When a man or a woman decides to become an activist, this means that that person is going against the grain, so to speak, and the chances are that the activist will experience personal pain, danger, fear, self-doubt, sometimes incarceration, even death. It has been said that most twentieth-century revolutions, while featuring the national masses, were led by men from the middle or educated class. Examples of such leaders would include Mao Tse-tung in China, Lenin and Trotsky in Russia, Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam, Mahatma Gandhi in India, Nelson Mandela in South Africa, Fidel Castro in Cuba, and so on.
The activist, then, has not in his personal life usually felt as much pain as the people he seeks to liberate have been suffering, and so when he becomes deeply embroiled in the struggle, the activist will sometimes experience periods of weakness in which he will wonder why he chose such a rough road to travel, it being the case that he previously would have had personal options.
Perhaps more negative than self-doubt or second guessing one’s self, is bitterness towards those of one’s contemporaries who did not decide to take up the cross. If you have made an activist choice, and someone else has not, that is that person’s right and privilege. You had your free will, and that was your decision, in the fullness of your adulthood.
It should be noted that there is, on the other side of the coin, substantial satisfaction, often happiness, in activism, because one is asserting one’s self, one is facing up to reality, and one is taking on what one sees as one’s responsibility, one’s cause, one’s raison d’etre.
In the UBAD years of activism, we were not facing bullets or bombs. We were threatened with jail a few times, but, more constant, as time went on, was the economic marginalization, and some social ostracism. Activism has to be financed in different ways; essentially, the activists have to eat, wear clothes, and rest their head in abodes. In an urban setting, all these things require money. Many of us had family responsibilities, apart from our personal needs.
Bottom line historically, there was no money in UBAD. It was always hand-to-mouth. In full-fledged revolutions, the principals engage in fund-raising activities which are often criminal in the eyes of the mainstream society. UBAD was not a full-fledged revolution, one reason being the fact that the Belizean society in 1969 did not qualify for revolution. There was suffering in Belize, but there were opportunities for democratic change, most notably free and fair elections, so one could not fight a revolution, as such, in Belize.
When I became president of UBAD in early 1969, I was just 21 years of age, and I had lived the protected life of a student. The only roughneck activity I knew about was some fishing. Charles X Eagan, popularly known as “Justice,” one of the officers on my executive, was more than twice my age, and he had truly led the life of a roughneck.
As UBAD president, I cut Justice a lot of slack, because I knew it was very difficult for him to be following such a young and “soft” president as I. Looking back, I can say that, on more than one occasion, Justice got away with doing things for which he should have been disciplined. And when the Government of Belize decided to jail me and Ismail Shabazz for sedition in February 1970, I would say that at that specific time it was as if Justice actually became de facto leader of UBAD. The sedition arrest alienated and angered me to the point where I was ready for anything, or, at least, so I thought.
I suppose that almost all of those Belizeans who could have contributed financially to UBAD were either firmly PUP or firmly NIP. Those interested Belizeans who lived in the United States were essentially controlled by the British Honduras Freedom Committee, which was based in New York City and had been financing the NIP. When Ismail Shabazz and I travelled to New York in early 1972 to seek financial help from the Freedom Committee, that help was not forthcoming to any meaningful extent. UBAD, then, was a financial disaster.
After UBAD’s division in 1973, and its dissolution in 1974, for sure Belize had returned to its PUP/NIP (UDP) bipolarity. UBAD had been rejected. The implications for myself as UBAD leader were demoralizing, sometimes humiliating. Eventually, in late 1977, I had to look myself in the mirror, and start a new life, as it were.
35 years later, I listened to the Hon. Leader of the Opposition on Friday morning in the House as he referred to a “Kremandala empire.” I have heard lawyer/politicians use this description before, and they know better, believe me. There is a Barry Bowen empire. San Cas is an empire. Benny’s is an empire. If you publicly describe Kremandala as an empire, it must be what people call “tongue-in-cheek.” In other words, you are making fun of the “fence.”
In the United States, there is a Western novel called The Virginian. There is a famous line in The Virginian, which comes after a villain refers to the hero by some uncomplimentary appellation or the other. In response, the hero stares the villain in the eye and says, simply and coldly, “When you call me that, smile.”
I suppose the villain would have refused so to do, so that then some kind of wrangling must have occurred. But, the sequel is not the point. The words are: “When you call me that, smile.”
The modest business success we’ve achieved on Partridge Street has deprived me of the ability to move around freely in the streets. That freedom to move, which existed because of my being accepted as an activist/sufferer in those early years of UBAD, that freedom is gone.
During those days of street freedom, Charles X Eagan was a big part of my life. As Muslims and Muslim sympathizers here prepare to welcome Minister Louis Farrakhan later this week, this is by way of remembering and respecting the Nation of Islam trailblazer in British Honduras more than fifty years ago. This was the one and only Justice – Ibrahim Abdullah. Respect is due. Allah-u-akbar.