In 2005, I invented a feminist movement-building game called Steppin’ Up. Groups of players encounter different scenarios and have to choose from among a range of options.
The option they choose determines how fast they progress through a range of issues and challenges until they reach the winning square.
Interestingly, when players open the responses telling them how much each option enables them to move forward, or not, they often start off reading the feedback to all possible choices.
However, half way through the game, many start only reading the feedback to the option they picked.
Not long after, I see them only reading the line that says how many steps to move forward on the board, entirely ignoring not only the explanation, but the information that would enable them to understand how much there is to learn from the scenario, the options available and all of the consequences.
At fault is a focus on winning at all costs. I tell the players the objective is to win, and they assume only one group can win, but there is nothing preventing them from stepping on the board with a different vision.
It’s much like this in the Chaguanas West by-election. I’ve spent these weeks on the streets, behind Khadijah and Jack, observing their campaigns and talking to voters.
Today, there are only two options, Jack’s performance as MP will sweep the UNC, like dry season dust, out of the House of the Rising Sun’s safest seat or the UNC’s party-politics will win the battle, but send them wounded into unrelenting warfare.
As I watch the candidates’ strategies, what’s clear is that there is no time to really read the dissatisfaction that characterises the terrain or assess the costs of the options chosen.
There is only time to move ahead, though not to understand why, nor reflect on implications. Both campaigns have chosen to win at all costs, and this is the stark indicator of their actual vision.
If the UNC wins, it is because they’ve put almost the entire Cabinet on the streets; they’ve told people it’s their “dharma” to vote for the party; they’ve terrified them with histories of “cow-shed” schools; they’ve said honour our Indian names and our beautiful women and fear the threat to our dhal and aloo; they’ve warned that if you are not a UNC, you are a PNM, and they have pulled that most polarising tactic of all, they’ve declared that everywhere, from Caroni to Felicity, is war.
On the board, Jack is master of rule-bending and mauvais-langue, tossing Khadijah’s supposed medical records into the public domain and then acting all coy, loving the PM on the one hand while firing scatter-bombs at her competence and her leadership, wise about the direction that the shrapnel will land, which is everywhere.
Passive-aggression on the platform is his forte. He’s wagering his own resources as if he doesn’t know how much that fundamentally undermines state institutions.
He’s rock star to the humble masses, a saviour higher than the state, a reluctant and dubious Mandela, Gandhi and Martin Luther King, and an unlikely pious pundit for integrity, all along knowing these are mere high mas.
With their politics defined by staying a step ahead, both candidates’ campaigns are oblivious to wider consequences for other players, meaning us.
Constituency voters invested in better representation will likely benefit from all this attention and the dice have only now begun to roll.
As an independent observer on the ground, however, I’m convinced that all this strategic hyperbole points to a greater, more desperately needed vision being left two steps behind.