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Permission Please, Sir

By Dr Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 03, 2018

On Monday I attended UNC's Monday Night Forum. Nothing out of the ordinary, I thought. I have always attended political meetings of every stripe to understand the political currents of my society and the world. I never supported Tapia, but Lloyd Best and I remained the best of friends. We attended the same primary school.

In 1972 David Abdullah contested the Tunapuna seat as a candidate for the ULF. I voted for the PNM. We remain friends. I was never a fast friend of Basdeo Panday but nothing stopped me from attending ULF meetings at Mid-Center Mall and other places. In August of last year, Nicole Dyer-Griffith was contesting the leadership of Congress of the People. I attended a meeting at the Tunapuna Community Centre to hear what she had to say.

My political philosophy is simple: It's better to get things straight from the horse's mouth rather than listen to the outpourings of the scribes and the philistines.

Although the media made much ado about my attending the UNC's Forum, no one seems to know or to care that I also attended PNM's political meeting at Diamond Vale Community Centre the previous Thursday night. I arrived before the meeting began, sat at the back of the room, and listened to the political offerings of my party leaders politely. I was merely a part of the furniture of the room. After the meeting Robert Le Hunte greeted me and we promised to get together. I said hello to Camille Robinson-Regis before I left the meeting. I have known her for a long time. We have always been respectful of each other.

Going to political meetings is nothing new for me. In June 2016 I traveled to London to observe the Brexit elections. To my great surprise the British electorate voted to leave the European Union (EU). I lost a British pound in the process, so sure I was that the British electorate would choose to remain within the EU (, June 27, 2016).

Last May, in the heat of the French elections, I went to the suburbs of Paris to hear what Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front, had to say (Express, May 7, 2017). It was at the high tide of conservative politics. I was in favor of seeing what Emmanuel Macron was doing to save the Western world from the encroaching fascism that was threatening the gains that were made in terms of racial tolerance and progressive legislation.

I thought the United States electorate would save us. I was wrong. Confident that Hillary Clinton, an alumna of my college, would win, we gathered to welcome the first female US president. Just like the Brexit vote, we were all confident of Hillary's victory until about midnight when the votes from Ohio and Pennsylvania began to come in. Never was disappointment so palpable; never was grief so visible as that night at the Keohane Sports Center at Wellesley College where we waited with bated breath to hear the results.

I have always been a political animal. l was part of a political cell in Athens, Ohio, that worked tirelessly to support the African National Congress (ANC) to rid South Africa of apartheid. In 1976 I accompanied Alfred Nzo, the secretary general of the ANC (Mandela's party) from Athens to Harvard University where he gave a speech about the need to free South Africa from racial oppression and to build a democracy there. Seventy people attended his speech.

In June 1976 several students were shot down in Soweto, South Africa, for protesting the introduction of Afrikaans into their schools as the medium of instruction. Some months later the leaders of the student movement came to Boston for support. We marched to Boston Common demanding an end to apartheid. I led the marchers in that demonstration. A photograph of my holding the banner of the demonstration aloft can still be seen in the Boston Globe or the Harvard Crimson.

That same year I was appointed as an assistant professor at Harvard. A few years later I addressed the Faculty of Arts and Science demanding that Harvard divest its investments in South Africa. My speech is still available for anyone to see. Eventually, the university divested its holdings from South Africa, but the struggle for justice in that land still continued.

In the 1980s, when Home Construction threw the sugar cane farmers and the tenants off the lands on which they were living and farming we (the National Association of Squatters, Farmers, Renters and Mortgagees) protested strenuously against such injustice. On April 18, 1985, I wrote a letter to George Chambers, Prime Minister, protesting the injustice of such an action. I led the organization's protest against Home Construction's actions. Two other Indian leaders and I were beaten and thrown into the Arouca police station and charged with disturbing the peace. Trincity Mall was built on those disputed lands. I have never stepped foot into that mall.

I recount this history to remind my detractors that I have been involved in international and domestic politics. No one tells me where and when to enter. I do not need permission to exercise my natural rights. That's how free human beings behave.

Professor Cudjoe's email address is He can be reached @ProfessorCudjoe.

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