If I was Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago…

Post 491.

WHEN referring to UWI’s political and intellectual leadership, people typically cited the Black Power moment of the 1970s, and students’ contribution to mobilising and transformation. As absolutely important as that history is, I often found such nostalgia almost negated the decades that followed.

Following the 1970s, there was insistently radical thought and action that sought to dismantle the status quo of intersecting race, class, gender, sexual and disability hierarchies. Such radicalism wasn’t always well-received, and was frequently marginalised, misunderstood and misrepresented, but it was always absolutely positioned as the business of the UWI.

There had been a fearless and visionary feminist revolution in the Caribbean, to which the UWI and its students contributed, and which challenged and transformed all of our lives as well as the basic foundations of scholarship, statehood and movement-building.

I thought we needed UWI principals to refer to these later decades of feminist-informed social justice struggle as they did to the period of 1970s, claiming them with a sense of pride.

For the UWI remained at the forefront of a Caribbean radical tradition that sought to disrupt the continuing coloniality of patriarchy and transphobia, ableism and the Anthropocene as much as students once marched against white supremacy.

That principal is now here. Brilliantly, she’s long been part of these very struggles, showing it’s not just about having a woman at the top. It’s about having a woman who is also a transformational leader.

At Saturday’s induction of Professor Rose-Marie Belle Antoine as principal, I thought that for all the decades since I’ve been on campus as a graduate student, this is the kind of leadership about which I’ve dreamed.

She has also long been at the forefront of a contemporary Caribbean radicalism in which gender justice and LBGTI rights are just as important as the rights of people with disabilities, women’s rights to safe and legal abortion, indigenous rights to sovereignty, and migrant rights to belonging.

For those looking for such inclusion and change at the UWI and in our region, it’s the first time it feels like there’s no need to lobby, play nice, be patient or have to explain basics established by scholarship 40 years ago, such as why gender matters.

Different people want different things from campus principals. Some are looking for administrative reforms, others for increased revenue, settling of disputes, policy implementation, more patents and factories, more private sector partnerships or more public impact.

I’ve looked for political and intellectual leadership. For me, that’s the core contribution of a university, making it different from the State, corporate sector and vocational education.

Universities are where independent thought and freedom, and a connection between inquiry and social responsibility, are nurtured as their own ends, and because these are also social necessities. It’s what we contribute to social good, not being defined by either political power or profit.

The neoliberal push of the last 20 years to measure everything by metrics, funding and the bottom line, combined with global economic precarity that reduced both scholarships and students’ financial capacity, put pressure on universities everywhere.

We all had to pivot to job market preparation and income generation. Yet, universities must also always question market logic as much as they contend with its demands.

Some disciplines can produce what is useful to housewives, available at grocery stores, manufactured locally, designed in response to our contexts and time, inspired by Caribbean creative traditions, and home-grown in our Caribbean soils.

Others address issues of health, work-life balance, violence, poverty, ecological destruction and gender inequity through changing public consciousness and policy. Some can be easily packaged. Others – such as poetry, philosophy or history– are less income-generating, although of no lesser worth.

Our business is therefore entrepreneurship, product invention and monetary stability as much as activism, educational access, social and economic rights, historical grounding, and undisciplined imagination.

As Principal Belle Antoine put it, we have a role in “healing our wounded society,” challenging discrimination, and collaborating to “save the planet and ourselves” through bringing expertise to people and people’s expertise to greater potential.

It feels like a radical coming-of-age in UWI St Augustine’s history, 40 years after the 1970s, with a woman at the helm who gets that the economic crises we must weather have made intersections among gender, sexual, social, economic and climate justice ever more urgent, rather than superfluous.

Similarly, although we labour in the vineyard of wealth creation, such labour should not define our purpose, identity, value or humanity as a university, as a region or as future generations.

The (If I was…) Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago responds to the Highway Re-route Movement during the second hunger strike of Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh.

Set to Mrs. Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s campaign favorite, Celine Dion’s ‘A New Day’, this uncut edition of the PM’s Official Address to the Nation gives the facts and shows government’s commitment to truth vs spin.

#rerouteTnT #thepowerofprinciple #democratizedevelopment

If I was Prime Minister, I would fearlessly challenge sexism and homophobia.


Ending both would improve life for everyone, regardless of your sex or sexuality. This is because sexism and homophobia ultimately harm both women and men, both gay folks and straight. These are not minority or special interest issues, these are issues of human rights and equality for all. And, either you are for equality for all or you are not for equality at all.

In the Caribbean, where our historical struggle has precisely been about emancipation, a politics committed to this for all should be the first basis for constituency, community and nation building.

Get my full pitch on youtube. Just type my name and PM, yes, for Prime Minister. If you think you are not hurt by sexism and homophobia or even if you just don’t want to be treated unequally, you might be interested in Caribbean advocacy that bring statistics, legislative review, stories, quotes and performance poetry.

The slide background was the logo for the student feminist group, ‘Consciousness Raising’, which was active from 2007-2009 and was the first group to come out of my women’s studies class.  They held campus marches for two years for International Women’s Day and International Day Against Violence for Women. The words in their logo are ‘solidarity’, ‘freedom’, ‘take action’ and ‘change’.

The students I quoted in my talk have also formed groups such as ‘Support for Change’, in 2011, to advocate for the national gender policy. They run Facebook discussion safe spaces like ‘Womantra’. They start campaigns of all kinds such as a Port of Spain and UWI ‘Slutwalk’ action to show that women’s sexuality in no way justifies rape. They are involved in creating safe spaces on the UWI campus for LGBT students, finally. These students are also active in the Institute for Gender and Development Studies-led ‘Break the Silence’ campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest. Rock on, UWI youth!

Viewers will also see my Introduction to Women’s Studies class of 2013. This is the seventh year that my male and female students have done popular actions on women’s rights, in a course first taught in 1982. Students this year were open-minded, thoughtful and courageous about engaging in such movement-building. Those faces are a Caribbean feminist generation nurtured in our own university.

For those in the field of Caribbean feminist academia and activism, there is lively debate about whether to use words like ‘equality’ or ‘equity’, or even ‘transformation’, also whether to use ‘homophobia’, which actually misrepresents the issue but is at least commonly known, or whether to use ‘heterosexism’. Regardless, I hope the message is clear.

For Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, which has buried the National Gender Policy and passed a discriminatory Children’s Act (2012), it’s a must-see. For the PNM, which remains a deeply homophobic party, clueless to the implications for even heterosexual boys and men, it’s also necessary.

If you have homophobic religious beliefs, or you care about children, the economy and creating safe communities, watch it with an eye to the leadership that I think we need beyond 2015.

There is a lot of talk in the country, not all of it constructive. The TEDx Port of Spain 2013 event featured an inspiring line up of speakers, including Etienne Charles, Attillah Springer, Wayne Kublalsingh, Rondel Benjamin and Keegan Taylor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Father Clyde Harvey, Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Debrah Lewis and Dominique Le Gendre. All the talks are on youtube. There are also past talks by Sunity Maharaj, Verna St. Rose Greaves, Christopher Laird of Gayelle and others. Google them, sit back and tune in.

(This post was originally posted earlier in the year, but revised for later publication in the Trinidad Guardian on February 13, 2014).

(See also Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Why can’t he just be like everyone else?’ It is important that Africa, India, the Caribbean, Latin America and so on lead this struggle, as we have been doing.)

Activists, poets, robber-talk lyricists, conservationists, politicians, trees, fish and everyday peeps, i created this at a moment when the T and T state was spending somewhere between TT$200 000 000 and $500 000 000 (yep, millions) on hosting CHOGM, the Commonwealth Heads of Govt meeting…at the same time when we – that is, ALL of us, really needed to get our act together on the Copenhagen conservation and climate change commitments…nuf said.

Pollsters, Peeps, Culture Jammers, Trinbagonians, Jokers and Unc Patos,

Peeps, Sistren, Friends, Satirists, Activists, Trinbagonians and Unc Patos,

This is the Intro to my new vlog (video blog) where I put my frustrations at our political leadership and my dreams for change to the airwaves or should I say the webwaves….

Send your comments, critiques, support and suggestions for ideas and improvements…

My hot off the press ‘If I was Prime Minister…’ video blog is about to hit the webwaves….soon come!