RDF SYMPOSIUM - ON COMMEMORATIVE MAGAZINE
Declaration of Principles
NY Governor Pataki
Want to go home?
DEXIA - New Approach
Mo n Mo Music
Productivity and Economy
Health & the Diaspora
A Call to Action
Do You Remember When?
Technol. & Intel. Capital
Planning for Agriculture
Security & Development
Dominica State College
DSS in Partnership
Dominica & Integration
Education for Survival
Globalisation & Caribbean
Skills for Internet Age
Legacy of Rosie Douglas-1
WHY A ROSIE DOUGLAS FOUNDATION
The Importance of Symbolism and Substance in Memorializing Departed Leaders to the Building of a Durable Nation-State
Gabriel J. Christian
(A Position Paper Presented to the First Planning Meeting of the Rosie Douglas Foundation Saturday, March 10, 2001, 3060 Mitchellville Road, Bowie, Maryland 20716)
Roosevelt Bernard "Rosie" Douglas (hereinafter Rosie) died on October 1, 2001, after serving eight (8) months as Prime Minister of the Commonwealth of Dominica. The shock and national outpouring of grief which swept over the island, touched the hearts not only of resident Dominican nationals, but that of the overseas communities, Pan Africanist leaders worldwide, civil rights activists and politicians in the U.S., Canada, the United Kingdom and community and national leaders in the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and other parts of the developing world. That such an outpouring led to more than 1,200 foreign leaders, activists and overseas Dominicans to attend his farewell ceremony had more to with his work prior to gaining office.
Immediately after the interment of Rosie's mortal remains, talk was heard of establishing a memorial in his memory. Conscious that national identity and dignity resided in respect for those who contributed much to the creation of our nation-state, patriots, friends of Rosie and members of the Douglas family agreed to the formation of a Rosie Douglas Foundation in November 2000. The foundation stated focus is aimed at improving Education, Health and Community Development in Dominican communities at home and abroad.
A website was launched on December 4, 2000 to inform the world of its existence and a coordinating committee was formed*. On Saturday March 10, 2001 a meeting was held to set-up a structure and design a program for the foundation. Several resource people attended to lend their wisdom and support to this effort: Thomson Fontaine, a Dominican economist with the International Monetary Fund; Shirley Allan, a Dominican resident in the Washington, DC area involved in health care management; Athenia Henry, Industrial Development Specialist and resident of New Jersey, Neal Nixon resident in Alabama, an Internet Marketing Specialist and founder of "Buy Dominica" a bi-monthly magazine on the world wide web which promotes Dominican products; Michael Ettienne student, entrepreneur and a former community activist in Dominica's eastern District who worked alongside Rosie Douglas in the 1990's; and Dominica's Consul General in New York, Christine Parillon, who served as Dominica's official representative at the meeting.
RATIONALE FOR THE FOUNDATION
It must be understood that Dominica's history, as an island whose native population was subjugated and then developed with kidnapped African labor under brutal colonial conditions, bears a relationship to its current culture, ethnic composition, social mores and economic status. With so-called emancipation in 1834, the economic disparities between the majority African descended people and Caribs at the bottom of the social ladder, with the British plantocracy at the apex meant that little had changed except that there were more squatter communities on government owned land and most people of color could now walk around the country unhindered by slave catchers.
Early in the 20th century education reform allowed for elementary school education for many of the formerly unschooled majority. Further, the acquisition of some seed capital by Dominicans who worked on the Panama Canal, or Dutch owned oil installations in Aruba and Curacao or goldfields in Cayenne, British Guiana, or Venezuela improved the lot of some of the formerly dispossessed majority who had traveled abroad to seek their fortunes. As a result a small middle class of shopkeepers, teachers, policemen and estate holders developed. It was from that strata that Rosie Douglas came, when he was born in 1941. His father Robert (RBD) Douglas, was a shopkeeper and estate holder who had traveled, worked overseas and then returned to invest his savings.
RBD was also was a politician, with a great degree of community involvement and charitable works, which his wife Bernadette shared. That basis shaped Rosie's life. In the late 1940's RBD bought the Hampstead Estate. In 1960 he assisted his son's travel to Canada to study agriculture, with the plan being that he would return to manage the family's estate. However, Rosie Douglas was to quickly get involved in the freedom struggles sweeping the black community in North America.
Rosie's involvement in Civil Rights struggles among Canada's black and native peoples, his Pan Africanist work with the African National Congress, World Mathaba of Libya and his friendship with the Cuban Revolution found resonance in Dominica's political life. Upon his return to Dominica after being deported from Canada in 1975 for his political activism, he founded the Popular Independence Committee (PIC), the Northern Development Agricultural Program (NDAP), the Dominica Cuba Friendship Society, and assisted the foundation of the Dominica Federation of Students, the Work Study Library project in Grandbay. Through his links, he provided access to hundreds of Dominicans to study in Cuba, Guyana, the former USSR, Libya, UK, France, Taiwan and Austria. Today the majority of Dominica's forestry and chemical engineers, linguists and physicians owe their education to his work. In essence, Rosie was a nation builder.
SYMBOLS AND SUBSTANCE
Symbols endure when they are substantive. Prussia's Otto Von Bismarck was so critical to the ascendancy of that state in the latter 1800's that his role left an indelible mark on it's diplomacy, military power and economic development. The phrase that "A country has no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests" is often ascribed to him. The roles of Winston Churchill in World War II Britain, Mohandas Ghandi and Jawaharlal Nehru in Pre-and Post Independence India, Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana and Abraham Lincoln during the US Civil War also led to the creation of symbols in their names which endure to this day.
These symbols, through statues, street names, holidays, works projects, museums, songs, poems, literature, schools, universities, ships, medals, awards, or scholarships named in their honor create dignity for a people and ensures respect for the ages. It is a sign of political and national maturity when there exist a national consensus on such symbolism born of a desire to build national unity and purpose.
The insidious presence of pro-colonial and self-hating ideas, frustrate attempts by new states to build stable and prosperous societies. The success of the newly industrialized countries like Taiwan, Korea, and Singapore owe much to the bastions of self-respect and national purpose found in the heroes. The difficulties and failure of many states in Eastern Europe and Africa proceed from a lack of coherent national purpose and symbolism, which binds.
To his credit Rosie was patriotic enough to embrace Premier Patrick John on the independence issue when the old Black Power left found him objectionable due to his much criticized policies during the 1970's which saw passage of the infamous Dread Act. He was also patriotic enough to abandon such support for the Patrick John led Labor Government when it sought to sell 45% of the island to a consortium of Texan investors led by Don Pierson in the notorious Free Port Scheme. He was a foe of the conservative Dominica Freedom Party. Yet he made common cause with them and formed a coalition government with that party in February 2000, when both parties shared a common distaste for the approach to development of the United Workers Party.
He was approachable. He was an educator. He sought to bring opportunity to the least among us. Despite his strong political views, he had a common touch and was not a bitter man. He offered a hand of friendship to all, including those with whom he disagreed politically. He tried to unify the country. No one had to pass a political litmus test to gain access to the scholarship programs he initiated. Beneficiaries of those scholarships can be found among all political parties in Dominica.
It can thus be said, that Rosie's life showed a preference for substance over symbolism and sloganeering. His life was about national service. He died a relatively poor man. He never stayed at the state house and died at his modest home in Portsmouth. In his absence we owe a duty to ourselves, and country to memorialize him via symbols, which are substantive. In so doing we will strengthen our Nation-state, enhance its political culture and the notion of non-partisan unity for national good.
We can work through the RDF to spur development, reverse the so-called brain drain, and remove the barriers of racial and class prejudice. By our actions, we enhance respect for self-less public service. We will inspire our young to appreciate that an austere life of service to the people will not go unrewarded and unappreciated. In so doing we will smash the cynicism which prevents many from engaging politics as a tool for national development, not unjust personal enrichment. We can then build on a rock-solid national unity in which we respect our own.
The rationale of the RDF resides in national pride and love of and for our people, without which any development plan, environmental protection, campaign, foreign aid and talk of a knowledge- based economy will be meaningless. To that end we must commit to memorializing Rosie as a National Hero in the following manner:
The RDF is a platform geared toward national development and named for someone who gave his last full measure for that objective. If we can achieve but a fraction of the above noted objectives, we will be able to redeem the best hopes of our people and ensure the progress of our country and its far- flung sons and daughters for years to come.
The Struggle Continues! With Faith, Our Victory is Certain!
*1. Coordinating Committee of the RDF as of March 2001: