October 27th: What matters?
By Professor Richard A. Byron-Cox (PhD)
We celebrated our 43rd year of independence with all and sundry decked out in the blue, yellow, and green.
There was clearly great pride and some catwalk patriotism, all giving a real boost to national spirit and a sense of unity. Notwithstanding these purposeful spectacles, we ought to rethink somethings in marking October 27th.
Independence is standing firm on our own, which must be done primarily through creation, innovation, and persistent diligent hard work; yet October 27 is a holiday. Its real purpose should be a day of national renaissance, noting where we are vis a vis where we need to be by what time; a day of practical action by each and all in furtherance of the agenda, namely, development. Children could e.g., clean their school surroundings; community groups could undertake specific projects; churches could assist the homeless and vagrants; all workers could put in the extra hour or go the extra mile on this day. October 27 must signify more than “Flag Independence” as the great Maurice Bishop tutored.
It needs the foundation of economic independence, which we must achieve as Norman “Daddy” Manley demanded of Jamaicans. Yes, to frolic and party is being Caribbean; -we have Steelband, calypso and carnival. But as PM Gonsalves sometimes underlines, no nation has ever been built on fete and nice time. The only value our nation’s birthday has for some is holiday.
This must be replaced with a day for national renaissance and patriotic service.
Then there is the military parade; though not classic “Mimic men” a la Naipaul, we are in essence copycatting the warmongers of history.
Yes, we have “Vincentianised” it with a focus on our music and providing a colourful spectacle, commanding the attention of the nation, and bringing people out on the streets in admiration. We must complete this adaptation and transformation by removing the words “military parade,” using instead “independence parade”, and by removing all weapons from the exercise.
Our anthem declares “May peace reign from shore to shore,” and “Pax et Justitia” is our motto on the national seal. With no military, financial, technological, or populous power, it’s not in our interest to glorify anything akin to war. Our uniformed groups should for October perform various social and community services throughout the country, be this cleaning streets and beaches, painting bridges and public buildings, helping to conduct community sporting events and festivals, and so much more.
As Fanon said, independence means we must create a new man who is not European!
Our Prime Ministers’ speeches during independence rightly focus on how far we have come. But we must know where we need go, how and what we need to do to get there; what we are up against nationally, regionally, and globally, and how we respond. Feel-good platitudes cannot fire the imagination of a people and force them out of their slumber of make-believed greatness conditioned by colourful paraphernalia. Spectacle dazzles, but work produces! Our children must know that October 27 is not fait accompli, but the initial step to raising this nation, not just its flag!
The private sector seems concerned with independence only to leech profits. Generally, for them, contributing to the wellbeing of the nation in constructing a necessary common good is blasphemy.
This sick mentality that 27th October is but another season for profit making must be strongly opposed! Independence is one moment of highest national pride; infesting it with greed, is corruption of our nobility, which contributes nothing to the patriotic Geist. Indeed, most are boldly parasitic, demanding that we become a welfare state with them as sole recipient. Corporate tax is now less than 30%, but to do something genuinely patriotic on October 27th, they “think it hard.”
Marking independence must be a time for galvanized focused action across the nation concretely manifesting the refrain thoughtlessly repeated by most, “I love you SVG.” On this day we ought to search the soul of this nation, find what we believe as a collective, and determine to bring this to life through practice, giving meaning to independence through daily living.
Yes, we must create Fanon’s new man, being brave enough to break with useless traditions, meaningless national self-aggrandisement, and the mad flurry of shallow spectacle, none of which pushes the project of building the nation one millimetre forward. An independence of much foliage and little fruit is but a foolish masquerade. Substance must always be preferred over spectacle.