US Senator, Kamala Harris, (East Indian and Jamaican; in Guyanese parlance, a dougla) speaking to CNN’s Don Lemon about the riots last week in the US, asked what has changed in the US after the violent conflagrations in 1992 that were sparked by four policemen who were acquitted after their merciless beating of a man named Rodney King .
Harris’ thoughts were centered on the fact that after King in 1992, one would have thought that the US had left those kinds of aberrations behind. But has the US left those things since 1992? Obviously, the answer is no because the police mercilessly killed another black American generating nation-wide violence in 2020.
Harris’ reflection is deeply moving and brings into focus how dynamic is the life of nations. Do nations follow dialectical logic or is life just one damn thing after another that follows no logical path? While the US is in the throes of raging violence brought about by an incident, few Americans believe could lead to another rioting mayhem in Los Angeles after what the Rodney King riots did to that very city in 1992, Guyana is in the throes of a different kind of incredulous nihilism and the name Rodney is in the picture.
In 1974, after being denied employment at UG, Walter Rodney birthed a different kind of protest that involved the fight for free and fair election. It would be a distortion of Guyanese history to minimize the role of the PPP in the uncontrollable rage of Guyanese from 1968 to have free and fair elections. But Rodney introduced unique circumstances in the Guyana struggle.
Whereas Jagan and his PPP were viewed as an Indian bandwagon thereby creating suspicion among African Guyanese, Rodney was able to tap into the psyche of a disappointed African people in post-colonial Guyana. Rodney therefore had birthed a multi-racial platform against President Burnham. The second element Rodney’s presence generated was that the dissipation of fear in the society. Though fear was not pronounced in PPP cadres at the time, (from 1968 onwards), Burnham’s brutal dictatorship drove trepidation into the entire society including PPP personnel.
It was Rodney’s charisma, mesmerizing deliveries and proselytization of the youths that galvanized the society. This is where some leaders rise above the rest of humans and change the course of history. People were not afraid any longer to picket, to strike, to join marches, to attend rallies because Rodney was there and once he was there, Burnham had a force to contend with.
In the fight for free and fair election, Rodney became the hero in Guyana. He eclipsed Jagan and rural folks saw him as a more fearless confrontationist than Jagan. Rodney was murdered by Burnham, though I don’t think space would allow for contextualizing the circumstances of his death which cannot be reduced to the simple fact that Burnham just killed him. The facts are more complex than that.
The legacy of Rodney in Guyana is the legacy of King in the US that had Harris asking her question; what has changed since King in 1992. Guyanese must ask the same question; what has changed since the power, passion, heroism and legacy of Rodney in this country?
It is not a nice answer when you remember the defeat of the chairman of the election commission, Harold Bollers back in Walter’s era. Now, Bollers has reincarnated into Claudette Singh. When you see Singh and the things she does, the way she carries on; the barefaced traits of this election commission chairman, then, Bollers, Burnham’s puppet, was an altar boy.
What has changed since Bollers was forced out as chairman of the election commission and Guyana joined the rest of the world in recognizing that its citizen has a right to vote and have its government change through that vote? Now here is the parallel with King and Rodney. King’s incident set off riots in 1992. Rodney’s heroism led to Bollers’ exile and free elections in 1992.
But Los Angeles saw similar riots in 2020 that took place in 1992. In Guyana in 2020, Bollers from 1992 is back under a new name, Claudette Singh. So what has changed from 1992 in Los Angeles and in Guyana from 1992? Sadly for Guyana, the set back will take a generation to dissolve. No doubt, Los Angeles will pick itself up and will retain the title of California being the fourth largest economy in the world. King died by drowning. Rodney was assassinated. For Guyanese, the question is; did he give his life for nothing?
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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