October 2016


Post 232.

Dear Karian,

As a woman who has been followed on the street by men even after ignoring them or polite ‘no thank you’. A woman who has had men yell at her from Independence Sq. KFC about her ‘box’ and how it looking like lunch. A woman who was sexually harassed in the TV6 newsroom and until today, when I see that cameraman in public, I’m angry at his indecency and harm. Just as I’m angry at the ex-Minister who thought his unwanted touching on the campaign trail would be accepted because of his status, rather than refused because of mine.

A woman who has walked past many men’s unwanted comments that degrade more than compliment, and knew it could become worse if only I said no or stop or insisted on respect. A woman who doesn’t feel safe in her neighborhood or workplace or on streets, and not only at night, because men, whether a few or many, present a sexual threat.

A woman whose woman friends tell story after story of growing up with harassment on the streets, at work, at the gym, in Carnival, in meetings, in churches, in mosques, in temples, in training programmes, outside of schools, inside of schools, in libraries, in ministers’ offices, in parties and in every other location.

Women whose stories are an angering tale of negotiating self-silencing and fear, speaking out and risk: those who said nothing and wished they could and did, those who spoke back and had abuse or a bottle thrown back at them, those who cuss out those specific men knowing that they were borrowing from the energy required to cuss out more tomorrow.

Women who are called ‘lesbian’, ‘bitch’ and ‘cunt’ repeatedly, as an insult, as part of a threat, as a consequence of dismissing unwanted advances, from men they know and complete strangers. Women whose stories abounded everywhere but in the press, for more than a few days, though those stories occur every single day.  Women who were not yet women when they began to have these stories to tell.

As that woman, I write with everything women feel, knowing another one of us is being wronged in ways with which we are too familiar. All emotions are here. Sorrow that one time won’t be your first or last. Anger that you are not the first or last. Anger at the complicity of men and their failure to collectively break the bro code, to say no to all forms of sexism and sexual harassment that harm women and deny that harm.

Men’s collective and public failure to acknowledge the normalcy of predatory masculinity allows so many to pretend, with insistence, authority and pride, they don’t know the difference between harassment and compliment, between unwanted and chosen. I despair at their denial of rape culture in all its forms, playing it down as unreal because it’s an inconvenient truth.

I am sorry and angry that you had to be brave, that you had to get angry, that you had to protect yourself because your society fails to protect women. You are a fighter, though you should not have to be simply to walk on the streets. You are an example to all fearful young women I tell to speak out and tell their harassers to stop, though you shouldn’t have to shame men for their violence, knowing that even more around you are secure in their impunity.

You were right to cuss those men hard, loud and stink, though the cuss out is really, rightly, for the whole society. You don’t have to be a daughter or wife to deserve respect. You are a person, with your own honour and you don’t have to business about whose bad behaviour that checks. But, you know all that already. We all do.

You are right to think that your story will make little difference to legislators, policy-makers, police officers and more, for sexual and street harassment will remain an unprosecuted and pervasive reality.  You are right to simply want to be left to walk free. All I can say, young sister, is that you owe shame, silence, respectability and fear nothing. And, know, lioness, that you are not alone.

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Post 231.

In 1492, the current world order was established. The Caribbean was ground zero. Dispossession of indigenous peoples was the first founding act. Today, we in Trinidad all live on occupied land.

Across the Americas, indigenous sovereign nations, still living under (post)colonial rule, continue to challenge and refuse a global political economy built on invasion, decimation and extraction.

Indigenous people didn’t become extinct. They don’t belong to a time past, and their systems of governance, economic management and ecology are not quaint or outdated.

Indeed, indigenous communities across the Americas are at the forefront of waging struggles against corporate capitalism’s state-managed privatization of water and destruction of forests, precisely because they have kept alternatives alive all these centuries.

As you read, remember Indigenous Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres, assassinated just this year for her defiance to mining and logging concessions and proposed dams.

Movements such as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico, now more than thirty years strong, offer real, living examples of dignity, autonomy and justice in which we can all find new forms of order, labour and exchange.

Given that indigenous people are still here, their claims to repatriation of land remain as valid in 2016 as they did in 1493. For them, colonization isn’t an event that happened, it’s a structure that organizes their lives today, as it does ours. Let us not feign innocence about our own entanglement in the continued disruption that occurs in indigenous people’s lives from the violation and violence of such occupation.

What does this mean for Africans, Indians and others in the Caribbean, who, by force and suffering, had to establish our belonging over time by coming to see ourselves as ‘indigenous’ to this region? How do our claims currently and wrongly displace Indigenous people themselves? How does our affirmation of our humanity maintain an imperial legacy?

This is an even more important question for those of us involved in social justice work. For, our legal and cultural investments in UN rights conventions, nation-state law, and democratization of land ownership (such as the Occupy movement in the Americas), all entrench settler colonialism, both others’ and our own. What, then, is our accountability to Caribbean indigenous people’s sovereign right to self-determination?

These are not intellectual musings, but real political questions. For a generation of Caribbean young people who, for the first time in history, are experiencing biodiversity and climate changes that may not be reversed within their lifetimes, alternatives to business as usual are evermore urgent.

That model, established in and expanded from this region, is not all that is on offer, and it no longer offers us what our futures fundamentally we need. This generation of Caribbean children can and eventually must move us from resistance to transformation. That shift requires us to decide what life and justice look like beyond the selves, narratives, relations, structures and possibilities built, like a chain link fence around us, since 1492.

There is no lack of realism here. Rather, there is clear gaze on a global political-economy that is neither timeless nor inevitable. There is clear reading of our potential choices in this place and time. Yet, having had fires of hope mashed down to ash from 1962 to 2015, many adults’ crumpled cynicism no longer remembers or prioritizes the necessity of upcoming Caribbean generations’ truly, globally, decolonial dreams.

No liberatory changes are possible without a vision beyond what is currently dominant, yet unsustainable. This generation needs radically transformative ideals as much as the clean air and water that adults have failed to sufficiently fight for. It needs world changing politics, and the life force of big collective and long-term ideas and movements, not merely individual and immediate workforce skills.

Why Trinidad and Tobago rather than Kairi? Why British government structures? Why shouldn’t we found just models for the world when an unjust model for the world was founded here from 1492?

We live amidst cosmologies that are deeply Caribbean, and must stop seeing our history as beginning and our futures ending with colonization. Colonization, here, isn’t a metaphor. It’s the governing principle under which indigenous people dream of land, life and solidarity. Engaging each other to imagine freedom outside of colonial terms is ethical, urgent and necessary.

Post 230.

Over the past fifteen years, there’s been a trend of cutbacks at universities. Faculty and students are told that governments can’t fund higher education as before. Universities are critiqued as being elitist because they focus on critical thought for its own end, faculty are considered too secure in their jobs so permanent positions are slashed and workloads are increased, and students are pressed into marketable disciplinary areas or seen as wasting taxpayers’ time. Universities that run profits, are re-oriented around industry priorities and needs, and which produce disciplined workers, like a trade school, are considered exemplary.

There are changes that universities should undergo to make them serve student needs better, and create a new generation that can skilfully access a decent standard of living, and be kind and conscientious citizens. But, this is not what neoliberal changes seek.

Rather, they aim to run the university by the operations model of a firm, bringing output and impact metrics to evaluate its relevance. The governing question becomes, how well is the university serving the global capitalist market? Students become ever more focused on a job, rather than also deciding the fate of the future, and they emerge with some basic value, like sheep to be sheared, without any engaged opinion about their place in the overall chain of consumption, production and command.

This model prioritizes individual economic advancement, so they become Animal Farm’s pigs eating with knives and forks while sending Boxer the horse to the glue factory when he becomes expendable. It eliminates urgent requirements for a strong police state, for students stop investing in dismantling the status quo. It re-packages student as ‘clients’ consuming education services, disconnecting them from the centuries old tradition of student radicalism.

For students in the Caribbean, already distracted by the escapism of social media, there is no Room 101, no torture and no war, so they don’t demand an education system that teaches them to collectively end these.

There’s a Room 101 in the Caribbean though, called Guantanamo Bay. There’s a war against drugs, led by the DEA, that is fueling hundreds of unexplained assassinations, and preventing us from making billions from a medical marijuana industry. Doesn’t matter, students are already unwilling or fearful of challenging unjust laws, class inequalities, corporate corruption, political party hierarchies, homophobia and sexism, preferring to focus on their step on the ladder.

I’m not blaming students. They see Petrotrin destroying marine life while big boys collect fat paycheques. They travel to the US and shop at Walmart, which pays its employees so little, they all rely on welfare to live. They see both PNM and UNC’s massive levels of misspending without a single politician or financier ever being convicted. They live in a world where 62 individuals own as much as the bottom 3 billion, and have never been to a class that teaches them how to take down and replace that global economic and political system with one built around justice: where no one goes hungry, where no one is desperately poor, where no industry is allowed to profit while killing life on the planet.

The economic model the world is built on is costing us more than it provides, even if we account for jobs, a growing middle class, and revenue for social services. 6.5 million people died of air pollution in 2012. Calculate that socialization of losses and understand that students need to know how to end corporate dominance and its privatization of gains. Air, water and food will be our number one issues in another generation. The planet’s future ecology has to define students’ vision. Political elites need to be held accountable, for they have us in this situation. UWI and our students must thus be a political force governments cannot ignore.

Beware of the language of cutbacks. There’s enough money in the world for students and workers, for species to no longer go extinct and for innovations that benefit society. Caribbean universities’ home-grown mandate is to challenge the economic and political systems established here in 1492, to produce the leaders and masses that took on and ended those global orders, to protect their dreams of humanity, sustenance and freedom, and to advance a world where we can survive and thrive without exploitation and inequity.

We are compelled to train students to become workers in the current capitalist order, but we resist its colonization of their minds. Our vision is for more than their exchange value. Industry alignment, profit logic and cutbacks will not compromise our intellectual independence, or theirs. We teach to transgress, for who else will? Universities are spaces of freedom. Universities are not for sale.

The university’s Business (model):

A) research and teaching on the basis of total intellectual independence

B) trans-disciplinary critical challenge of the inequitable and destructive global status quo

C) mobilization of upcoming generations’ collective consciousness regarding impunity of elite and corporate power and corruption

D) well-informed and fearless re-envisioning that follows a homegrown radical tradition of emancipation and humanity

E) empowerment as more than individual advancement, but as the capacity for citizens to hold power accountable

F) innovations in arts, sciences, economics and politics to make a just and sustainable world possible for all.