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.

Post 154.

Under Patrick Manning’s rule, I came to know the names of a few of the riot police that he’d send out at the slightest citizen gathering, having met them so many times as they and their sub-machine guns monitored us trying to monitor him, with only public debate, national laws and civic commitment for ammunition. Under Manning’s cyclop eye, big brotherly love for the nation combined with decisions for our own good which seemed beyond our right to question.

Even then, it was clear, whether to combat unruly civil society or dangerous criminality, there was going to be increasing state armament to secure peace by the gun.

Five years later, when people say that we are in an undeclared state of emergency that justifies militarized civilian zones and maximum leadership, I get that desperate times call for desperate measures. Where nobody obeys any rules, it seems that only fear of violence can manage a society where disorder and death prevail.

People have decided that it’s time to eliminate some of those who will not choose legal work over a gangster life, enabling soldiers to re-establish a sense of state control. In this de facto civil war, being soft is expected to fail so the solution is more power in fewer hands and more men with more firepower.

Feeling safer in chains, we are ready to give up on being free. Instead, imagine if, as the army went in to take down shotters, another army of teachers, health providers, social workers, NGOs and community police trained in emergency turn around of crisis-racked communities were just as empowered to take on schools, health provision, employment and families. Imagine if the National Security Council talked tough about emergency laws, emergency resources and emergency meetings on short to long term solutions premised on everything else but violence.

The problem isn’t just gangs and individual men who don’t care who dead, even if it’s themselves. It’s the almost complete failure and corruption of policing. It’s that the coast guard is letting the drugs and guns pass. It’s decades of political patronage that has fuelled turf wars. It’s inadequate social work provision for family violence and dysfunction. It’s schools, which men leave while still illiterate, heading en masse to prison, before leaving en masse for gangs.

As long as none of the causes of this problem are fixed with institutional, social service, family life and educational alternatives, and economic solutions besides handouts, the army will be permanently necessary. Peace will be continually deferred rather than actually achieved because we clamoured for dictatorial and military responses to social needs.

Growing up under a gun, even a friendly one, wrecks children, especially boys. Additionally, some communities and innocent individuals will pay the price for the erosion of justice with nowhere to turn, just as they are paying already, and at some point it will be hard to tell army from police from politician from badman and tief. At the end, most important will be that we learned not to ask too many questions in return for our safety.

We may learn to live with the army in our midst, getting to know their names as we grow familiar with sub-machine guns on the streets. Nonetheless, as a citizen, feminist, mother and worker, I can’t but question civil society militarization because it represses chaos, but cannot create order.

Maybe I’m being naïve. Too much highfalutin idealism about democracy, rights and civil society. Too much talk about top-down responsibility. Too much unrealistic focus on what will take a generation to achieve. Too little understanding until terror hits me.

Maybe.

Post 153.

Why pursue what many consider a lost cause? Battles that seem like they are no longer or never were worthwhile, ones you can expect to be opposed by the majority or by Goliaths around you, ones about which too few seem to care.

Should you simply abandon struggles you are unlikely to win, and re-strategize for the ones ahead? What about when your vision seems unpopular and justice appears impossible? Does it still matter if it’s considered only a minority issue?

Being a part of Caribbean feminist efforts to advance women’s political leadership or end violence or secure the right to safe and legal abortion, I often encounter women and men who think that feminism has no value because gender inequality is natural, normal and inevitable. Then there are others who, inronically, think that feminism is now outdated and worthless because women have all they should already.

Some just think the work needed is too hard and too uphill, but you don’t pursue a principle because it’s popular or easy. You don’t give in because pervasive but inaccurate stereotypes misread what is possible and still necessary.

You stay and fight for change, however large or small, whether opposed by the majority or the dominant because your analysis of rights means that you know the world cannot stay as it is, that wrongs should not occur with impunity and dishonesty, that inequalities reflect on our own humanity.

I seem to support a whole spectrum of supposedly lost causes. They razed the mangrove for Movietowne anyway. The women’s movement supported Mrs. Persad-Bissessar and got a Cabinet with only 10% of women anyway. Both parties shelved the Draft National Gender Policy anyway. Both agreed to extend the criminalization of same sex encounters between minors from ten to fifteen years to life imprisonment anyway. The Partnership is going ahead building the Debe to Mon Desir extension of the highway anyway.

So much for approaches that won’t sacrifice the environment for the economy. So much for equality, even when the PM had enough mandate to set history. So much for government that deals with the problems of boys and men on the basis of policy. So much for ending legalized discrimination justified by nothing other than hypocrisy regarding sexuality. So much for transparent and accountable infrastructural development.

So, why stay?

Our society comes from enslaved and indentured workers who ended globally oppressive systems with nothing but endless resistance, despite every setback. I wouldn’t have any rights if, all over the world, women and men who experienced defeats didn’t dust off and press on, giving me legislation I couldn’t live without today. I’ve learned from social movements on everything from workers’ rights to wildlife protection to abortion that, even if it takes decades, public opinion can be changed. And, I’m clear that when we walk away, gains don’t just stand still, they are systematically eroded away. Benefit from those who came before without giving similarly to those still to come? Not me. No way.

Seemingly lost causes carry the damage from larger, longer battles for emancipation or responsible government or sustainability. Democracy isn’t only about majority rule, it’s about the power of the majority to protect against unfair persecution of minorities. And, you will be surprised to see who can be inspired to care, just through connection or emotion or strategy.

You might see a lost cause. I see a handful of people defending our dreams until others, who have the right numbers at the right time, lovingly, thoughtfully and mightily make those dreams come true. I’m here however I can be until they do.

Post 152.

Zi and Titanus Giganteus

In my mother’s era, even girls could roam their neighborhood unsupervised, playing with children, visiting neighbors and collecting assorted species of fish, frog and fauna in ravines or nearby streams.

The majority of children of Ziya’s generation will never have that experience. We adults have almost irreversibly polluted many of the rivers near our homes with garbage and poison. It’s risky for any mother to allow her young daughter to wander freely. Living at odds with our environment and each other is a cost that will be borne by those now being born.

I try to make up for that generational loss by taking Zi to clean streams or empty stretches of beach as often as I can. I avoid Maracas, and dream that the $78 million planned upgrade includes rehabilitation of the river’s ecosystem. Anything is possible with a vision, and we are responsible for protecting mangroves, coasts and fresh watercourses for our children.

Teaching Zi that girls can be explorers, not just the “princess-mermaids” that she and her school friends pretend to be, we study tadpoles in various stages of growth, assess the shape and colour of shells, rocks and plant life, and look for fish and crabs. Mostly, I’m hoping that her trips to Yara River, Avocat waterfall or Balandra enable her to become the kind of woman who is curious about and committed to the earth, wildlife and science.

I don’t want her to be afraid. I want her to be aware of what roles bats, lizards, bees, bachacs and snakes play, and why they have a right to be here. I want her to be willing to hold grasshoppers in her hand, catch little crabs without harming them, and carefully dissect unfamiliar dead insects.

This weekend, we showed Zi a dead Titanus Giganteus beetle caught in the backyard. Even lifeless, it is intimidating, and I had no plans to hold it in my hand. To Stone’s horror (I mean it, I saw him sway on his feet with herculean effort to appear nonchalant) and to my own surprise, Zi nimbly picked it up like she was selecting a cupcake from a tray. The body was bigger than her hand, and the legs and antennae dangled for inches. Girl didn’t flinch. I was impressed. It was one of those mummy moments when your child surpasses you, does something that you’d been teaching her to do, and just so shows you how it is done.

It seems irrelevant, but children, especially girls, are taught so much fear. We parent through fear. We teach girls to fear strangers and especially men. We teach them to fear their bodies and their sexuality. We teach them to fear being seen as too powerful or too dominant or too unstoppable or too feminist. We teach them to fear the wild, the dark and being outside alone.

Resisting this, I want Zi to learn everyday fearlessness, like Jane Goodall who went out into the forest and sat with gorillas for hours by herself, like my youngest sister Giselle who handles cobras with skill and due respect, like my women friends who are not intimidated by local tarantulas or by surfing the deep ocean. I want her to fear everything less than I do, to show me her nurtured instinct for a braver world.

Curiosity, courage and connection with the planet don’t seem like skills that girls most need, but they translate to confidently asking questions of the status quo, valuing widespread freedom and diversity, understanding how to contribute to a bigger ecology, and bringing fearlessness to whatever vision Zi decides should succeed.

Post 151.

I’m revising my book on citizenship in Trinidad, building on Indian political theorist Partha Chatterjee’s distinction between civil society and political society. It’s helping me to explain how Trinidadians both in and out of the state navigate authority. Brought home, this is how I’m thinking his distinction applies.

When governments make decisions for us, without proper consultation or process, they ignore fundamental citizen rights. Often, state officials impose such authority to enable continued rapid growth of corporate capital. We can see this in everything from aluminum smelter agreements to lack of sufficient regulation of quarries to highways and rapid rails planned without necessary studies to the proposed privatisation of Chaguaramas. De-fanging institutions, such as Town and Country Planning or the EMA, are vital to enabling elite expediency to triumph over transparent, people-centred development.

Having undermined civil society, how then do governments appear participatory? Direct benefits, baskets of subsidies and poverty-removal programmes. These control specific population groups by identifying them as targets of government policies. Men with a history of crime get hand outs through sports. Muslims and Hindus get a cheque on Eid and Divali for diversity. Victims of tragedy get new mattresses and food directly from a Cabinet minister. Ex-Caroni workers get deeds a week before casting their vote. Here, the role of the state and bureaucracy is to transfer resources, not to represent our rights. Ordinary people are thus simultaneously marginalized and managed.

This strategy fragments benefit-seekers and divides potential opposition. All we notice are bags of goodies thrown from budget speeches, platforms and public appearances. Asserting claims to a life of worth and dignity through unions, associations or citizens’ groups becomes so much harder. Popular mobilization instead happens through fleeting, temporary and unstable forms of political organization such as marches, rallies, protests, and vote-trading.

These forms are not directed toward fundamental transformation of structures of political power. They are mostly matters of water and electricity provision, and jobs and so on, meant to make sure that those who can’t be absorbed into economic growth won’t become socially dangerous. Meanwhile, institutions, from the hospitals to the Police Complaints Authority to the Auditor-General, edge closer to the tipping point of collapse, leaving us to marvel at how little justice is protected in a system that works best through contacts. This brings us to political society, where we may forego participation for populism and invest more in politicians than in democratic institutions.

Today, thinking as just a citizen about such politics, I wonder how those groups desperately trying to secure due process can actually win. How can Tacarigua residents protect their public, green space from the stadium Anil Roberts decided they would have? How can Chaguaramas citizens say no to Bhoe Tewarie’s vision of a coast handed over to the private sector? How can Mon Desir homes be protected from the Housing Minister’s commitment to illegal asphalt-laying without the reports which should be publicly accessible?

The upcoming election season will precisely aim to extend this displacement, seducing us from being national citizens to target populations who substitute benefits for rights, disbursements for representation, and love for the leader for true equality. This is how power works in political society, where bigger budgets replace good government, and we are all disciplined by and negotiate in relation to our access and dependence.

There’s a book to be written about our politics, but there’s also exercise of authority that we have to collectively change. It means connecting with each other across our diversities, ideologies, issues, pro- or anti-government analyses, and communities. I hope to contribute to how that unfolds in practice and theory.

 

 

This blog is excerpted weekly in the Trinidad Guardian. The paper requested that this week’s entry, Post 150, be re-written because it didn’t fit a ‘Diary of a Mothering Worker’ topic. Below is the revised entry.

I write as a mother, wife, political scientist, feminist, activist, citizen and voter. We are not simply Indians or Africans, or women or men, or workers or parents, but a mix of all, and our perspectives on the world come through these intersections.

Across these identities, I’m unimpressed at the lack of forthright honesty being shown by a government that it’s our job to continuously hold accountable. It’s our job because we are parents who value setting a good example for our children just as much as we are citizens who have a right to legitimate exercise of political power.

If I ask Ziya for the truth and she refuses to answer, is that okay? If teachers ask students for the truth, and they dismissively deflect, should these big adults walk away? Do we let our leaders do the very things we teach our children not to?

Public officials cannot refuse public questions.

That Anil Roberts remains a minister means that the legitimacy of the government has gone up in smoke. Roberts alleged behaviour in a recently leaked video means zero to me. What is intolerable is his, the PM and the Cabinet’s failure to choose truth. I’ve tuned off UNC paid political broadcasts once they give him tomfoolery time on their platform.

Cowering behind Ministry of Communication propaganda while shouting from the safety of hustings is devious. It’s smartman politics to refuse for weeks to answer a straightforward public question, to deflect from personal responsibility by pointing fingers in every pointless direction, and to boldfacedly try to impose the pretense, like the emperor with no clothes, that everyone can’t see your backside.

A government who will let a cabinet member avoid answering an easy, small stakes, yes or no question, will also let all its ministers avoid honestly answering hard, deeply accountable questions about expenditure of state funds, disbursement of state contracts, and signed deals for infrastructural projects. These are the big stakes that will push the same people shouting ‘ray ray’ in today’s rallies to someday switch parties, then later burn tires in the road, and finally make their living by the gun once oil and gas money is inexplicably gone. Then what place will this be for my family?

When I could talk about the experience of mothering a mixed race little girl, I write instead about lack of governmental transparency because we must change the world for our children. This is feminist motherhood from day one, which is why mothers have taken on everything from literacy to work-family balance, media sexism, development models, disarmament and political leadership. The hand that rocks the cradle has always also re-envisioned and mobilized the world.

Even if Roberts is finally fired, for me, it will be too late, reflecting political expediency, calculated timing and public pressure more than any principle. If he’s left at the helm of his ministry, Cabinet might as well wrap the concept of integrity in some paper and strike a match because Campaign 2015s real politik is fire bun honesty.

Expensively packaged rallies cannot hide repeated turns away from transparency when I can watch shiftiness on the news for free.What politicians often don’t realize is how much petty corruption, mismanagement or scandal backfires because voters don’t like to be treated like fools.

It’s too bad. The government has attempted to answer every question put to them in Parliament, something that the PNM not once in three decades managed to consistently do. The best way to turn that widely hoped-for legacy to ashes is an ongoing, parallel failure to earn my and your vote through truth.


 

Post 150.

That Anil Roberts remains a minister suggests that the legitimacy of the government has completely gone up in smoke. That the UNC continues to give him tomfoolery time on their platform explains why there is so much Cabinet skin teeth glinting through their paid political broadcasts. The joke is obviously on us.

Roberts, who for years never stopped yapping at full attack and pitch, suddenly has no comment, and no balls. No lawyers are required to admit to or deny what are plainly his own actions. The Ministry of Communication should never have provided a façade behind which he could cower. His spineless silence to the media should not have be filled by his shouting from the safety of hustings. The PM should have handed him the press conference mic instead of defending nonsense about one-year old videos. Everyone knows that is not the issue. Neither is it small time marijuana use.

It is the failure to choose truth.

It’s one thing to admit to wrongdoing, like for example rolling ganja while in official clothes and on state business. It’s another to lie. It’s an entirely additional category of smartman politics to refuse for weeks to answer a straightforward public question, to deflect from personal accountability by pointing fingers in every pointless direction, and to boldfacedly try to impose the pretense, like the emperor with no clothes, that everyone can’t see your backside. Dat is truth.

A government who will let a cabinet member avoid answering an easy, small stakes, yes or no question about a roll on, will also let all its ministers avoid honestly answering hard, deeply accountable questions about expenditure of state funds, disbursement of state contracts, and signed deals for infrastructural development. Dat is truth.

These are the big stakes we face, the ones that will push the same people shouting ‘ray ray’ in today’s rallies to someday switch parties, then later burn tires in the road, and finally make their living by the gun once oil and gas money is inexplicably gone. Party supporter or not, that’s why this matters for you.

Even if Roberts is finally fired, it will be too late, reflecting political expediency, calculated timing and public pressure more than any immediate principle. If, on some surreal basis, he’s left at the helm of his ministry, Cabinet might as well wrap the concept of integrity in some paper and strike a match because Campaign 2015′s real politik is fire bun honesty.

Anil Roberts himself is abundantly irrelevant, but corruption under his watch is not, and be absolutely sure that the failure to choose truth is also happening in bigger, and more costly and consequential situations. Responsibility lies fully with the PM and the Cabinet. Undeniable truth.

The UNC will invest in expensively packaged rallies to hide such repeated turns away from transparency, forgetting that watching shiftiness on the news is free. What politicians often don’t realize is how much petty corruption, mismanagement or scandal backfires when they hope these will pass unnoticed or forgotten in relation to the billion dollar issues. Voters also don’t like over the top attempts to treat them like fools, a lesson that should have been learned from Tobago, Chaguanas West and St. Joseph.

Public officials cannot refuse to answer public questions. Ask Roodal, champion of answering every question put to government in Parliament, a man who can boast of success at something that the PNM not once in three decades managed to consistently do. The best way to turn that widely hoped-for legacy to ashes is an ongoing, parallel failure to earn our vote through truth.

 

 

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,030 other followers