- Professor of Sociology and Caribbean Studies at Brandeis University
- Served as an ambassador for the Marxist dictatorship of Grenada
- Received an award from the Boston chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America
- “Socialism without democracy cannot survive, but ultimately, neither can democracy without socialism” -- Dessima Williams
Born on the island of Grenada in 1947, Dessima Williams completed her primary and secondary education in her home country before traveling to the U.S., where she eventually earned a B.A. in International Relations from the University of Minnesota, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in that same field from American University.
Williams supported the Marxist-Leninist New Jewel Movement which in 1979 took power in Grenada and sought to strengthen that country’s ties to Communist Cuba and the Soviet Union. From 1979-83 she served as Grenada’s ambassador to both the Organization of American States and the United Nations Educational, Scientific & Cultural Organization. Working alongside Grenadan Prime Minister Maurice Bishop, an ally of Fidel Castro, Williams was also Grenada’s representative to the U.S. Congress, the media, the UN, the World Bank, and the Inter-American Commission of Women.
Williams’ involvement with the ruling party of Grenada ceased in 1983 when Deputy Prime Minister Bernard Coard murdered half of his fellow cabinet members in an effort to force regime change on the embattled island nation, prompting U.S. forces to sweep into the country to restore order. At this point, Williams left Grenada to finish her graduate studies in the United States.
When INS agents in Washington arrested Williams in October 1984 — on the first anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Grenada — Jesse Jackson‘s wife, Jacqueline Jackson, came to Williams’s aid and offered to take her into personal custody. Soon thereafter, Williams returned to Grenada and became involved with the Maurice Bishop Patriotic Movement faction.
In November 1989 Williams spoke at a U.S. Peace Council national conference titled “End The Cold War Fund Human Needs” Other speakers included Leslie Cagan, John Conyers , Manning Marable, and Bernie Sanders.
Following a 1991 military coup in Haiti, which saw the temporary ousting of dictator Jean-Bertrand Aristide, Williams co-chaired the New England Observers’ Delegation to Haiti, where she called for the return of civilian rule. Williams also served as a member of an international tribunal on human-rights violations in Haiti, led by the former Jamaican Prime Minister, the socialist Michael Manley.
Williams taught Political Science at Williams College in Massachusetts before joining the faculty of Brandeis University in 1992, where she became a professor of Sociology and Caribbean Studies.
In 1995 Williams was a delegate to the World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen. She also co-chaired Massachusetts Action for Women, which was launched to advocate on behalf of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action of the Fourth World Conference on Women.
In June 2001, Williams, who has called for a “new paradigm of contemporary living,” received the Boston Democratic Socialists of America‘s Debs-Thomas-Bernstein Award, named in memory of high-profile socialists Eugene V. Debs, Norman Thomas, and Julius Bernstein. “Socialism without democracy cannot survive,” said Williams at the award ceremony, “but ultimately, neither can democracy without socialism. On another occasion, the DSA presented Williams with its Michael Harrington Lifetime Achievement Award.
In 2002 Williams was an Advisory Board member of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, a Communist Party USA splinter group.
In the early 2000s, Williams opposed America’s War on Terror for several reasons, most notably because “war hurts people.” On March 8, 2003, she joined more than 100 peace activists as they stood in front of Senator John Kerry’s office to protest the impending U.S. invasion of Iraq. The rally was organized jointly by Citizens for Participation in Political Action, the Greater Boston Chapter of the National Organization for Women, United for Justice with Peace (a Boston-based coalition), and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
From 2009-13, Williams was Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Grenada to the United Nations. For three of those years, she also served concurrently as Chair of the Alliance of Small Island Developing States (CASIDS) — a position she used as a platform from which to advocate for combating “climate change.” “It is a cruel irony that without adequate global commitments, the countries contributing least to global warming will be the ones most affected by its consequences,” said Williams. “… For the smallest and most vulnerable among us, climate change is already here, causing damage…. Given the decades-long time lags between accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and changes in average temperatures, a mere temperature goal is insufficient.”
In 2016 Williams was appointed as Special Adviser for Implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals at the United Nations.
Highly critical of what she calls the “assumed dominance and assumed superiority of the analysis and experiences of the West,” Williams has long displayed an anti-Western mindset.
In addition to her aforementioned jobs and activities, Williams has also served variously as a Board member and Vice President of Oxfam America; a Board of Directors member of the Center for International Policy, an organization founded in 1975 by former diplomats and anti-Vietnam War activists to promote “common-sense foreign policy solutions [to] challenge and replace the American exceptionalist paradigm”; a founder of the Grenada Education and Development Program; a co-founder of HAITI Women; and a Board of Advisors member of Grassroots International.
Further Reading: “Dessima Williams” (KeyWiki.org, Groundation Grenada Facebook page; UN.org); “Dessima Williams — Just One of Many Socialists Negotiating Away Our Future at Copenhagen” (TrevorLoudon.tv, 12-15-2009); “G8-Set Targets Not Enough, Say Small Island Nations” (France24.com, 11-7-2009, re: Williams’ comments on global warming).