The Haitian Revolution was and is significant. How can we apply it to today’s resistance?
As we approach the one year anniversary of the inauguration of arguably the most punitive and draconian administrations in the history of American presidential politics, it is crucial that black people in the United States and across the diaspora keep our eye firmly on the light that will guide us out of this dark period.
Wear Your Voice (WYV), in partnership with artist and DJ Sabine Blaizin, a.k.a. Oyasound, are committed to doing just that, healing our community of readers on the light by drawing from the ancestral wisdom of the past that can be gleaned from The Haitian Revolution.
In fact, within the broad history of black freedom struggles around the world, the significance of the legacy of the Haitian Revolution — a 13-year struggle against French colonizers that resulted in the birth of the first and only black republic in the Americas — cannot be overstated. And the fact that it was lead and won by enslaved black people is all the more inspiring, for it became the model for enslaved black populations everywhere eager to agitate for their liberation.
“The Haitian Revolution was the catalyst for all revolutions in the [black] diaspora,” Oyasound reflects, before noting, disappointingly, that this mass black revolt, the only one to know success (however short-lived), is little celebrated outside of Haiti.
WYV and Oyasound are determined to help change that, joining forces to host “Lakay Se LaKay: The Revolution: Transformative Healing Through Haitian Tradition,” which will be held at the Starr Bar in Brooklyn, New York, on January 20th, 2018. As the name suggests, LaKay Se LaKay is both a celebration of the fact of the revolution itself and the spiritual traditions central to Haitian culture, as well as an opportunity to dig into our past for insights that may aid and guide us in our current resistance movements.
We caught up with Oyasound to discuss the importance of the Haitian Revolution in the Trump Era, a period in which Haitians, and black communities globally, find themselves, once again, under assault.
WYV: Okay, let’s start with something occurring in our current politics. The Trump Administration has stated its intention to deport 50,000 Haitians living and working in the U.S., many of whom, because of the earthquake, have nothing to return back home to. This news doesn’t seem to be inciting much resistance. Why do you think that is?
Oyasound: They don’t see it as a real threat. That’s one thing. [And by the time they do, it may be too late.] There’s a lot of media coverage behind it, and there have been groups who have protested. But, there’s definitely a lack in comparison to April 1990. We took to the streets. We didn’t blink an eye. There was more of connection and pride amongst Haitians. [But now,] a lot of immigrant communities have been pushed out because of gentrification, joblessness, lack of opportunity. Unfortunately, even though we’re part of the African diaspora, we’re not as together.
There was a moment that we were. In the 90s and early 2000s, there were more movements amongst the Caribbean diaspora. [But, I do think that we can get that back and that there’s a] strong opportunity to leverage the Black Lives Matter movement. I don’t know how much Haitians have been at the center of it.
WYV: Speaking of movements, how did the Haitians win the revolution?
Oyasound: [They created a pact], amongst themselves and various tribes. It was a clear mission. No Frenchman or European should be left behind. We’re at war. [They also used] spirituality and the power of magic.
WYV: That’s good that you mention spirituality because our next question deals with that. How significant a role did spirituality play in the strategy of the revolution?
Oyasound: That’s a really good question. It was the center point. Spirituality, our connection to the heavens and the earth, had to be at the center because Haitians made a pact that it was liberty or death. There were no negotiations. [That meant our ancestors had to reconcile themselves to the possibility of death.] Haitians weren’t afraid of death, but see it as a transformation. [That’s what spirituality provided for us.] [Spirituality also taught them to see] the larger purpose [of the revolution] for their children and their people.
WYV: Here at Wear Your Voice, we’re committed to uplifting the voices of Black femmes and queers. Could you explain to our readers what the role of women was in the Haitian struggle? Surely they held positions of leadership.
Oyasound: If it wasn’t for women, the revolution would’ve never happened. They supported and nurtured [the rebels and their families]. They were healers. There’s the mother of [Dutty] Bookman, an Amazon warrior who taught him sword fighting. [And there are plenty of other examples, too. Unfortunately, I can’t go into all the details right now, but I would encourage your readers to research women like Dedee Bazile, Senete Belair, and Cecile Fatiman, all of whom were key figures in Haiti’s rebellion against French colonialism.]
WYV: What are some things that we can use from the Haitian Revolution to implement in today’s struggles?
Oyasound: The [main] thing that I’ve taken away from it is for [black people] to go back to the source, reconnecting with spirituality, elements of nature, and not being afraid of our identity. [For example,] some people are still afraid of voodoo, even though voodoo was at the center of the struggle. [Also], learning how we can support and heal each other in this time of Trump, with more lies about Haitians being spread.
[Another lesson is togetherness], being part of an organization that does real grassroots work. The revolution was won when we all came together, [when we came] out of our siloes. [That’s what we have to do] and it begins knowing who we are, so we can start to rely on one another and take collective responsibility and [move toward] cooperative economics. [Haiti’s revolution] can teach us how to find our tribe, like-minded, social justice folks who are focused, and can help us maintain a stable mind as we do this work. And how to work with youth because they’re the next generation.
WYV: Why was song and dance important to the revolution?
Oyasound: You gotta conjure up the energy. Right? Drum and dance is a part of that. [It] helps you to reconnect to who you are viscerally. Songs and dance kept our ancestors going because they had to keep their spirits alive and keep the revolution going.
WYV: Finally, what do you hope folks take away from Lakay Se Lakay?
Oyasound: I always use this word, remember. Not the word spelled remember, but re-member. [I hope people will] re-member the role of the revolution and how it can be applied today – through the arts, through drum and dance, through socio-political awareness, [and more.] Hopefully, this event will be a call to action, [to glance back at this key moment of our past] for what it took for our ancestors to lead and ultimately [win their struggle].
[Lastly,] to draw inspiration in [the fight against] Trump. Trump is our modern day Napoleon. [And, like we did with Napoleon, we have to figure out a way to oust Trump.] You may not have [or leave with] all the answers. [Attending this event won’t provide that.] But, at least through education and awareness, promoted through art, we’ll know what our rights are and what organizations to seek out. [And be able to heal, which I cannot emphasize enough.] We have a lot of healing to do amongst one another.
WYV’s REVOLUTION campaign is a year-long campaign with a mission to raise awareness about causes that affect marginalized communities of color.
Sold exclusively at WYV’s Marketplace, the WYV shop is a way to economically support communities, healers and creatives of color seeking opportunities to showcase their talents. This month, we are raising awareness about Haitian deportation. *10% of all proceeds for WYV’s “The Revolution” tees will go toward supporting Haiti Cultural Exchange.*