ALL AH WE IS ONE – A push for integration
While social scientists tend to place heavy emphasis on large structural and economic explanations for occurrences of historical significance, the reality is often that the catalysts for these developments are often unassuming, ordinary individuals who refuse to stand at the back of the bus.
In the case of Rosa Parks, it was not a radical historical consciousness, but her overworked tired feet which compelled her to break the racist Jim Crow laws which were in operation in the southern United States at the time.
In our own time, we have seen how Mohammed Bouazizi, the Tunisian man who set himself ablaze, simultaneously set alight a wave of anti-authoritarian protests and revolutions throughout the Middle East and North Africa, far beyond what he was thinking when he made a human torch of himself. (What really was he thinking anyway?)
Marx describes this dynamic between individual action and structural change best, with his famous reminder that “whilst men make history, they do not make it in conditions of their own choosing”.
These historical realities therefore compel pro-integrationist Caribbean people to find a silver lining in Shanique Myrie’s refusal to remain silent in the face of what she regarded as unjust violations of her personal space, whilst seeking to move across her Caribbean.
Whilst it may be tempting to reduce the furore over Myrie’s allegations as a “storm in a teacup”, history reminds us that it is moments like these, and people like her, that provide the spark for qualitative change.
Indeed, Myrie’s noble stance could not have come at a better time for the regional integration movement.
The last few years have been characterised by an unthinking retreat by a crop of green and newly-elected Caribbean leaders from the path of deeper integration which had been painstakingly pursued since the early 1990s with the publication of the Time For Action report.
Unable to creatively think themselves out of economic recession, they have resorted to anti-Caribbean xenophobia as a crude response, and have been encouraged by the fact that it will cost no votes.
Since power does not alter its stance unless it is compelled to do so, the Caribbean-wide indignation over the [alleged] treatment of Myrie may force regional governments to rethink their knee jerk anti-integration tendencies.
Myrie may have also provided the regional integration movement with its “popular” justification and energy and its “grass roots” movement.
These have always been the missing ingredient. It has always been a sterile technocratic adventure, sanitised from popular participation, hence its low success record.
However, to equate Myrie with Rosa Parks may open one to the charge of unfounded optimism. Guilty!!
Only sustained organisation can transform Myrie into a CARICOM Rosa Parks. Till then, like Gramsci, we retain an optimism of the will, despite the pessimism of the intellect. Forward Ever!!
Tennyson Joseph is a political scientist at the University of the West Indies Cave Hill Campus specialising in analysis of regional affairs.