Post 160.

At Pan on the D Avenue on Saturday night, there were people of all kinds and ages. There were few bars selling alcohol, none lining the pavements. I appreciated that, while there was drinking, it was not to excess or defining of the space, making it more inclusive. There was chipping and sweetness without the wining and adult sexuality associated with Carnival and fetes, so I felt more comfortable being there with my three year old daughter who I want to protect from the world of hyper-sexuality for as long as I can.

The pan sides from across the nation were filled with children lifting all our spirits. It was like a pan yard stretched for miles, bringing together very different friends and strangers, in an atmosphere of melodic harmonies, safety and community. Too few activities for families are planned for such beautiful nights, freed from cars, traffic, and overwhelming amplified sound which is too often too loud for still developing ear drums.

The sense of open space alone turned the frenetic urban energy we are so used to into a chance to exhale. Growing up in a musical household, Ziya was clapping, dancing, pointing to the players, and listening deeply while we explained the songs. How wonderful to see pan get such public visibility on just a random day in August, the way a national instrument should.

The protesters in front of Parliament also deserve special mention. On Monday, Zi walked the pavement with them. We drive home together every evening and she usually falls asleep, so I haven’t been able to take her to support the women and men whose presence outside of the walls of power is something she should see for herself. There were concerned citizens of all creeds, brought together by a critique of what political parties will do if people don’t stop them by coming together.

We spent little more than an hour, but she got a chance to ask about the placards, what it means to protest, and why people thought Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the government were being naughty. She asked why the police wouldn’t let protestors go into the large building and later told her dad that it was because the government was afraid. I explained that protest is when people tell them the rules they are making are unfair, and she kept asking me, what will the government do? I introduced her Nikki Johnson and Merle Hodge, knowing the best place to learn about Caribbean feminists was to see that they take to the streets too.

Now that she’s almost four, I want to take her everywhere, to enable her to begin to understand that everything from music to protest breathes life into belonging to a place, because both are founded on citizens coming together, in solidarity and in ways that build connection and trust.

Along with her Carib-descended godmother, I want to take her to the sites where sovereign nations of indigenous people once forged community and committed to resistance to forces of domination, for this is the legacy left for a half-Indian, half-African smallie who should understand that history, as remembered through pan, protests and place names, tell more than the victors’ story.

There is the bitter. Heartbreak at garbage in our clear rivers. Criminals targeting nearby neighbourhoods. Political elites to whom we respond with peace rather than violence. May Zi also learn to be protective of the sweet, those days and nights of coming together in families, on pavements and streets, with others of all creeds, and feeling both the angers and joys of loving freedom.

 

 

Post 159.  (Guardian newspaper version)

Some weeks, there is the luxury of reflecting on marriage, observing how many women would make different decisions at forty than at twenty five years old, and wondering if you are ever doing it all right.

Other weeks, there is simply too much at stake in the nation, too much potential injustice to deliberate with other citizens, and too much need to speak as a voter to political decision-makers to write about motherhood or not making ends meet or that moment your three year old, brown skin empress says dark skin is less beautiful.

Some days you spend whole conversations on love and sex. Other days you connect ethically and emotionally with other women over delays in passing procurement legislation, the state failure and corruption that has allowed illegal quarrying, and the social and economic costs of badly planned urban development.

This is one of those days.

When mothers find themselves thinking about representation and democracy. When we admire women not for how they look or how many passes gained by their children, but because they’ve stood on the pavement under rain, sun and stars to defend our needs, values and hopes, and to protect the rules and institutions that stand between us and domination. When being forty means claiming media space for a generation that increasingly values trustworthiness, transparent talk and accountable rather than wasteful delivery over blind loyalty to arrogant leadership. When, instead of future promotion, females’ hard-earned university degrees must be put to principled public analysis of the two-party political culture entrenched by Eric Williams, and by political parties’ exploitation of race to win and hold power. When your mind is on mothering a nation with words, presence, elders and civic movement solidarity.

This is one of those weeks.

When everyone should have a perspective on the Partnership’s run-off election proposal. When every parent, responsible for another generation, should be asking if it advances representation that is accountable, transparent and inclusive. When in the midst of collecting Zi from her grandmother or preparing for teaching, I find myself preoccupied and unable to see how it does.

When our political parties are given sweeping popular support, they become more rather than less authoritarian. What has kept the PNM and the UNC in check is only ever the threat of additional parties splitting their vote cache, forcing them to appeal to a wider cross-section of voters, rather than forcing voters to misplace or withdraw their hopes. What we need is constitutional reform that encourages greater representation, not by the few, but by a wider array of those chosen from among us.

In a run-off election, I will not vote for a PNM led by Keith Rowley. His call for Dookeran’s resignation, his backing of pension reforms calculated with mathematics completely unavailable to ordinary workers anywhere in the country, his commitment to rapid rail and other mega projects without necessary studies available for citizens to read, and the party’s position against coalition politics do not represent me. Neither will I vote for the UNC. This latest constitutional reform fiasco is another sign of how it will use its House majority to impose its rule.

We do not need reforms that give more power to political parties, given what the PNM and UNC show they will do with parliamentary majorities. They leave mothers, grandmothers, aunties and daughters to defend democracy on the streets, turn to courts to speak for those excluded, and tirelessly call for checks against governments’ plans and deals.

When women resist because representation remains our right and responsibility, some days our diaries will say nothing about husbands or babies.

Post 159.

Representation is at the heart of democracy. It is reciprocity for the faith that people put into those chosen from among us to defend our needs, values and hopes, to speak out for the most excluded, and to protect the rules and institutions that stand between us and domination. It is about responsibility, but is also founded on true commitment to popular power and rights.

We desperately need to escape the two-party political culture entrenched by Eric Williams, and by political parties’ exploitation of race to win and hold power. Increasingly, instead of blind loyalty to an arrogant leader, we value trustworthiness, transparent talk and accountable rather than wasteful delivery. Our hopes are for more inclusion, whether that means the ability to afford a Sunday lunch with macaroni pie and baked chicken like so many other citizens, to secure welfare without having to trade your vote or to be able to rely on state agencies and officials to work effectively, with consideration and without a bribe.

Does the Partnership’s run-off election proposal advance representation that is accountable, transparent and inclusive? I can’t see how it does. The PNM was unapologetically corrupt through all its days of majority rule. The Partnership gained a vast national mandate and today the development of Invader’s Bay is shrouded in indefensible secrecy.

When our political parties are given sweeping popular support, they become more rather than less authoritarian. What has kept the PNM and the UNC in check is only ever the threat of additional parties splitting their vote cache, forcing them to appeal to a wider cross-section of voters, rather than forcing voters to misplace or withdraw their hopes. What we need is constitutional reform that encourages greater representation, not by the few, but by a wider array of those chosen from among us.

In a run-off election, do I vote for a PNM led by Keith Rowley? He thinks Dookeran should resign for expressing a different view from Cabinet colleagues, one that in this instance represented popular sentiment. He argued that calculating his own pension on his salary plus benefits, mathematics completely unavailable to ordinary workers anywhere in the country, was valid rather than elite hypocrisy. Without any necessary studies available for citizens to read, he’s ready to return to rapid rail and other mega projects, while the never-used Brian Lara Stadium in Toruba continues to cost us more than a billion dollars exactly for such reasons. The PNM rejects proposals for coalition politics as a dangerous dagger. It isn’t only about its politics of going it alone, the party’s position is based on cynical calculation that third party vote splitting will always work in its favour, and power is its goal. Great is the PNM, therefore the first-past-the-post system should prevail.

Do I vote for the UNC? This latest constitutional reform fiasco is another sign of how it will use its House majority to impose its rule. There was no popular call for a run-off election provision. No need to attach it to the two-term prime ministerial limit and set election date provisions. No need to rush passage. No need to stir such public distrust. Reforms that strengthen state watchdogs regarding corruption, procurement and campaign financing? Yes, push those through.

We do not need reforms that give more power to political parties, given what the PNM and UNC show they will do with parliamentary majorities. They leave us to defend democracy on the streets,  turn to courts to speak for those excluded, and tirelessly call for checks against our governments’ plans and deals. We resist precisely because representation remains our right and responsibility.

Post 158.

Last Thursday, I watched Hazel Brown encourage women in local government to fearlessly and strategically represent the rights and needs of women and girls. Nearly twenty years had passed since I attended almost exactly the same meeting, participating for the first time in Caribbean feminist efforts to make party politics less male dominated and male defined.

Caught in a two-decade time loop, I was humbled by the commitment it takes to advance equality, given that it is an achievement simply to not lose ground, to make incremental inroads, and to embolden mere handfuls of individuals at a time.

In 1995, at 21 years old, I was introduced to the idea of a Women’s Manifesto, called Ten Points for Power. Jacquie Burgess, Gemma Tang Nain, Rhoda Reddock, Thelma Henderson, Elizabeth Nicholas, Merle Hodge, Cathy Shepherd, Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and other women were there, aiming to convince political parties to add these commitments to women and girls to their own election manifestos, and to champion them on their platform.

Here still was Hazel, optimistic, steadfast and subversive. If she wasn’t giving up, how could I? Beyond thinking that change is possible, she was making it possible. Another meeting, another decade, whatever it takes. I saw such determination spark in the women around the room.

These councillors from around the country had one idea they all agreed on, that it is a man’s world. Just getting into power doesn’t mean that its inequalities have been transformed, nor does it mean that women are any less fearful of seeming to step beyond party line, or appear too feminist or, for that matter, too confident.

Women in local government want help being brave about representing everyone better, but also want to be able to make a difference for women. They want assistance strategizing for collaboration across political party lines, across regional corporation boundaries, and across state agencies. They want funds, training, networks and support that their own parties do not provide, and it seemed that only the women’s movement has been, above all, on their side.

Hazel wanted them to expertly bring women’s experiences of that ‘man’s world’ to the Regional Corporation table, to recognize that women’s challenges were shared across party and could not be solved through division, and to penetrate local government so that individual women wouldn’t have to take on an ungendered agenda, one aimed at less than ending violence and promoting democracy through community connection and service delivery. All the women councillors, these natural rebels, had to do was make an attempt they had not done before.

Since 1995, women’s organizations have advocated for more women on state and corporate boards. When male prime ministers said they couldn’t find suitable women, the women’s movement compiled a list. When four corporations had no women councillors, the 50/50 campaign resulted in at least one in every corporation, and then went after Mayor and Deputy Mayor positions. The Put a Woman in the House campaign acknowledged that women should be as present in the House of Parliament as they are in housework, rather than under-represented in one and crowded in the other.

‘What women’s movement?’, some cynically ask me. For twenty years, I’ve watched women’s efforts, far from enough or perfect, but making invaluable steps, however small. If it seems like there is no mass movement or that feminism has failed to secure sweeping change, recognize that inequality is so overwhelming, institutionalized and endlessly implicated that part of the struggle is always against the complete negation of any presence and gains. As another twenty-year loop appears about to repeat, I’ve learned that commitment means decades of refusing defeat.

 

 

 

Post 157.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children. Children in Gaza, in South Sudan, in Brazil, and in Trinidad and Tobago. Children being killed by bombs. Children facing mass starvation. Children living in a state that can find money for football while they barely survive on the street. Children being abused in shelters and in their own homes.

In one way or another, all us adults are collectively responsible for all children. Our responsibility isn’t about charity, though that has its contribution to make. Our responsibility is about ending violence of every kind, relentlessly pursuing disarmament on every front, infusing a commitment to child rights into every culture, and refusing to let children be unprotected against our own mercilessness, whether from cruelty or neglect, from corruption-caused poverty or avoidable war. Who will hold adults like us responsible, and empower us to do better, if not also us?

Here at home, another taskforce presented a vision for a way ahead for children, and we can almost predict being disappointed by its implementation, because of delays regarding personnel, resources, legislation and political will, even as well meaning public servants press on with commitment and passion. Malala Yousafzai came and, because she was a girl child, was silenced from presenting a crucial message to all adults in her midst, including and especially Muslim men, whose leaders somehow missed the entire point of her global struggle against patriarchal definition of girls’ rights. Another video circulated of a child being beaten, this time with a shovel, and we already know there are no social services that can provide true rescue.

If I’m like other parents, there’s that moment of unmatchable peace at those times when I’m falling asleep knowing that Ziya is safe and near to me. I think of her absolute trust in us when she is scared, her reliance on us to provide for her needs, and her unquestioning expectation that she is loved, and can feel at home and be herself. That should be the reality for every child, but also I lie awake at night just thankful that she’s been able to experience what seems like a privilege for precious few, feeling like getting it right for her is as much as I can do.

It was hard not to spend this week thinking about children, knowing that our global failure is not good enough. Marches can bring people together and show that an issue merits public concern, but marches won’t help children in Pakistan, Jamaica, Uganda or here. NGOs can take responsibility where the state and families fail, but we can’t leave often women-run, volunteer- dependent NGOs to fix our society. We can always blame deficient state services, but the problem remains the world that each of us adults allows to continue as is. All us adults are collectively responsible in one way or another for all children because every single one of them is vulnerable in a way each of us is not, because the civility of a society is marked by the quality of life of its most vulnerable, because their vulnerability is a result of our domination.

We can’t entirely prevent what is happening to children in India, China, the US or Europe, but almost a million adults don’t need an extra cent to transform the terms of childhood in Trinidad and Tobago. We adults need to grow up. Commitment by us all is necessary, and possible. Right now, it is heartbreakingly clear, from Gaza to South Sudan, Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago, children everywhere desperately need our far greater, non-negotiable commitment to care.

Post 156.

You can never go back, murmured my mother as we drove along Chaguanas main road. All three generations, her, Ziya and I, were on our way to family for Eid. As my mother had lived out of Trinidad for decades and almost never returned to Chaguanas, I thought we could look for the place of her childhood home, then my father’s which was opposite the Chaguanas Market, and even my mother’s primary school, the Chaguanas Government School.

We found none, my mother unable to remember where any were located and feeling like her past had been as demolished as the school, and her memories left as opened and bare as the field where her schoolchild self was formed, and as empty as the space next to the mosque where my father’s house once stood.

We also passed the Muslim cemetery, where both her father and my father’s mother are buried. I asked if we could stop to see their graves, but she didn’t know where to find those either. Those sites were most clearly marked by the memories of those who were there at those moments, many of whom had passed on or moved away. As we drove by, I suddenly remembered my own childhood experience of visiting my father’s mother’s grave with my dad. Perhaps, I was four. Mostly I remember wearing my grandmother’s orhni and the sadness in my dad’s eyes as we stood with a few others near her grave, and they prayed.

I reflected on my own understanding of memory too. As if its markers remained as lasting as concrete houses and established signs, but in fact those too changed like the once popular Jubilee Cinema, becoming rebuilt into something else with new memories for newer generations.

Whereas my mother used to know everyone along the main road, having greeted all her neighbours as she walked to school, time had made the familiar strange. I thought that Zi would have a chance to make her own memories of going to remembered places with her grandmother, but it seems that memory-making must also move on.

Locations and history, not just blood, connect family. Memories are the language of those connections, and like language are living and breathing, conveying both feeling and forgetting. You can never go back, and it’s a flash of recognition of your own present when you realize how easy it is for the future to lose grasp of the past.

At the Eid lunch, family members I didn’t even know appeared, many of whom shared my mother’s earlier life and could fill in the gaps left by decades of personal migration, as well as landscape demolition and reconstruction. As I sat writing this column, I wondered just where to start, who to ask and how to feel, knowing that while the past is gone, it is also reachable through different lives and their distinct memories. One cousin began to speak, without provocation, about remembering my mother’s father’s funeral with vivid detail. Lucky for us all, our lives exist in others’ memories too.

This is what the day was like, thinking about family, place and time, and the making of memories anew. I realized that its better to search for the past sooner, and, for my own history, to show Zi the sites of my own stories earlier, in the hope that she wants to know. It’s hard to remember this in the midst of life’s endless tumult and impatience with nostalgia, but you can’t go looking for memories fifty years later and expect them to have stayed where they once were, waiting for you.

Post 155.

If you are right in the middle of balancing recurrent expenses, savings, insurance policies and a mortgage, it can be hard to know whether to make decisions based on where you are now or where you will be in twenty years. I think about this a lot, wondering if it’s short-sighted to plan based only on what I can afford or unrealistic to budget on a future expected income.

This isn’t only about good financial advice. It involves making decisions about what kind of life I want and what my sacrifices are intended to achieve.

The house I dream of living in is beyond my current capacity, but won’t be in ten years. I could give up that dream for something more manageable and less perfect, and in ten years wish I had found a way to hold on long enough despite the nightly stress and the fears of not making ends meet.

Alternatively, I could walk away from the home and yard where I both got married to Stone and gave birth to Ziya, and start fresh, learning to let go, and living with less time spent thinking about money, enabling that sacrifice to earn me a better quality of life, marriage, motherhood and career in the decade ahead.

It’s not a question of house size or grandeur, it’s ultimately about what I hope to leave for Zi when I’m gone, and the effort I’m willing to invest into securing that gift for her, with my best wishes that it improves her own quality of life. But, sometimes, getting there feels far, overwhelming and exhausting.

A voice in my head also wonders if she’ll look back and say that I sacrificed my relationship with her in the present to leave more to her later, having spent too much time working as hard I can, and being distracted by financial demands in ways that she would not have chosen for me.

For us workers without a trust fund, leaving your children with at least a house that they can call theirs, and a little yard to grow fruit and food, is not just a work ethic, it’s a life ambition that we’ve inherited from each generation that came before, a plan held close and tended with care since enslaved and indentured workers started being able to put aside a little, make some into heavy gold jewelry, and add slowly to a hidden tin’s contents. Our parents did it by doing without, giving all to their children, and living through that hope and for that dream.

However, times have changed and that’s now not so easy. The cost of living seems to increase daily, and I’ll also admit to not wanting to give up the freedom I have to buy books when I want or eat dinners with my friends or, when Zi is older, travel with her as much as I can. It’s not possible to have it all or even get what you want when you want it. Sometimes, something has got to go.

Watching women fall to cancer around me, I also wonder if it’s better to find whatever resolution comes with the most leisure, the least pressure, the lowest costs and the shortest time to achieve. What if I plan on thirty years ahead and illness leaves Zi with neither house nor me?

Judging types will say that the worries of job and mortgage, then death, make for a wasted life, but they are stereotyping this moment of weighing responsibilities. Mostly, it’s another chance to realistically reflect on my potential and, insha’allah, be true to my priorities.

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