.

As we approach Rededication Day (Saturday 12 December), let us rededicate our hearts and minds to this great work of love, the creation of a free and just society, so that the human personality could be elevated in this beautiful twin-island state of ours.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago citizens march for racial unity on 12 March 1970.
(Courtesy Embau Moheni/NJAC)

We owe it to the creator to draw on the great creativity, talents, beauty and warmth he/she has given us to build something better for ourselves and fellow men and women and to leave better land for those who are coming after us.

Let us be guided by the words of Makandal Daaga when he said: “Time is life, and time well spent is life well spent.”

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