In October, we expressed our chagrin after the government allowed Heroes and Foreparents Day to pass without an official in-person celebration.
Last week, government did it again.
On Nov. 28, the second 1949 Great March and Restoration Day passed with no official fanfare besides a brief speech from the premier and the release of a video. These activities were well and good, but the absence of an in-person celebration spoke volumes — especially following the similar letdown in October.
True, the holiday fell amid an impressive slate of activities held for Culture and Tourism Month, including a food fair and Fungi Fest on Nov. 25 and the Anegada Lobster Festival over the same weekend. But that is no excuse.
The silence on Nov. 28 was a stark contrast from last year, when even amid the Covid-19 pandemic the Virgin Islands Communal Association and other organisers managed to host a meaningful re-enactment of the 1949 Great March along with speeches from residents who attended the demonstration more than 70 years ago.
That celebration was precisely the sort of event that should be held annually on the holiday. The government should have piggy-backed on it this year by launching similar activities designed to help set the observance’s DNA for generations to come.
The importance of properly commemorating the occasion cannot be overstated. On Nov. 24, 1949, Theodolph Faulkner, Isaac Fonseca and Carlton de Castro led about 1,500 people through the streets of Road Town to the office of the commissioner who represented the Crown at the time. There, they presented a list of demands, including “a measure of political freedom for ourselves and the generations of the future.”
They succeeded. After their protest, the existing system of government — through which the VI had been governed directly as part of the Leeward Islands — was replaced. Elections were held in 1950, and the legislature was restored for the first time in 48 years under a new constitution.
Thus were the seeds planted for the system of ministerial government the territory knows today.
In 2020, the previous government — which was made up mostly of members of the current one — took a big step in the right direction by agreeing to wide-ranging public holiday reforms: creating Nov. 28’s observance; cancelling the former Commonwealth Day holiday; replacing St. Ursula’s Day with Heroes and Foreparents Day; and rebranding Territory Day as Virgin Islands Day, among others.
This year, it is unfortunate that leaders missed key opportunities to lay the groundwork for the new holidays. Organising robust celebrations would have sent a powerful message that the VI is proud of its heritage, history and forbears. Falling short in this regard sends a powerful message of a very different sort.
We fervently hope next year will be different.