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The romance of revolution

Thursday, March 27, 2014
London Calling

It’s a peaceful time in these post-Carnival weeks. Everybody is relaxed and the dry-season climate is delightful. 


Cool breezes blowing down every street and through bedroom windows at night. People fly back and forth from Tobago taking breaks from their long hours and severe fatigue. Everything is wonderful. 


It’s strange that at such a time (known as spring in England) when they say a young man’s heart turns to romance, that I should take the opportunity to romanticise about civil disobedience.


I met Sprangalang for the first time on Sunday, at Queen’s Royal College. Gayelle TV was filming the National Citizens’ Conversation about the state of Carnival. 


QRC was bathed in hazy sunshine and on the cricket field the groundsmen took the rollers over the dusty pitch between innings. Three white egrets stood motionless just beyond the boundary rope, the only spectators of the ensuing run chase. 


Strolling through the corridors, past classrooms, looking through the arches to the Savannah, I thought how lovely a place this would be to go to school. 


Sprangalang, distinguishable by his peppery grey/black hair and beard, was holding court with two gentlemen who were highly amused by whatever he was saying.


I took my opportunity, during a pause in their conversation, to introduce myself and tell him I’d wanted to meet him ever since seeing a documentary called ’70: Remembering A Revolution, produced by Steven Cadiz and directed by Elizabeth Topp and Alex de Verteuil. 


It’s one of the best documentaries I’ve ever seen and whenever I meet people who were in it I tell them so. 


Sprangalang has the final words in the film, which he delivers with a wistful glint in his eye and a smile. I recited them back to him. 


“In ’70 it was very romantic. You break a glass, enjoy yourself, Bag-a-lion run you down. You come back next day to talk about it, you check the curfew, break the curfew, a squad car come up, you run home... It was very, very romantic.”


The credits roll and the clarinet of Lord Kitchener’s band leads into a calypso called Black Power: “Take Tobago, as we all know, lovely water, flows all over. The native’s not allowed to bathe at Pigeon Point. He will be locked up if he enters that joint. Power is the slogan, black power...”


The verse is about the annexation of the beach facility in the late 60s by Swedish holidaymakers whose tour operators didn’t want the black natives spoiling the beach by being black. 


It’s a song I can’t find anywhere, not even YouTube. If anybody has a copy please send one to the Guardian’s office, c/o me. 


Sprang’s nostalgia is facetious but those who have a rebellious spirit somewhere inside them know what he means. 


In my late teens I surrounded my bed with posters of anonymous revolutionaries, mostly images of women holding guns, some wearing balaclavas or veils, from movements like the PLO, IRA and the FARC in Colombia. 


More than anything, I like the aesthetics of revolution, not the actual aggression. A woman holding a gun, when society says she’s not supposed to. Youths taunting police when they’re not supposed to. 


Black Power came from educated black anger seeking dignity and equality. Football hooliganism came from uneducated, white working-class anger at unidentified targets in authority, at immigrants and at a perceived erosion of British identity. A yearning for the empire and British sea power, long since passed. The young black Trinidadians of 1970 didn’t stand up and risk their lives and liberty for senseless violence of the kind that some young, black Trinidadians are doing to each other today. 


In the 1970 revolution, Basil Davis was killed by police in Woodford Square, yet the revolution’s intention was never to hurt but, as the late Mairoon Ali said, to educate themselves and others. 


The protesters had, as Jennifer Jones-Kernahan said, the courage of their convictions to stand up for what they believed in. 


When the Beetham residents come out to protest about police aggression it is not deemed romantic. The privileged masses react with fury and rhetoric about locals terrorising the country.


Most of those who talk about the Beetham have no clue about the Beetham, they never go there. On Sunday, driving around on a news assignment searching for a reported house fire, my photographer and I asked locals on the Eastern Main Road if they’d seen anything. They were polite, courteous people as in any other part of Trinidad. They simply lack the ability to articulate their struggle in a way that engenders romance. 


Next time the Beetham feels like erupting they should watch ’70 and take notes. 


I wish I had been alive in 1970 to experience the Port-of-Spain Spring. Like the Prague Spring of 1968, it must have been very, very romantic. 


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