Q: Archbishop J, why a National Day of Prayer on August 2nd?
Democracy did not come easy to us. It took a long time for us to earn it, and a long time to understand its demands. And it will take time to evolve a mature democracy that best represents and reflects our multicultural, multi-ethnic and multireligious society.
On August 2, 2020, we gather as one people to pray and to thank God that we are a democratic nation.
The religious leaders who asked for this day of prayer recognise that our democracy was fundamentally challenged between July 27 and August 2, 1990. We understand the attempted coup was a violation of the sanctuary of democracy—our Parliament.
It was a significant loss of innocence to our young nation. The shooting of a prime minister, the hostages held at Parliament, at Radio Trinidad and Trinidad and Tobago Television, and the 24 people who lost their lives were a significant price to pay for democracy.
We did not want this event to pass unnoticed, without a national response, without national consciousness, or without the memory!
Memory plays a key role in the life of a nation. Without it, we repeat the same mistakes over and over. To recall past events of national significance and to ponder them deeply assist us in making better choices in the present moment and in the future.
The events of 1990 were immortalised in David Rudder’s song ‘Hoosay’. The song brings to mind the Hosay festival where the Muslim community gathers people of all ethnicities and religions in a street festival that brings unity.
This festival is contrasted with the attempted coup of 1990. In its raw fourth verse Rudder says:
Not in this house, not in this Garden of Eden
Oh, how we danced to the beat of this lovely lie, lovely life
Until a man opened a door and showed us our other side
And all our Mecca’d illusions walked right on by
Now Trini know what is Uzi diplomacy
Now Trini know what is SLR love
In ah these troubled times under the stars above
In his poetic way, Rudder speaks to the loss of innocence, the end of illusion, and how we finally left Eden.
He says: “… a man opened a door and showed us our other side”. Playing with images, Rudder uses ‘Mecca’d’ both to speak to the holy city of Islam and to the illusion that we could live in peace with radical, fundamentalist Islam in Trinidad. “Uzi diplomacy” and “SLR love” are two poetic descriptions of the armed horror that we faced during those six days. (The Uzi, a type of sub-machine gun, and the SLR, a self-loading rifle, were used in those days by the police.)
The long road to democracy
The 1990 experience was not our first encounter with national discontent, protest, and loss of life. The Hosay Riots (1884), the Water Riots (1903), the Labour Riots (1937) and the Black Power marches and state of emergency in 1970 were all forerunners to 1990. The difference was that those events came as popular protests against social injustice.
With the Hosay Riots, the protest was against the colonial government trying to stop the festival entering San Fernando. The Water Riots were about the increased cost of water which resulted in the burning of the Red House.
Protests against low worker wages led to the Labour Riots. In 1970, it was about the discrimination against blacks in the society and in the workplace.
The roots in these events go back to pre-emancipation Trinidad and Tobago. Our societies were not set up for us. It is both ironic and fortuitous that the end of the attempted coup was August 1, Emancipation Day, when we commemorated the abolition of slavery.
In 2020 we can still say, with Kortright Davis,“Emancipation Still Comin’”. We live in a nation where Afro-Trinbagonian underdevelopment within our urban communities remains one of the most urgent and serious challenges to our nation’s cohesion.
If we truly value our democracy, we need to face this challenge squarely and find sustainable solutions. As Pope Paul VI said: “If you want peace, work for justice.” These protests up until 1970 were all rooted in the colonial origins of our society and the systemic discrimination against the Afro-Trinbagonian and Indo-Trinidadian communities. They expressed the aspirations of a people for freedom and equality and the perception that true freedom was beyond reach.
For the 50th anniversary of the 1970 revolution, there was a celebration in the Cathedral. Then, I said in my article (CN February 23) and homily that the revolution is unfinished. There is still prejudice against black people in our country. There is still black underdevelopment in some communities. These require urgent national attention.
But, the 1990 attempted coup was different. A fringe religious group attempted to take power and overthrow democracy.
Yes, there was social unrest before the coup. Certainly, there was unequal distribution of the burden of structural adjustment in the society. There was great hardship as the country lived with severe economic challenges for several years. There had been mass protest action by the trade unions in 1989 and early 1990. When the coup was attempted, however, the public at large did not rise in support of it.
So, although the seeds of discontent were present, they never boiled over into a mass protest during the attempted coup. The Muslimeen remained isolated, thus, the big difference from the other protests in our history.
Why we pray
For our young democracy, the events of 1990 are very significant. It is important that we remember those who died and honour their memory. It is important to honour the brave soldiers and police officers who acted promptly to contain and eliminate the threat, and the members of government who, outside the Parliament, worked fearlessly to maintain the integrity of the State.
It is important that we reflect deeply on the price we paid to preserve our democracy. It is important that we cherish this gift of democracy that we so often take for granted. On August 2, let us stop, reflect, and pray!
Democracy is a most precious gift that we all need to cherish
Do a concrete act to demonstrate your appreciation for democracy and our nation
2 Chronicles 7:14