January 2018


Post 270.

Last year’s politically-astute megahit touched a deep chord in people’s spinal cord. Ultimate Rejects-MX Prime’s ‘Full Extreme‘ brilliantly called out the disaster that is Port of Spain’s governance of the nation’s treasury and economy. It also celebrated the popular necessity of taking jammin, giving jammin, and jammin still, which is the only way to endure hardship, hold on to an ideal of fulfillment, and experience enough bodily exuberance, however fleeting, to lift the spirit.

What to do in the midst of a recession that, as Terrence Farrell tells us, the government refuses to fix? Doh business; a piece of advice as complex as any proverb or framed verse of Desiderata, rephrased in the grammar of soca.

One year, thousands of lay-offs and hundreds of dead bodies later, we need another refrain to carry us collectively through this season. 2018 Carnival’s expected Road March, ‘Soca Kingdom’, brings the success of Machel’s signature hard pong and invokes the obeah of Super Blue, but provides few of the political layers of last year.

The Boy King offers bare description of ‘wining all in front of the people business place’. There will be wining and it will occur in front of locked and shuttered business places, but there’s no comparable ‘kaiso, kaiso!’ in this line’s lyrical imagining of the dream and dread of sovereignty over our twin-island domain.

Lloyd Best is in my head as I think about this, with his view that none of us yet consider ourselves the owners in this place. Rather, we all understand ourselves as workers and second-class citizens; mere proletarians without capital to be in charge. You only “party like a VIP” if you are not partying as a VIP. If, indeed, you not a VIP. You only wining in front of “the people” business place if those people are others and not you.

I suppose, on reflection, rather than normalizing classist barricades which have invaded fete spaces over the past decade with VVIP sections promising champagne in mauby times, Machel’s instruction actually names the paltry and narrowed terms of our social contract, and distribution of wealth and power in our political-economy.

An elite some get to be “the people”, an aspiring some get near enough to act “like”, and the rest must make the most of wining over countless road pothole, the most obvious and common symbol of how smartmen in a contractocracy become VVIP.

A major problem, any economist will tell you, is that business in Trinidad and Tobago is often dependent on state funds or on imports, and with oil and gas production and prices low, neither does the state have funds nor are we earning enough to sustain a model premised on imports, not even a Carnival model masquerading as local when premised on imports.

Back to champagne and mauby. The Trinidad and Tobago Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (TTEITI) released a report on our “new normal” in January, showing that we are spending more than we are earning, and it’s clear that the management of our resources, investments, and plans for sustainable revenue generation have been and continue to be poor.

So, unfortunately, when the wining is done, somebody is going to have to business about the people business place, which is the government and nation, and start business places that create rather than lay off jobs, bringing in rather than spending foreign exchange.

Otherwise, the biggest business in the place will be crime, and the gangs will run communities like they own them, murdering whomever they choose, which is how de facto sovereign power works when the social contract meant to protect the People’s business fails.

In this Soca Kingdom, we have to rule from inside, rather than being in front and locked out. To quote Growling Tiger, money is King, and we are set to find out if it’s really true, that when you are broken, a dog is better off than you.

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Post 269.

Carnival has always been about negotiation of gendered and sexual power. Think of jamettes long confrontation with middle-class and religious expectations of respectability. Think of a cross-dressing mas tradition long enabling performance of transgressive identities.

The charge has historically been directed at women ‘wining like that’ with century after century of commentators repetitively raging about (women’s) vulgarity and the potential for bam bam to make all social order bend over.

Ignoring the hysteria of such emasculated morality, women increasingly came together in movements tens of thousands strong to declare a desire for sexual freedom and pleasure, and an expectation of state responsibility for protection of these, as ‘rights’.

Commentators who bemoaned Carnival’s loss of political punch completely misread decades of bikini mas because they were not the mouth-piece for Afro-Trinidadian working class men in the tradition of pan and calypso. They missed the significance of year after year of multi-class and multi-ethnic bands of bubblicious women in agreement about such rights as a modern Caribbean feminist politics predating ‘Slutwalks’, ‘Life in Leggings’ or ‘Me Too’ responses to sexual harassment.

‘Carnival is woman’ on the one hand was about commodifying and marketing women’s bodies as the nation’s economic stimulus package, but on the other it marked a decisive shift to a contemporary social order in which jamette resistance had become fully nationalized.

TTPS’ public position on consent in Carnival is the jamette’s desire and right to sexual autonomy and freedom from sexual violence, both denied by the very foundations of colonial authority, now articulated by law.

It’s a historically significant signal of change and power not to be by-passed, a legacy of Carnival becoming woman, now penetrating into state authority. It should stop anyone from declaring that Carnival is no longer political because the renegotiation of power in the democratic density of a ram fete or in the middle of rough wine on the road is politics itself, from rather than in ‘yuh pweffin’.

A debate with all expected hullabaloo followed the police press statement. Iwer declared, “If you look at all the history about Carnival, we never had an issue with anybody wining on anyone”. Not true. Thousands of women can tell you about fellas not taking a ‘no’ or a ‘move away’, others pulling your wrists or your waist when you on the road for Jouvay, needing to roll with a crew of fellas for protection, and playing mas within ropes and with security precisely to be free of being pursued and grabbed.

Fay-Ann’s concern was about the right to consent being abused by ‘a lot of women in the stations’ falsely claiming a man tried to wine on them, though reports of sexual violence have never worked that way. Machel was criticised for his instructions before his management instructed him to back back. The police were above the fray and dead clear. It’s assault to touch someone without her or his consent.

Police Service Asst. Supt. Michael Jackman went further than advising permission to wine: “Even when a person is already engaged in dancing or wining or gyrating with another person, with a partner, a friend, family member or stranger, at some point in time that person says, “Okay, I want to stop”, and they indicate that verbally or by action, that action may be by stepping away or saying, “no”, verbally, “I had enough”, then the person who they were engaged with at that point in time ought to respect that decision and stop”. In his statement were echoes of Explainer’s ‘Rasta Chick’, Singing Sandra’s ‘Die with My Dignity’, Destra’s ‘Wrong Bam Bam’ and even Sharlene Boodram’s, ‘Ask It’.

Wining is an old jamette language now brilliantly informing interpretation of law by police brass. The body talks, and the lesson is to become literate in woman-centred traditions of lyrical and waist skill, or Dan is the man in the van on his way to make a jail.

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Post 268.

Comandantas from Mexico’s Zapatista Army for National Liberation (EZLN) recently called for a global gathering of rebellious women. Their language reflected centuries of radical leadership of Indigenous women in the Caribbean.

“With regard to the Zapatista men”, they wrote, “we are going to put them to work on all the necessary tasks so that we can play, talk, sing, dance, recite poetry, and engage in any other forms of art and culture that we want to share without embarrassment. The men will be in charge of all necessary kitchen and cleaning duties”.

Here at home, I had just had one of those conversations about how feminists should make our work more about men and more relevant to men, but no words were said about them manning the kitchens.

This pressure is ironic. In all its diversity, feminism is the only social movement in history to put women’s rights and their challenge to patriarchal power first, and it emerged specifically because other movements, from unions to political parties, aimed for merely halfway liberation, and still do.

The millions of women who are the majority labouring in feminism’s trenches must unapologetically prioritize women’s freedom from sexual violence and equity in political and economic power, both still to be won.

Yet, this movement has also been active on issues of peace, nuclear disarmament, trade agreements, gang violence, literacy, conservation, and other areas which impact both women and men’s lives. Additionally, feminists have long been active on ‘men’s issues’ whether they are arguing for greater paternity leave, for greater care for boys’ emotions, prison reform, and much more.

And, it’s worth noting that men’s violence against women and women’s under-representation in global and national decision-making are not ‘women’s issues’. They are issues of men’s occupation and exercise of unequal power, and they should be solved by men with an iota of commitment to justice because that’s what manhood, in all its diversity, love and strengths, brings.

Do we appeal to a majority of men by leaving traditional notions of manhood and womanhood unchallenged or by prioritizing men’s needs, cleaving feminism’s radical vision and analytic challenge to precisely these from its mobilization and power?

We know that’s not necessary because men all over the world are involved and doing great work in feminist movements without us even trying to “put men and boys more to the centre of our policy solutions”, or pretend there is anything equal in experiences of domestic violence, or that one woman President is enough when women have never been 50% of our parliament.

These are brothers-in-struggle who don’t need women to exercise power behind the scenes, in the home, while rocking the cradle, or nicely because they know that commitment is about justice, not comfort, not a battle of the sexes, nor a decentering of women from feminism, even as we also care about our children, brothers, nation and planet.

In a final irony, marking feminist success by men’s visibility risks becoming vulnerable to those demanding newspaper space for gender – meaning only men – while failing to get definitions, facts or analysis right. Because of word space, I won’t dust out those SFATT soundboys tonight*.  

We don’t get men on our side by softening, repackaging or marginalising accurate analyses of power, but because collective transformation of patriarchal ideals of manhood and womanhood, which ultimately harm both women and men, is necessary.  

To quote these Zapatista Comandantas, “We greet you with respect and affection as the women that we are—women who struggle, resist, and rebel against the chauvinist and patriarchal state. We know well that the bad system not only exploits, represses, robs, and disrespects us as human beings, but that it exploits, represses, robs, and disrespects us all over again as women…Yet we are not fearful, or if we are, we control our fear, and we do not give in, we don’t give up, and we don’t sell out.”

 

*An earlier critique of comments in the article highlighted: 1. Murders of women do not occur when fathers are alienated from their children and respond in a wrong manner. Fathers may become alienated from their children when women end abusive relationships. Intimate partner violence, without accountability, which includes threats to women’s lives and their families created that alienation, at least in this case. 2. Withholding sex from a spouse is NOT abuse. It may mean the relationship should end but nowhere in any UN position or national law is choosing not to have sex with a violent partner an example of sexual abuse. 3. “In most cases, the perpetrator would not have murdered before or had a criminal record”. This is vastly missing the point. Anyone who is going to murder their ex/partner needed help long before that relationship or its ending, anger doesn’t turn to murder without pre-existing controlling and abusive behaviour, which may indeed be recognised and reported on…in this case, police and family were aware of reports. 4. The argument that women’s abusive behaviour to men is the “true offense”, much worse that physical violence (for which is harm is unequally borne by women), more widespread, more harmful and more at fault when cases of woman-murder happen absolves men of responsibility for femicide. 5. Men and women can be abusive. Both need access to counseling and life without violence, but when women are run down and murdered, they are not responsible. Wrapping valid arguments in equally irresponsible victim-blame does more harm than good.

 

Post 267.

Rebuild A Home

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I got nuff respect for sustained contribution and commitment beyond a news cycle, for it shows when care is real. So, I was deeply humbled to hear of the Rebuild A Home project, aimed to re-establish the stability of houses, schools and communities in Antigua, Dominica, Barbuda, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands.

It gave me hope that we could do more than express horror at others’ fate and offer help briefly, but ultimately far too ineffectually. Remember, just a few months ago, hurricanes Irma and Maria wreaked over three billion dollars in damage, and mangled life chances in ways only the heartbreak of individual stories can convey.

I kept hearing Rudder in my head while the project’s organisers spoke. Rudder is rallying round lovely cricket, but those lyrics are like oxygen in your lungs when you want to sing and shout and bawl about “these tiny theatres of conflict and confusion/Better known as the isles of the West Indies”. Centuries repeatedly show we can only collectively survive if we support one another, rather than be at “somebody’s mercy”, whether colonial ruler, local politician or donor agency.

The Rebuild A Home project is spearheaded by the Living Water Community’s Mercy Foundation, and its team is a range of corporate supporters, including the Global Business Leadership Forum, the Joint Chambers of Commerce, Digicel, Beacon, Shell and BP. There are international allies such as Qnary and Align Entertainment Group, which are heading international social media campaigning and fundraising. And, there’s Build Change, which has to lead construction of hurricane-resistant homes during our brief dry season.

Corporate Caribbean stepping up and in where governments don’t or can’t will be absolutely key in our precarious future. More than anything else, post-independence governments across the region have shown more failures than successes, unless pressed to do better by ordinary people, business influence or aid conditionalities.

With dire circumstances seemingly everywhere at once, from Yemen to Venezuela, the lesson to take into this initiative is that the West Indies cannot wait on aid. Instead, anyone with a connection to the Caribbean, whether through literature, music, ancestry or blessed baptism in our blue sea, has to live by the philosophy of love for our region. Then and now, we are a unique crucible in which the histories of far flung continents have been enduringly forged together. This has been our strength and our vulnerability, and up to this second we are being presented with the opportunity to choose.

You can choose to sponsor a home or make a donation to help meet a $10 million USD project goal. You can donate $1 or $100, the equivalent of one fete ticket or as much as one mas costume. Or, you can get your mas band and fete promoter to donate for every ticket or purchase, turning your disposable consumer dollars into a boundless solidarity economy.

The project’s website and fundraising platform, www.rebuildourhomes.com, reports that, among other ongoing volunteer actions, 35 containers were shipped to affected islands, a warehouse was constructed to store supplies, and vehicles were sent to help with distribution. The plan ahead is to rebuild a minimum of 200 homes and start constructing schools. From within my crease, I’m also thinking about contributing post-disaster healing methodologies developed especially for Caribbean children.

Rudder’s pen seems to say it all: “Little keys can open mighty doors”.

As always, there is more if we want to move from adaptation to mitigation, which ultimately we must. The burning of fossil fuels, CO2 increase and climate change is the number one spiraling threat to the Caribbean. Small as we are, we have to be brave enough to think and act big so that long-term transformation and not just immediate, though necessary, donation and service is our true power.

If each of us is guided by our conscience, we can find some way to help turn trauma to resilience, “now and forever”.

Post 266.

‘Sans humanite’ is our most identifiable cultural refrain, crossing centuries with its compelling, swaying echo of dark humor, stoicism, lament, and aspiration. The cry expresses a desire for recognition, and seeks audience identification with lyrical sparring with pain, for to be a victor in conditions of defeat is to hold your humanity like your bois, and to be seen defying forces that thrive off breaking its strength.

Just to stay on your feet, answering back, fighting, insisting on the fact of your existence is to make demands which matter on the larger collective watching, cheering or calling for your head and blood. It’s a big deal; a call for acknowledgement that you are human too.

Such insistence is fundamentally important, even when it will hardly change dominant institutions, structures and elites, because in the skies between heaven and earth are ever-circling corbeaux, and you might not reach that holy place that honors the God in you if, before your final ascent, your spirit first gets torn apart limb by limb.

How to be a victor in conditions of defeat? How to hold your humanity firm as a bois? How to escape that oppressive shadow of corbeaux following you?

Insist on fairness and refuse advantage by setting humanity as our first ground rule.

Long before conceptions of rights formally established the terms of our still unjust order, notions of fairness trod the land, wafting like breeze against curtains, warm like the smell of homemade bread; carrying in the last notes of rum shop conversation, evaporating in the cool night along with salty tears; and dusting off fruit and vegetables like remnants of garden soil as police and vendors negotiate the informal line between committing a minor crime and making an honest dollar.

Legal scholars will tell you that people are more likely to accept judgments against them, with which they may still disagree, if they feel they have been treated fairly in the process of administering justice. People will turn their lives around if the opportunity they are given is truly fair, with all that encompasses.

Women will stay rather than leave if the deal they are asked to accept truly honors their sovereign and independent humanity, and offers only what is fair.

Enemies might find a middle way out of senseless killing if a sense of fairness can establish just enough mutual trust and cooperation. Elites may act out of greater social responsibility if they recognize that that there is wider profit in fairness, and putting people first.

On this new day with its invitation to a new year, there is no solution to our troubles ahead if ‘sans humanite’ remains the best description of our state and our selves.

Lawyers will continue to debate the crisis in the judiciary and create no greater fairness for those most experiencing its injustice. Cabinet will shadowbox with financiers, contracts and corruption, hitting the public below the belt, while telling us to tighten, tighten. Women will continue to die while state agencies avoid those changes necessary to give them a fair chance at love and life.

Keep refusing such advantage. Fairness is the one ideal we all understand, which can make us more humane, which might still save us from ourselves.

I could talk about necessary resolutions, reform and implementation, civic values, and programmes to nurture something other than the crushing of integrity under government boots.

But, still on our feet, our bois is the smooth, hard weapon of fairness, and its power can hold us accountable to each other as individuals and across institutions. Without fairness, advantage, with all the deaths that it brings, will continue to rule.

‘Sans humanite’ may be our most identifiable cultural refrain, but corbeaux are circling, and their shadow is filling us with terror and doubt. Fairness and humanity must be our answer from today. They are strengths neither our society nor spirits can live without.