St. John Tradewinds News

St. John Demonstration Planned for October 1

In reaction to the perceived in-action and lack of response from local and federal officials, activists from throughout the Virgin Islands are planning a “peaceful march demonstration” on October 1, which is raising mixed emotions.

Local activist and businesswoman Lorelei Monsanto has announced that she was helping to coordinate the organization of the planned October 1 event in Cruz Bay in conjunction with St. Croix radio personality Mario Moorhead and has secured the required permit for the use of the Winston Wells Ball Field.

“This is going to be a peaceful demonstration and march to bring attention to the fact that our government officials haven’t done what they are supposed to do,” Monsanto said at a meeting of the One by One group Thursday, September 15.

Moorhead is one of the main organizers of the territory-wide “peaceful march demonstration” planned for October 1 on St. John, according to Wayne “Facts Man” Adams, a public relations spokesperson for the planned demonstration.

Moorhead declined to comment on the planned event to St. John Tradewinds, saying he was “a very busy man.”

October 1 is significant because it is Contract Day, when black laborers signed contracts with plantation owners, and is also the anniversary of the historic “Fireburn” on St. Croix, a labor uprising that resulted in much of Frederiksted and many plantations around St. Croix being burned in 1878.

Peaceful Intentions
When asked whether march organizers are planning any acts of violence due to the significant historical connection with the 1878 St. Croix uprising, Adams insisted the march would be peaceful and said the date was chosen for its roots in Contract Day.

The intention of the peaceful march demonstration is two-fold, with goals of showing solidarity with the victims of the alleged crime on St. John and also to “pressure the authorities to solve the race hate crimes that are happening on St. John,” said Adams. “We have no intention of violence,we are doing this, one, for solidarity and, two, to stamp out race hate crimes,” said Adams.

Monsanto also insisted the march demonstration would be peaceful.

“This will not be a Fireburn, this will not be a murder march, we are a civilized people and are better than that,” said Monsanto at the meeting.

The time of the march demonstration is still being worked out, according to Monsanto, but the V.I. Department of Housing, Parks and Recreation permit for a “peaceful” demonstration on October 1 authorizes use of the Winston Wells Ball Park from 8:30 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

The government is failing the people of St. John, according to Monsanto. “Our government is failing us; we have to demand some answers,” said the local activist, adding that the demonstration was prompted by the reported rape of a woman on the island’s East End.

U.S.V.I. and B.V.I. Participants
Large delegations from St. Croix, St. Thomas and Tortola will gather with St. John participants at the Winston Wells Ball Field around noon on Saturday, October 1, according to organizers.

“There will be a large delegation of people coming from St. Croix by boat and people from St. Thomas,” said Adams.

“Even though we are separated by water, we are still one family,” said Monsanto. “We will parlay our resources because our government has not stepped over on this island to address our problems.”

Monsanto said she has planned to have representatives from various governmental agencies at the ball field during the demonstration and a voter registration drive.

“We will have discussions, it will not be a screaming match,” said Monsanto, adding that although vendors will not be allowed, there will be food and beverages available.

“We will have pamphlets to hand out and tables set up in reference to race relations,” she continued. “We’ll have the Health Department, a voters registration drive, Family Resource officials, the Department of Labor and we are trying to get the Department of Education over as well.”

Golden Opportunity
The march demonstration is not a negative event, but a “golden opportunity,” Monsanto added. “This is our opportunity to have St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John come together – we will be one Virgin Islands as we are all Virgin Islanders,” said Monsanto.

Others residents agree that the planned demonstration could be a unique opportunity to solve problems on St. John. “People from St. John must come up with a plan of how we are going to solve our problems,” said John’s Folly Learning Institute president and founder Alvis Christian, who also spoke out in June after the alleged racial graffiti incidents. “Anyone can come to help us but we have to have a plan in terms of how we are going to solve our problems here on St. John.” “You can have the most peaceful march in the world, but it shouldn’t stop there,” said Christian.

Island Problems To Be Addressed
The peaceful march is only one part of what should take place on October 1, according to the St. Johnian. “We should speak about the problems that we face here on St. John, looking for solutions,” said Christian, adding that community leaders, pastors, civic organizations and business people must come together as a community. “Racism is part of many of the issues that exist here, but the issues are bigger – they include issues of escalating taxes, the cost of land, education, roads, just to name a few,” said the St. Johnian. “We welcome anyone who is in solidarity with us to help us deal with the concerns that we have here on St. John; once they come, they should know exactly what the people on St. John want to achieve, which is finding solutions to our problems,” said Christian.

Intentions Questioned
Some officials view the demonstration as a potentially positive opportunity as long as it remains peaceful and non-violent. “My concern is that although the stated intent is to show solidarity for the native people of St. John, there could be one or two or three or more people in Mario’s group who would have an intent to commemorate the Fireburn in a much more graphic and realistic method than he has been calling for on his radio program,” said Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger, who said he asked Crucians three weeks ago on AM 670 to not come to St. John if they had any intention of violence. “I said St. John is Love City and we continue to invest the effort necessary to keep it the wonderful multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-racial community that it is,” said Sen. Barshinger. There is a “mixed message” circulating about the march, according to Sen. Barshinger. “On the radio, people are talking about coming in solidarity, but there is an undercurrent that it may be a reenactment of the 1878 Fireburn,” he said. “The question is: why are they coming?” said Barshinger. “My only concern is what is in their hearts; are they coming to affirm the right to be free from intimidation in one’s own home – if so, I applaud them and welcome them.” “But if they are coming with the intention of violence, either toward persons or property, then they should not come,” he added.

Safety To Be Maintained
The authorities are fully aware of the potential negative ramifications of the October 1 march and are ready to maintain the safety of Love City, according to the Senator at Large, who said he stands with the V.I. Governor’s representative, St. John Administrator Julien Harley and the police department, which will determine whether the planned demonstration poses any dangers to the community. St. John Administrator Harley said he believes the march will be positive if people come together peacefully, but is still awaiting an exact agenda for the planned demonstration. “I would like it to be a peaceful march, and based on the agenda I have seen from Ms. Monsanto, the issues I’ve seen are the core issues of St. John,” said Harley. “If those issues are discussed in a respectful manner, then hopefully we will get a positive resolution.” “The Virgin Islands are one, and when St. Croix or St. Thomas is cut, St. John also bleeds and vice versa, if St. John is cut, St. Thomas and St. Croix are going to bleed.”

No representatives from the V.I. Police Department returned calls from St. John Tradewinds regarding the October 1 demonstration.