Post 163. (Written to print on Thursday 2 October 2014)
Like many over the last years, I have read about the women of the Highway Re-route movement, been appalled by Roodal Moonilal’s dismissal of them as ‘bags of aloo’, and thought Persad-Bissessar should explain to the population why she first marched with these women when out of power, then ignored them once in.
I saw press photos of their sit-ins outside the PM’s office, their camp being illegally demolished by Jack Warner and their brave blocking of tractors. Knowing that, amidst looking after sick family, managing traffic stress and earning a living, no citizen anywhere petitions and protests time after time without valid reason, I wanted to learn more about why this movement had not given up.
By the time of Wayne Kublalsingh’s first hunger strike, I came to understand that there were billion dollar non-tendered contracts at stake, unnecessary destruction of parts of the Oropouche Lagoon, massive, avoidable quarrying of the Northern Range, and demolition of long-established religious and familial communities.
In the two years since that strike and now, I visited affected homes and saw for myself the number of times the women in this movement continued to peacefully petition and protest, just asking for the reports that were never done and the alternatives that were never considered. Or, maybe they were, we don’t know because the government has never publicly detailed how.
Fifteen days into this second hunger strike, I’m left feeling overwhelmed at how much it takes for citizens to be heard. Does it really take this much time and sacrifice to successfully secure accountable government? People are critical of Kublalsingh’s choice of strategy, but the alternative is lifelong commitment to disallowing corruption or lack of transparency in whatever form. None of us may choose to die, but how many of us make this other choice instead?
It’s the same challenges, coming again already in Tacarigua and ahead in Invader’s Bay. At some point we have to say we won’t give up in exchange for a smelter, port, rapid rail, entertainment complex, stadium or highway. We want development, but development that is more than concretization. Development includes a right to information, truth and the best plan possible for future generations, not just the partial truths and wasteful plans that governments choose. After all, who bears the costs? We do.
The women of the Highway Re-route Movement have called on other women to gather in a show of support for them, today at 12.15pm, outside of the PM’s office. I’ll be there because there is a truth to their petitions and protests that echoes all over the country, regardless of the ruling party, almost regardless of which megaproject is some politicians’ dream. Transparency, accountability and truth are principles that, above all, need our clear-eyed people power. Every state masterplan should show us necessary studies and justify skipped tendering processes so that we cannot be repetitively fooled and fleeced.
Citizens may debate strategy, may not even like each other, and may disagree, but we are our only source of solidarity. Politicians will say yes to our face and then lock us out on the street. They will not account for billions spent unless we insist that is it ours, not their money. They will hire PR guys to convince us we are each other’s enemy. But, plain talk, no communities spend eight years of their lives petitioning and protesting unless truth about injustice is at the heart of their cause.
Join the HRM women today at 12.15. I’ll bring Zi. These are the lessons about government, development and citizenship she is going to have to learn from early.