Post 161.

The hardest thing about loving someone is having to live with their decisions, particularly when they take paths that you would not advise or choose, leaving you disappointed, alienated and unwilling to tolerate more. I don’t mean people who hurt you or make excuses. I mean people who deserve your loyalty, but with whom you also lose patience or wish to be freed of or pointlessly hope you can change.

Do you leave or stay? Argue or give in? Force them to follow your direction, and lose their uniqueness, agency and independence even though you get your way? Do you focus on their failure to fulfill your needs or focus on their need for you to be there, accepting them for the honest-to-goodness souls they are, as much as they are imperfect and as much as it feels easier to walk away?

Relationships, whether with parents, children, siblings, friends or partners, make us all ask these questions, for those we love often drive us completely mad or lose our respect, make themselves burdens or unintentionally hurt our feelings, or stumble along, annoyingly, not being like us and not protecting us enough from their vulnerabilities, egos, and their long, uneven road.

In such moments, I wonder if and when to set boundaries, and what kind. Or, committed to care for another, how much do you sacrifice to share your capability and your power? What about your desires? What about the principles by which you declared you would live?

How much can love ask us to give?

Driving home after work, with Zi cocooned in the car, I wonder what each moment’s lesson is. How to honour our differences? How best to support the unyielding freedom fighters in our midst? How to be feminist and woman when there is no pure place for resistance?

I endlessly discover the need to learn more patience. Just when I think I know exactly the right analyses and goals, it turns out that if I waited a little longer, an insight and appreciation I needed to be a better person appears. Nothing teaches humility like realizing you were not actually being your best self despite righteous certainty, and someone was loving you anyway. You are gratefully relieved they let you walk your own path, without threatening repercussions or anger, enabling you to grow, so you could bluster about a little more gently.

I’m constantly realizing I must be more kind. Surely, patience and kindness go together, because one slows down your breath enough for you to notice the god in the other person, their breath connected like yours to their emotions, to their short time on the planet, to the aspirations and defeats that fill their spirit and their days. Just when I think I’ve figured out how to be responsible for my actions, I discover I can cause hurt, and in the darkness of regret, pray everyone knows we all make mistakes.

Kindness goes beyond clearly demarcated deeds. It is in seeing that none of us wants to fail or be abandoned, and every one of us wants to be able to count on those we love, when no one else knows our dreams or fears, or will care for our diminished sense of self. When disagreement, disconnection and resentment are options, kindness is in somehow being present with peace in your heart.

The hardest thing about loving someone is recognizing that frustration and compassion combine to challenge plans and expectations for how things should be. Today’s lesson is to learn to care less selfishly just as it is to learn to love more carefully.

 

 

 

Post 160.

As Santa Cruz develops, almost completely unregulated, I’ve seen its green bamboo beauty turned to dust. One misty morning, standing at my kitchen window, my eyes clouded as I saw the forest on the hill in front of me being torn down. The sound of trees cracking as they fall is surely identical to a heart breaking. Besides their whispering with the wind, that crashing cry is the only and last sound those giants make. My joints hurt as I heard them splinter.

I thought of the birds who spent many days and nights in those trees, and who were watching their habitat fall to its knees. Above the tractor, I couldn’t hear their songs or their alarmed calls to each other, but if I felt helpless in the face of such harm, surely so did they.

I have power though. I could help build the movement to regulate development so that we learn better co-existence with the ecosystems around us. I could pursue changed processes and rules, and increase public commitment to different possibilities. Some trees will fall, but many could be saved even while we erect our own barren forests of asphalt and concrete. It’s a matter of choosing to challenge an unnecessary injustice to other species who have just as much claim as we do, and to do so right to the very end, sacrificing whatever is necessary as an act true, deep care. It’s a matter of vision. Not only what I felt as I watched those trees die, not only what alternative I could imagine, but what I pictured as my own responsibility for our image of development.

In Mon Desir a few hours later, a kindly man whose home is facing the same fate as the trees, gave me a neem sapling from his garden. If the government has its way, that little sprout, now given soil in Santa Cruz, will become a living memory of a habitat soon completely erased. Those tiny leaves made me reflect on how many days and nights it took to build a house, wait to reap from a plum tree, bury a baby’s navel string, cultivate a garden, grow children in the backyard, and give meaning to a landscape through generations of love. What will be lost when there is nothing but a highway extension, and what is our role in making development responsible to the souls and spaces it will irrevocably change?

Just as abundant wildlife are facing oncoming tractors, so too are families in Mon Desir. They are connected. For example, when mountains are quarried to build a roadway for future tar sand mining, both ecosystems and communities will be razed, leaving me feeling I should be doing more even after a long, long day.

Those families in Mon Desir have a right to due process, to promises kept, to transparency and truth. That highway extension is taking down whole communities, too few of us hearing their calls of alarm, too few defending yet another site from being leveled by the same governance issues: gaps in public planning, institutional lethargy, too few necessary state protections, and too little mix of development, community and sustainability. As I left Mon Desir’s spirit of resistance, I wondered how to protect those lives nested in Santa Cruz’s trees before me.

A neem plant, from a Mon Desir backyard threatened with extinction, will survive in Santa Cruz while the tree-cover of Santa Cruz, similarly threatened, will slowly be clear cut and paved? There is a vision and responsibility to more powerfully wield for such beloved homes to be defended and saved.

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.

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