Post 255. 

Dear CEOs,

If you are thinking that corporate leaders have a role to play in ensuring a better future than the present, now is the time to make that difference. A key concept underscoring your effort should be economic justice. That is your real bottom line.

The first hit for economic justice defines it as “a set of moral principles for building economic institutions, the ultimate goal of which is to create an opportunity for each person to create a sufficient material foundation upon which to have a dignified, productive, and creative life beyond economics”.

There are important ideas here: ethical economic arrangements, fair access to opportunity, and a fulfilling life beyond work. It’s good to ask whether these exist here, particularly in our most vulnerable communities and in the lives of a new generation whose futures are being shaped by today’s realities. 

 As Lloyd Best said to me, all you have to do is walk around with your eyes open. Start by actually walking around.
Observe the inadequacy of public transportation, the justice system, prisons, government schools, public hospitals, pavements, conservation, waste management and agriculture. Observe the level of trust in institutions and the feeling of safety in communities. 

Understand these are problems of law and policy implementation, of state financial accountability and sufficiently funded social services. In other words, problems which cannot not be fixed by charity.

Ask yourself, where are the public places people can go to be inspired to find their higher selves, and to experience beauty? And, before you think these are luxuries, ask yourself how brutish you might have become without exposure to such places.

Some of life is about hard work, but some is also about rights, freedoms and fairness. Some is also about necessary green spaces even amidst urban spread just as much some is about empowering schooling.

Get a map, go community by community, and check off a scorecard, asking yourself how neighbourhoods with such pervasive domestic violence and child sexual abuse reporting rates could produce anything other than the social violence we are experiencing today. Correlate that with current unemployment and under-employment statistics and assess what is worsening in those households, and likely to affect all of us someday.

How will you put your shadow power, meaning your unequal capacity to lobby and determine agendas, decisions and decision-makers, to work to transform these debilitating contexts?

In 2012, Fortune Global 500 companies made an 820 billion US dollar profit, but in 2013 only spent 20 billion of that on corporate social responsibility. Do the math for T and T. Take your map and your math to your meeting when you discuss, in these dire times, what serious corporate social responsibility must now mean.

Historically, Caribbean economies have produced great wealth, whether from cocoa, sugar or fossil exploitation, all the while reproducing impoverished conditions in people’s daily lives.

The book Why Nations Fail has a basic premise of relevance here. Places with extractive economic and political institutions, which work to make the wealthy and powerful more wealthy and powerful, will eventually implode. This brings down the whole society, economy and population; destroys flourishing creative possibilities, technology and innovation; and sees new actors, like cartels and gangs, competing for control.

The solution is to create a nation with stable central authority, such as a functioning state, but with pluralist or widely inclusive decision-making; the best chances for everyone to thrive economically amidst safety and stability; and outright challenge to the iron law of oligarchy.

This is tough for local elites as import-based businesses and the iron law of oligarchy, known locally as contacts, corruption, sweet deal contracts and party financing, are how many do well despite everyone else’s falling ability to make ends meet.

It comes back to supporting civil society advocacy on everything from the ratification of ILO Convention 189, on decent work for those domestic workers in your homes, to immediate roll out of a national recycling programme, to approval of a national action plan to end gender-based and sexual violence, to refusal to opt for greater securitization – weapons and surveillance systems – over economic justice with institutional and social inclusion.

CEOs, it’s time to put your power to make these happen.

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Post 254. 


Wednesday afternoon found me playing a game.

Every two years, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at Cave Hill hosts a summer Institute in Gender and Development. This is their twelfth session, and participants from Dominica, Jamaica, Bahamas, St. Lucia, Barbados, Belize, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Cuba, Guyana, Antigua and Grenada were there. More than two dozen people of all ages, ethnicities and sexualities in one of those special opportunities to come together as Caribbean people. 

I’ve been playing this game for twelve years. Called ‘Steppin Up’, it’s a feminist-movement building game focused on consciousness-raising, strategy-sharing and solidarity-building. The board is the size of the room, made with masking tape. Each square offers scenarios in which groups must choose options, sometimes thus moving forward or back, and understanding more about the complexities of addressing issues from child sexual abuse, fair trade and youth leadership to working across religious boundaries. 

Regardless of your organization or issue, the Caribbean terrain is beset by all these challenges.

The goal is to provide players with an experience they can reflect on, for plenty people, especially with activist commitments and aspirations, talk good politics without reflecting on how they actually engage others, make decisions, and assess their movement’s strategic gains and losses.

Someone always starts off asking how to win. After playing, I ask them for the answer. They realise it’s not a race and that frame prevents them from creating collaborations or working across divides when possible. Also, what’s gained if you rush ahead to complete the content, but miss the group dynamics that mean people feel silenced, trivialized or disrespected along the way?

I set no rules and, later, players realise how many they conservatively set themselves. Nothing stops them from challenging everything they have been taught about competition, and how much it alienates us from each other and ourselves. Yet, they rarely make the radical decision to collaborate across groups although that could transform their entire experience of the game.

Players reproduce competition, hierarchy, and goal-oriented rather than people-oriented decision-making because of Caribbean schooling, which continues to work for some individuals, but not for the region. 

We just don’t provide enough lessons of collaboration, attention to emotion within and across our collectivities, rewards for rethinking alienating rules, and strategies for enabling all, rather than just those who come first, to ‘win’. That deficit shows up in our capacity to ultimately create equity, justice and social inclusion.

Many spoke about the joy of a methodology that prioritized participation, decision-making, group-learning, activity, self-reflection and fun. It’s unsettling to think about how much less they would have learned had I opted for readings plus a chalk and talk approach.

Draw down from this lesson to our children whose age makes learning through activity, self-reflection, challenge and collaboration the most appropriate model. Add those children who are especially least likely to get the most from desk-bound, chalk and talk approaches, whether in relation to math or creative writing. Think of how many up and coming Caribbean young people we set up to fall two steps back.
I see the risks for Ziya too. She’s not yet clicked into desk work and becomes dreamier in the face of stressful schooling, though she loves learning through activities, discussions, play and books. 
At home, I get my news from reading, Stone gets his from TV. As it is, he knows much more than I do from the volume of news and commentaries he watches. Imagine if it was newspapers or nothing. That’s our schools. We enforce one way of teaching and testing, rather than the necessity of multiple routes.

Imagine even students who ace high stakes assessments may end up in their third choice of school and feel like failures because of a slew of layered hierarchies and inequalities. Surely, this result says more about our inadequacies than our children, about our commitment to the exam over equity, justice and social inclusion.

When a region of adults still wishes to learn through methods, including games, that validate how well-rounded, socially-conscious Caribbean people grow, we should step up and account for the real politics of our pedagogy, what works and should stay, and what fails and must go.

Post 253.

It’s hilarious and so typical. These last years, Ziya was vehemently into pink. Every opportunity to get dressed was declarative. In contrast to my choices, she would insist on locating pink pants, pink tops and pink hairclips, proclaiming that it was her body so she should decide. As I stood in front of the cupboard doors, blue pants and yellow tops dangling ineffectually from my arms, you know which feminist mom was seriously contemplating the pros and cons of teaching empowerment to a contrary four year old.

Avoiding absolute fundamentalism, pink could be matched with purple in her lexicon of outfit possibilities, and Zi would initiate repetitive conversations about which colours were our favorites – mine is green, and hers pink and purple. Such verification was intended solely to confirm which colours she consented to, which she thought went well with pink, and which coordinated with various media influences, such as Doc McStuffins or Lego Friends.

My friends laughed at the irony of Ziya’s steadfast commitment to such gender stereotypical representation, for I eventually gave in to my inability to change the mind of a four year old despite the fact that I was pursuing all kinds of efforts to change the public’s mind about the normality of a sexist status quo.

I threw up my hands because I recognised that she was unlikely to escape the dominance of precisely those ideas. Understandably, she was also working out how to fit in with her peers and social norms. Plus, all parents know when and how to choose their battles with children, who will negotiate with the bloody-mindedness of a terrorist or a gladiator to get what they want.

Lo and behold, and out of the blue, she is now done with pink. But, of course, guess which colour is suddenly her favorite?

Black.

Whole new conversations must be initiated in contexts with no apparent relevance, and old positions must be explicitly revised, to make the point about these new terms of level cool.

Now we are pulling my black shalwar dupattas from the cupboard to joyously create black robes like, of all characters, Voldemort. Dolls are being marker-made up with black ‘lipstick’. Apparently, we must go looking for black flowers. Black starry pajamas are being donned after afternoon baths. Black and red tutus are being fashioned, and worn over self-same pajamas, all entirely explained by the trending status of black.

Dizzied by this unpredicted turn of events, all I could do is sit in front of the cupboard and dreamily wish for a minty mohito. It’s humbling to know that, however capable you consider yourself in the public world of work, you will hardly be able to keep up with a six year old’s changes of mind and personality.

The change is surprising as the hearts and glitter girl power of Sophia Grace and other Disney children stars still provide the soundtrack for Zi’s home-based “dance shows”. Maybe it came from playing new characters, like zombies, with her neighbhourhood friend, whose interests are also changing. Or, because we finished the first three Harry Potter audio books over Santa Cruz’s morning traffic, and she’s intrigued by the beckoning power of dark forces and Hogwarts uniforms. Maybe she’s decided to identify with my sister, who herself had a long Goth phase, and who Ziya associates with snakes, bats and dangerous wildlife.

Our children have multifaceted psychological shifts in their little lives as part of their growth. For parents surviving storms, and the stress of school tests, it’s a good reminder that they also excel in evoking so much laughter and love.

Post 252.

An historic victory was won last week when child marriage was prohibited by amendments to the marriage laws of Trinidad and Tobago. This was a victory for the women’s movement, supported by male allies and working across race, class and religion, despite how fraught that can be. I was relieved both PNM and UNC MPs voted for an amended law. I was sorry the change failed to happen under Kamla Persad-Bissessar as early as 2010.

The call first came from the Hindu Women’s Organisation (HWO) more than six years ago. Organisations such as the IGDS and FPATT became involved by 2013. Lobbying expanded over the last two years, as a coalition of civil society organizations, including Womantra, CAISO, the Network of NGOs of TT for the Advancement of Women, the Association of Female Executives of Trinidad and Tobago (AFETT), the YMCA, CAFRA and more, was brought together by Folade Mutota and WINAD.

It was discriminatory for girls to be marriageable earlier than boys. There was no contemporary reason for this other than girls’ sexual vulnerability at a younger age. The solution isn’t marriage, it’s transforming such vulnerability to older male sexual predation. That this was overwhelmingly an issue affecting adolescent girls points squarely to how gender inequality leads to denial of full self-determination at a much younger age for girls than boys.

The majority of these marriages were between girls under sixteen, and boys and men who were, at times, much older.  This is not the Ram and Sita or Romeo and Juliet story of two teen secret lovers nor of their unwed adolescent sexual experimentation nor of family protection of two secondary students supported to finish both this and tertiary schooling.

Largely working class girls, perhaps with limited educational support or options, and definitely limited prospects for occupational advancement, were experiencing the greatest vulnerability to early sexual initiation by adult men, who usually also had low educational or occupational achievement.

Marriage may have seemed like a secure economic option because an older man promised to look after them. Perhaps, they were seduced by a feeling of adulthood that sexual relationships bring. Maybe they were in love or escaping oppressive and insecure family conditions, or they got pregnant and marriage seemed the next step. It’s likely they didn’t have a clue about the compromises, conflicts and responsibilities that come with partnership with a hardback man.

Rather than “the destruction of family life”, what was destroyed was the legal access of adult men to teen girls. This was necessary if we recognize how gender, religion and class unequally impacted thousands from lower-income families.

There were recommendations that teenagers over sixteen, but within three years of age, be allowed to marry. Such an exception had merit. That the exception didn’t make it to the legislation is a complicated story about the AG vs the HWO and the coalition.

What happens to the babies of unwed mothers? Families and partners can still love and support them such that teenage girls finish schooling, can secure their own income and can decide what they want out of their lives. A change to the marriage law in no way affects this.

If lack of respectability associated with unwed pregnancy is a major fear, then the solution is to give girls knowledge, support and access to contraception.

Adult hypocrisy, rather than “strict family values”, is at stake here for no one wants to girls to have sex, whether by choice and desire or by grooming and predation, without the threat and likelihood of dire consequences. So no one wants to prepare them to protect themselves if they do. When they are made pregnant, everyone can treat them as if they are responsible for the shame. The solution can’t be marriage to the same adult man who didn’t know or care enough to use condoms or protect a teenage girl’s future freedom in the first place.

Too early pregnancy isn’t a more important issue than too early marriage. Like child sexual abuse, they are consequences of adult failures to acknowledge girls’ sexual vulnerability and empower even poor girls to secure better options. If we care as much as we say, all the other work must now gain momentum.

 

Post 251.

Stormy ongoings in the teacup that is Trinidad and Tobago are both an indicator of and distraction from the major hitch facing us today. That hitch is lack of institutional accountability in state and corporate governance of our planet.

Such accountability cannot be secured by either technological or technical fixes, though they may counter crises. Such accountability is totally a matter of politics, meaning political will and public power driven by a fearless demand for human responsibility, justice and truth.

Elections are of little relevance here, for the damage is ground into our bodies and our generations, while being both hidden and denied, in the years between voting a party in and then voting them out. As we all know, we pay the costs with debt and blood.

How can we persuade the young that what the report, Global Catastrophic Risks 2017, calls “striking exponential developments” such as species extinction and carbon dioxide poisoning of the earth will not be solved simply by invention when the challenge is to quicken care, conviction and collective action?

Nuclear warfare risk, for example, is best contained by controlling proliferation, creating decision-making paths that slow the chance of use, and replacing a deterrence model with one banning all nuclear weapons.  ‘Seems utopian’, said my students, when I read them the Bandung position that world peace required disarmament, made in April 1955 when ex-colonies came together to declare their vision for a world other than that dictated to them.

Nonetheless, the fact is that planetary movements of ordinary people can insist we reduce warfare risk, even as it has expanded into chemical and biological weapons, as used in Syria up to this year. The threat isn’t just from rebel terrorists, but from states’ use of non-deadly chemical weapons for “domestic riot control purposes, counter-terrorism operations, international peacekeeping operations…and standby offensive chemical weapons capability”. People somewhere fought for the Biological Weapons Convention of 1975, which has not yet been empowered sufficiently.

The climate change crisis is much the same with solutions widely proposed to keep global temperature increases below 2 degrees Celsius through a Carbon Law that aims to halve emissions every decade to around zero by 2050. We saw what happened when Trump’s ‘America First’ policy led to his pull out of the 2015 Paris agreement. This means we can’t simply be a world watching to see whether political leaders will commit to fossil fuel phase out and renewable energy.

Indeed, states have “consistently disregarded the high-end scenarios that could lead to abrupt, irreversible or runaway climate change” despite evidence of a tipping point, the likelihood of a 4 degree rise, and effects such as starvation, displacement and ecological collapse. Sweet T and T has historically had a fossil fuel phase in combined with a what-else-we-go-do approach, that is not only short-term and short-sighted, but lethal, and on which all political parties agree.

Such is the Anthropocene, a geological era when we are impacting the habitability of the planet at an accelerating pace. The current situation is one where nine planetary boundaries that underpin the stability of the global ecosystem were identified. These included ozone depletion, fresh water use, ocean acidification, and biosphere integrity which includes species diversity.

We’ve exceeded safe limits for four of the nine, which means it’s past time, as the Global Catastrophic Risks 2017 report recommends, to integrate the valuation of ecosystems into economic decision-making, reduce pollution, change consumption patterns, monitor national and corporate reporting, and cooperate globally in recognition of the fact that these risks cross national boundaries. Who can make this happen? Only you and me, with our insistence multiplied by millions.

Within the university, I’m struck that students don’t seem to realise the fate in front their eyes, nor the urgency required of them to overthrow business as usual, nor the fact that they will be the first global generation in history whose parents have robbed them of a secure future.

Innovation won’t drive change without a sense of will, care, capacity, anger, commitment and immediacy. Yet, I struggle to successfully and sustainably teach these or even to connect our small-island, headline squabbles with irresponsible elites and institutions to similar governance catastrophes whose unjust implications are now planetary.

 

 

 

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Post 250.

Recently leaked documents reveal a top-secret operations control centre, known as the Deep Impact Group or DIG, housed in a non-descript room within WASA’s offices. Peeling paint on the outer walls is mere diversion. This Centre is outfitted with the most sophisticated GIS and communication technology of any state agency, appearing almost like Tom Cruise’s intel capacity in the film, Minority Report.

Its entire purpose is to instantly direct WASA workers, those mysterious blue-uniformed men with digging equipment, to any recently paved road. Revelation of this wholly underground, yet well-funded strategic base, will no doubt provide answers to many questions long asked by citizens, such as: How come WASA waits until a road is finally paved to dig it up? Is there is some conspiracy within the state to unnecessarily create potholes to oppress school children with twice-daily traffic, and ruin car shocks and bushings? Fishily, is the Bamboo the unexpected headquarters for a used car parts mafia controlling the government?

Picture interactive screen technology in an array of blinking glass billboards throughout the room. Phones ring constantly, the screens ping wherever arch-nemeses such as private contractors hired by the Ministry of Transport appear with their subversive illegal gravel and unsustainable use of Pitch Lake asphalt.

One Minister or another is inevitably shouting down secure phone lines, for roads left properly paved will no longer need to be pointlessly resurfaced in six months. And, what would there be to boast about when one can build only so many overpasses and roundabouts? The situation would be untenable, possibly leading to a palace coup by party once-faithful. The pressure in the enclosed office is palpable, frenzied by the constant pinging indicating that, surely, nowhere in the country is truly safe.

With each call, a WASA secret agent dashes to Google Map the exact section of highway or rural trace which has somehow escaped their oversight and is being paved by enthusiastic fellas on overtime, entirely unaware of their sabotaging of DIG’s national mission. The harried strategist in charge rushes from screen to screen, yelling commands and rapidly diverting limited men and trucks to avert the disaster of possible paving that successfully covers over cracks and craters, leading to a heady but dangerous sense of contentment, comfort and first-world status among drivers. It’s almost too much to imagine the risk.

Papers are strewn everywhere for there is hardly enough time to get permissions and signatures. This leads to diabolically unaccountable levels of spending as oversight cannot keep up with the pace of such disaster management. The problem is so large, both political parties have secretly agreed that DIG will never be made known nor report to a Joint Select Committee, and you will find that it has never been mentioned in any Auditor-General’s report. Check for yourself as far as records go. Uncanny absence corroborates this truth.

As personnel are rapidly diverted to new locations, and with drone-directed precision, alternatively left, then centre, then right sides of freshly-smoothed roads are efficiently gutted, there is hardly a moment to sleep. Election seasons inevitably result in one or more supervisors’ death by exhaustion.

Carlos John was particularly responsible for discomforting numbers of collapsing Ops Control directors, not to mention those who crumpled to their feet upon receiving orders to pave the Savannah’s precious green space. Now you understand the de-sensitization, MI5-style programming received by the driver who robotically poured gravel on a heroic Eden Shand, injuring him forever. It suddenly makes sense, right?

Crisis after crisis is averted as rumfled, frustrated staff track the trucks on the screens, in real-time, as they dreevay to a parlour, then a doubles man, and then to the emergency site. They hold their breath until the first split of pitch. Yet, their work is never done for the electronic map unendingly lights up seemingly everywhere in turn, pinging all the while.

A WASA insider, disgruntled because of recession cutbacks to this secret service, emailed photos, phone records and an audio memo of the pinging to me. I will not reveal my source, but it is clear that this story explains a reality long denied, but apparent to all with eyes to see and anywhere to reach in a hurry.

Post 249.

Indian Arrival Day provides a moment for looking back through history and asking what we should continue to carry in our jahajin bundle tomorrow. All remembering is selective. For young Indo-Trinidadian women and dougla or mixed-race women with Indian ancestry, who we accept and empower ourselves to be is shaped by the historical stories we are told. So, choosing those stories is as key to what we remember as it is to how we define ourselves today.

Stories of Indian womanhood typically idealise a sacrificial, dutiful and respectable figure, making many young women wonder how to manage being both Indian and self-determining at the same time. It’s as if Indo-Caribbean and feminism are awkwardly fitted words, to be lived in ways you hide from your family or as a marker of your irreverence to the teachings of priests, pundits and imams. Or, worse, your failure to be either appropriately Indian or an acceptable woman.

But, this ideal figure is a mythical one – drawn from emphasizing some women over others in India or the history of Islam, some goddesses or others in religious texts, and some women over others today.

Instead, the Indian women we should be remembering are our great-grandmothers, grandmothers and mothers. They were complex characters, not simply self-sacrificing. They could be unruly and heroic. They were imperfect, yet resilient, resourceful and determined survivors who changed lives, families and communities. These were the kind of women in whom we can see struggles, choices, regrets, victories and secrets, so much closer to our own lives despite the span of sometimes more than a century.

Thirty years of Indo-Caribbean feminist writing has highlighted that Indian women who arrived as part of the odyssey of indenture came as workers, not as wives. Some were kidnapped or fooled by recruiters, but many were escaping conditions not of their own choosing, including economic conditions shaped by successive droughts in India, the multifarious violence of British colonization, and the oppressiveness of marital, family, caste and village life. Sexual violence was also a reality in India, on ships that crossed the Kala Pani, and on sugar estates in the new world.

Amidst all this, these jahajins earned their own money (though at discriminatory wages in comparison to men), accrued and invested their own savings, and started and left sexual relationships in ways that explicitly threatened men’s control over them. The idea that Indian women were or should be docile, dependent or domesticated was a myth wielded by colonial authorities, religious leaders and Indian men to manners women, such that men would not turn to the cutlass or courts to control them and such that the British experiment wouldn’t be seen as producing the wrong kind of woman for a patriarchal stable family.

Post-indentureship feminism, which Lisa Outar and I write about in the collection, Indo-Caribbean Feminist Thought, is the pursuit of self-determination which, in this post-indentureship period, explicitly builds on these stories which we are less often told.

It’s a sense of rights and how to navigate them which emerges from looking, not to India or texts or myths or the past, but to the indentureship experience and the archetypes or models which women have provided for us since they set foot on those boats.

It’s a legacy of women’s dreaming, strategizing, learning, laboring and organizing to resist, withstand or outlive violence, to express sexual desires and experience erotic pleasure, and to manage the demands and rewards of respectability.

Post-indentureship feminism describes how Indian women today negotiate gender ideals, navigate a range of aspirations and expectations, and wield a sense of self and rights shaped by decades of feminism. That feminism, in all its kinds, is home-grown. It emerged from the plantation experience of slavery and indentureship, and provided Indian women with the rich possibilities for cross-ethnic relations, intimacies and solidarities among women which are the best of Caribbean feminism today.

As we remember stories from indentureship to present, young women now have 170 years of Indian women’s sometimes hidden histories from which to find inspiration for our fearlessness and refusal to obey oppressive ideals at our own expense. Our families and communities should be our allies. This would honour those who arrived seeking nothing less.