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.

Post 162.

Feminism is getting hotter. Sparking a global spring, girls and women are taking on the world political-economic order on the ground and through technology. More power to this movement for equality, equity, and transformation of all forms of domination. Welcome to a moment that tireless struggle has again born.

Once the dilemma was about the ‘I’m not feminist, but…’ kind of feminism, the belief in and practice of its politics that nonetheless ran from the backlash stereotypes associated with its identity and community.

However, going more mainstream has attached feminism to wider practices and representations, raising questions about the relationship between feeling powerful and undoing powerful hierarchies, as well as making us look harder at feminisms mix with capitalism, its long-marketed racist and sexist ordering of women, and its containment of the broadest goals of empowerment.

Take bootylicious feminism, also seen in Nicki Minaj’s dancehall queen version. Beyonce’s brand champions women as flawless and sexy, smart and powerful, economically in control and unanswerable to the politics of respectability. It also sells sex as it sells feminism. Indeed, here, sex sells feminism, potentially popularizing a narrower project than dismantling the beauty myths still packaging the meanings of female sexuality. What do hypersexual feminisms do for kinds that are not or refuse to be sexy?

I’ve wondered about this when my friend Nicole was shamed for playing Jouvay topless but for nipple coverings, and in an old shortpants, making explicit just how little pretty mas nakedness has opened a space for women’s non-prettied bodies on the road, on their own terms, even on Carnival days. I’ve thought about this when women face censure for shamelessly breast-feeding their babies. I’ve reflected on this as I envision the postcolonial feminisms I want for my little brown girl.

There’s feminist struggle for sex positivity. Existing double standards shame women in ways that men, even those who are molesters, rapists or adulterers, don’t face, and strippers, sex workers and ‘skettels’’ usually scorned behaviour means they are least protected by the law, unions, immigration officials and health institutions. This must change.

The question isn’t whether women have a right to make the choices they do. Instead our attention should be on the choices available, and the ones still determining women’s greatest rewards, pleasures and value. It’s no coincidence that just as girls have been ‘taking over’ education, media and labour markets, they have been increasingly pressured to still embody specific femininities and stilettoed super-sexiness. What does this mean for feminisms’ trenchant critique of women as objects for consumption, and for black and brown women’s refusal to reproduce reduction to their bodies at the expense of their humanity?

Freedom from sexual and other forms of  violence. Choice regarding marriage, children, and same sex desire. Access to reproductive justice, including safe and legal abortion. Transformation of the colonial gender stereotyping still pervasive in contemporary pop culture, advertising, nationalism and tourism. Value not for how we look nor for the femininities we do, but simply because we are. The kinds of economic rights that mean we neither gain greater wealth nor greater vulnerability from the exploitation of our bodies in public and private life. For me, this is what feminist goals of sexual liberation mean.

All women know there is no pure place for resistance. This is more rather than less reason for thinking critically about diverse instances named feminist. It’s reason for differentiating between the gender consciousness we now have of rights and inequalities, and feminist consciousness that aims at more than women’s individual wealth, choice or leveling of power to a radical re-imagining beyond current terms and boundaries.

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.

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