June 2014


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.

 

 

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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.

 

 

Post 149.

Boys being boys is a gateway to risk. There is nothing wrong with boys, but the activities associated with being boys have increasingly become harmful to themselves and to others.

We associate boys being boys with an inability to sit still in school. Just being boys includes popular acceptance of early experiments with sex, alcohol, and minor forms of delinquency and illegality. Being boys remains that phase for learning about toughness, aggression, physicality, and greater freedom than that allowed to girls.

To say this sounds like taking away boyhood’s green days by the river, but anyone concerned about the disturbing murders of nineteen year old Shakam De Ravenaux, seventeen year old Michael Miguel, and 15-year-old Jamal Braithwaite and his brother, nine-year-old Jadel Holder, needs to see why boys being boys must change.

Anyone concerned about the numbers of men in prison, the levels of male violence against women and other men, the higher levels of male substance abuse, the lower numbers of boys in higher education, and the multiple dangers boys face in their own communities has to ask about why boys being boys, growing up amidst other boys and men, threatens their futures and their lives.

Hear a relative of the two brothers killed, “I know his brother was in a situation by himself. But that was because he get caught up in the wrong crowd. Not even because he wanted to, but due to the circumstances of his life and the advantage them boys was doing him. But to say that he was a criminal, or that his brother was a criminal? Not at all. They were boys. Miserable boys, yes. I will admit they would pick a mango from someone’s tree, they would air down a tyre or even throw big stones at their friends if you want to push it, but that was it. They were boys being boys. They weren’t any hardened criminals and it hurt me to hear that in the news this morning.”

Hardened criminals or not, assassinations of children are our darkest hour. Our role as a society is to keep all our children and youth safe. To deal with the reality that higher numbers of boys become both perpetrators and victims of gun violence and crime, we have to collectively acknowledge what behaviours become learned and justified through the idea of being boys.

They would just tief from the neighbour, vandalise people’s property, pelt down peers, but that’s it, they were just girls being girls. They felt pressured by the wrong crowd, circumstances and advantage to be miserable and bad behaved, but that’s just being girls. Would anyone say this?

No one. This tells us something about how the meanings of boyhood carry boys into potentially dangerous spaces, groups and ways of learning to be themselves.

Where do boys need to be? In school. At home. Contributing to NGOs that care for community. In programmes that involve music, books, art, chess, math, dance and theatre, not just sports. Who would it actually help them to be more like? Girls. Who are in school clubs and at home in greater proportions, and who less associate adolescence with time, space and support for tiefing, vandalism and violence. Bottom line, it’s killing our boys, it’s time to rethink masculinity.

To do that requires men looking hard at what boys learn about manhood, but also working hard at making governments create different economic options, better national safety, more equitable development models, and less dependence on political patronage. All of these provide the environment within which boys being boys exacerbates their tragically fatal vulnerabilities.