Permit me patriotic ladies and gentlemen, to remove my self-imposed shackles and join this interesting debate that has at its heart the question how should George Oldum best be remembered. Indeed, whether he should be remembered at all. Should we concentrate our speeches, whether or not flattering, on the pre-politics Odlum or on Odlum the activist-politicial who defied all odds in a country too small in its thinking and too enslaved by its high illiteracy to appreciate a prophet in his own land?
Trust Rick Wayne the provocate ur par excellence to throw a monkey wrench into the engine of politeness that makes it so easy to live with the elephant in the room, whether or not white, however its tonnage. Our people may know little about political correctness but they wrote the book when it comes to pretending a duck is a mule. It came as no surprise to me when Rick said during a recent episode of his show TALK what most of us who knew Brother George well but for our own personal reasons had never addressed publicly. Rick’s latest comments were inspired by a decision of friends and relatives of the deceased to invite the well known Saint Lucian writer and poet McDonald Dixon, on the anniversary of his death, to speak about “the Man and his Art.” Why is it that no one ever speaks of Odlum the politician? You could tell there was much going on in Rick Wayne’s head as he asked his question, among them the demonstrated hypocrisy.
He argued unnecessarily that Odlum had been a game changer in the field of Saint Lucian politics, regardless of what else he had dabbled with at some time in his life. On the subject of George Odlum, Rick was challenged by two callers: Peter Josie and Calixte George both close comrades of the deceased. They insisted that Rick was downplaying the fact that Odlum was “a man of literature,” and there was nothing wrong with McDonald choice of subject—as if Rick had denied that or suggested George was not “multi-talented.” In his latest article STAR columnist Josie returned to his sentiments expressed on TALK, strongly supported by Calixte George. Josie’s article was curiously entitled: “Literature was George’s Politics!”
I think I know what Josie was attempting to say but he did not express it correctly. Like Rick, I too was not drawn to Odlum’s politics because of his involvement with the Arts or Literature. I saw Odlum as a political maverick. I did not see “Literature as his Politics.” I saw his love; loyalty and commitment to ordinary people as the singular force that drove his political ambition. He was a mobilizer of people. Many young people were attracted to his politics of economic empowerment, social reformation and political transformation.
In a much-misunderstood speech on the Castries market steps Odlum told us what motivated his politics. He said: “I could have been oversees making money and living a bourgeois lifestyle but I would be selling my country short!” When he bellowed: “St. Lucia needs me more than I need St. Lucia,” his detractors were quick to spin his statement as a suggestion of his arrogance. He had prefaced his statement with: “The people have been fooled too many times by the politicians . . .” But his detractors had always painted Brother George as “a man of violence.” He handed them the sword that they used to behead his best intentions. His quest for a St. Lucia where no one was left behind, where every man received his share of the economic cake did not find favor with those who held themselves a cut above the rest. Meanwhile, politicians from both political parties continued to treat the people with disdain, if not outright contempt.
It is no secret, that Odlum never endorsed Kenny Anthony’s decision to refer to their party as “New Labour.” It seemed to him like the Catholic Church, with its centuries-old history, declaring itself “new.” According to Odlum the decision to rename the nation’s oldest political organization effectively alienated the people who had given it birth. When I met Odlum in Atlanta, Georgia shortly after one of his fire and brimstone speeches in parliament, he told me how worried he was about the direction Kenny Anthony had chosen for St. Lucia. He said: “Nick, these fellows are all in it for themselves.” He lamented the party’s deviation from its core principles.
So, Rick is absolutely right: there are some persons in our society who would prefer to remember George as he allegedly lived before he entered politics. Declaring him a “dead Viking,” as silly as that is on several counts, is nevertheless likely to seriously rock any boats. I am not surprised that Josie allows himself to be counted among such hypocrites. By ignoring every opportunity to speak of the George Odlum whose contributions to parliamentary debate are to be found in Hansard and in countless newspaper columns, they keep undiscussed their own effeteness or their betrayals of the causes they had hoped to fight at Odlum’s side. Peter Josie had actually openly declared Brother George “Political Ass Number One!” His own political history is umbilically tied to George’s. Not for nothing is Peter considered, to this day, a political Judas. Why precisely? I’ll bet Josie would prefer not to go there. So, let’s talk incessantly about George every year or so. But please, not about George the one of a kind politician!
But we must address the topic. Until we do we will not be talking about the George I knew and admired. Yes, we named a stadium after him in the south. But that stadium represents cheap politics more than it does what Odlum stood for. Cynic that I am, I’m inclined to believe the structure was largely ignored these last five years for political reasons. Nuff said.
Odlum deserves to have his bust in Constitution Park, side by side with Sir John’s. No one contributed more to local politics than these two. Our new breed of politicians are truly and obviously “in it for themselves.” Let us celebrate the Odlum the majority in this country knew, loved—or hated. Let us celebrate the Odlum we knew, with and without his pimples. To do otherwise is to perpetuate what had moved him to say publicly that “the people have been fooled too many times . . . the next batch of politicians to fool the people should be hanged in Columbus Square.”
Editor’s note: The author is a former STAR editor, now resident in the U.S.