September 2014


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.

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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.