In the company of very few, I delivered the following address at the Award Ceremony of the Inaugural Walter Rodney Foundation Creative Writing Competition. Minister of Culture Frank Anthony sat alongside UG’s Dr. Mark Tumbridge in an otherwise empty front row . Guyana Prize winner Ruel Johnson sat with two or three others in the back row. And when the words left my mouth, they greeted a very silent, somewhat shocked and somber audience on May 14, 2014 in the Education Lecture Theatre, University of Guyana, Turkeyen Campus. When the question/discussion time came at the end only Johnson, the prose winner Subraj Singh, Dr. Tumbridge and I spoke. Everyone was silent and the Minister left immediately after.
I wish I could wish you a good afternoon. I really do wish. But I believe that if I could hear souls whisper, and if Dr. Rodney’s soul stood next to me then he would tell me that it is not a good afternoon for me, or you or any of us. He would say that it is not a good day. How can it be a good day in Guyana when our children are being raped, beaten and shot? How can it be a good day when the nation witnesses such injustice in silence? So in way of greeting, I will say to all of you, my brothers, my sisters, my friends, my minister, break your silence.
Now, I have been given ten minutes in which to speak, so listen and listen carefully because we must move this thing along swiftly. First, I must express my most sincere gratitude to the Walter Rodney Foundation for bringing us all together today. I believe it marks the revival of an awakening which died when Dr. Walter Rodney was killed.
On June 13 it will be 34 years since Dr. Rodney was taken from us. I believe then that we should first remember Dr. Rodney before we read poetry or fiction in his honour. And there is no better way to remember Dr. Rodney than by remembering his words.
The thing about Rodney’s words is that they are timeless. They capture our past and reflect our present. It is like Minister Anthony said, Rodney fought for a PPP activist (Arnold Rampersaud) who was accused of murdering a police. Rodney the founding father of WPA fought for a PPP activist. And this is what Rodney always did. He bridged social, political and ethnic divides and fought for good.
I will now read an excerpt from a speech delivered by Dr. Rodney at a street corner in Georgetown during September 1979. I believe the speech addresses both our past and present. Except for the last 11 words, all are the words of this son our nation has lost. And so, Rodney said:
The Struggle Goes On
There are many people who believe that a revolution is about blood. It is true that at times in a revolution blood flows. Very often innocent blood, very often the blood of the best amongst us. But one must be prepared to take a stand against evil and injustice in the society. We will have to realise that the time is now to make precisely that stand. For too long our nature has been overcome by fear; a justified fear. It is true that there is a fear of losing jobs; the fear of not getting promotion; the fear that your children might be victimised and so on. But there must be a point at which people realize, that even that fear has to be overcome. It has to be overcome by a new resolution because in the long run it is not simply that you and I are fighting in individual battles. Far more important is the sense in which we can fight in a collective battle. They can’t fire everybody, they can’t victimise everybody; on the contrary, they have given us the vast majority, whom they have treated with contempt, whom they have insulted everyday for…years. When we act together, we will make this little paltry gang of petty dictators go on their way. And we will bring them to task. Because it is obvious that in the end they depend upon the power of the people.
The people put them in power, they now spit upon the people. The people put them into power in the sense that [they used the political machinery to rob the people of power].
Finally, allow me to read you the poem which the judges awarded first prize in this competition. The poem was written for the man who works with hands and speaks directly to Dr. Rodney by in part responding to a speech he delivered at a street corner during 1977 in defense of Arnold Rampersaud who was accused of killing a policeman [Minister would have already given you some history on this]. Today, I dedicate this first reading of the poem to Dr. Frank Anthony, the girls at NOC who were allegedly raped by a senior government official, the 15-year-old boy who was shot by a policeman and Harding, the youth, who was baton raped by police.