Post 164.

Close to the Highway Re-route Movement and Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh’s second hunger strike, there have been moments of self-reckoning, of seeking optimism in every step forward, and of continuing to weave passion for a better world with level-headed analysis about the actual terrain.

I’ve asked myself what constitutes a movement and how many must comprise its ranks? Are a handful of active individuals with wider, more passive public sympathy enough?

What happens when those few individuals become worn down, hopeless, unable to sacrifice more, and alienated by others who find them too troublesome or disloyal? What is our role in supporting them and how can larger popular energy be genuinely gathered rather than appear as manufactured momentum?

What does it mean when the public does not rally en masse behind citizen challenge to state power, but when that engagement is doubtlessly better for public life now and in the future? Wrapped in the mix of public dialogue are also PR spin, media control, prejudices, misinformation, anger, fear and an array of other pressing sufferations. How to effectively engage our volatile but potential paradise with clarity and conscience, knowing that the status quo is backed by elite silences, political party loyalties, narrowly calculated development models, entrenched interests with bigger resources, and complex histories of distrust?

It’s easy to sit back and criticize what ordinary citizens, fighting for one kind of justice or another, haven’t done, to have the privilege of hindsight in evaluating their strategy, or to misinterpret their failures as proof of their illegitimacy.

It’s easy to point to questions of ego or single-minded leadership as if reflection on ego, pride and single-mindedness isn’t part of our own being human too. It’s easy to be uninformed, to disparage and to resort to quick anger. Rather, we should be asking how we can build consensus, connect to each other in ways that reveal resolution, and hold each other as allies whatever our differences, for aren’t we all called on to create one nation?

Hard and honest answers are necessary for the consciousness raising, advocacy and organizing that seem endlessly ahead, whether in relation to governmental transparency, gender equality, ending violence or preservation of the only ecosystem we will ever have.

In reckoning, I’ve asked myself what kind of leader I want to be, navigating between clear personal vision and responsibility to a shared mandate. I’ve thought hard about how the revolutionary act of motherhood, a feminist commitment to public politics but also to family, must be a strategic guide. I’ve questioned the implications of using guilt or pressure, or even unfairly disparaging citizens or officials’ names, avoiding the manipulation, and divide and rule of politicians. I’ve wondered at the costs of giving your lifetime or your life to a political principle, and hope I could find any of that commitment, knowing that there should be no other way to live.

These past weeks of this unique hunger strike, whatever its outcome, have brought me up close with passion, for who feels it knows. Wayne’s individual defense of democracy, community and sustainability as inalienable from development’s meanings is only part of a much larger collective which will soldier on for rights, justice, accountability, compassion and more, in every way we can imagine, in the ways already ongoing, fearlessly.

When in doubt, there is always our own Caribbean history, reminding that change is always possible, and that we inherit a homegrown spirit of defiance instead of defeat.

These are dread times, but when have they not been? What to remember from this moment? To keep giving life to optimism, passion and uncompromising truth.

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Post 80.

What happens when you fill ordinary people’s heads with the idea of being good citizens is that they become hungry for responsible government.

What happens when you emphasise the importance of civics to children is that they become hungry for the kind of participation that is accountable to their voice, their views and their needs. What happens when citizens start to believe in putting country first is that they become hungry for transparency and accountability from our national institutions.

What happens when we erect statues to Gandhi and Cipriani in our most populous cities is that we become hungry for people of conscience to move amongst us, ordinary mortals drawn from our ranks but answering to a more transcendent sense of justice.

Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike shares the belly pain of those of us hungry for an end to illegitimate authority, the kind that tells us what to do but will not tell us why so that we can decide for ourselves.

His act of conscience draws on no moral authority beyond his own body or beyond his own belonging as Trini and Tobagonian to the bone. We are distrustful of this as a society and yet we know it so well. Office, patronage funds, legislation, fancy suits and big words have always exercised control, but they have never fully consumed our hearts, and our sense of what is fair, reasonable and right. We make peace with power but remain hungry, and quick to anger and rebellion, because the promises we believed continually leave us empty.

Writing this, my gut hurts because no citizen should have to starve just to show how hungry we all are for government that knows a way beyond division, corruption, secrecy and domination. No good citizen should have to risk death so that those of us alive today do not gorge on the sustenance of future generations: ecosystems; agriculture; community; family; local businesses and a non-violent state.

In the public debate, most don’t know that Wayne is fasting simply for the public release of the impact assessments, the hydrology reports, the cost-benefit analyses and the technical reviews of the highway section planned from Debe to Mon Desir. He is not fasting to stop the highway, he is hungry for information, for answers which should be out there but which he must beg for like crumbs, like a vagrant lying on the street outside an all-inclusive party. What is frightening is that he is not alone. His hunger for answers, his simple request to be given some room at the table, is heard every day in citizens’ grumblings.

As a new generation, Ziya’s generation, begins to realise that we are fast consuming all and leaving only our debris behind, they too will feel the pangs of hunger for some other way ahead that can only be found together, without insult and injury between each other.

Wayne, know that your hunger shows ours as stark, unnecessary and untenable. Prime Minister, know that our hunger has been centuries in the making, but that you can help us as we struggle to find a different way to survive and thrive.

People of this Republic, know that beyond all the polarising politics, is a citizen like us filled with love for his nation and nourishing our hunger with his care. Let us not feed this moment with division and hate when we are hungry for common ground and consensus across our communities.

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.

Tuesday 25 August 2009
Studio 66, Barataria, Trinidad and Tobago.
Gabrielle Jamela Hosein
gabrielle.hosein@sta.uwi.edu

Launch of “The RAG File – Writings of the Aluminium Smelter Wars”

Welcome to all.

It takes many threads, many narratives and many voices to weave one story of a social movement. Often, the threads of these stories cannot be neatly sewn up and knotted because, in reality, the victories of social movements are only rarely complete.

Nonetheless, every narrative can help weave the kind of cloth mas men like Minshall make: deceptively light and simple, to be carried everywhere and to be taken out onto the road in a gesture of exuberant rebellion.

‘The RAG File – Writings of the Aluminium Smelter Wars’ contains many such threads, many narratives and many voices. Together, they give us, like Minshall’s fabric, something tangible to hold, to examine and to use to express our sense of who we are back to ourselves. This fabric is more precious than silver or gold or aluminum. It is what we wield when we want to claim spaces and sacred practices as our own.

Caribbean people can’t lose these threads, these narratives because without them we become undone, and the fabric of our society unravels. We forget, we fear and we risk failure. In Trinidad and Tobago, we know so little about our own social movements and our own rebel histories and herstories. We come from a region marked by revolutions: the Haitian, Bolivarian, Mexican, Nicaraguan, Cuban and Grenadian. We live in a society where too little has been published about the power of 1970. Perhaps, future generations will not even know about the struggles fought just then so that they could love themselves, experience equality and live with radically changed notions of rights and respect.

When we are handed the story of one such social movement in Trinidad and Tobago, woven together with anger, love and a passion for justice, we are truly blessed. It becomes a moment for us to celebrate not only the rebels in our midst, but also our writers. It becomes a moment for us to stop and listen to the many voices in this narrative. There are the voices of environmentalists, patriots, fathers, grandmothers, workers, feminists, nurses, children and farmers. Some of these speak directly to us in the chapters by Fitzroy Beache, Attillah Springer and Shivanna Mahabir. Others speak through the writings by Burton Sankeralli, writings which lead us date by date from 2006 to 2009, in no chronological order, as if the western calendar matters less than what we do with our time. Here is the documentation, one narrative with many voices complexly interwoven into a story of, perhaps, one the most important social movements of our generation’s times.

The many citizens, whose voices and spirits are invoked here, gather together from many directions to form something called the ‘anti-smelter’ movement. Yet, what stands out is that this movement is so much more. Its colours not simply two toned or for or against, but ‘river come down’ kaleidoscopic. This is a movement that refuses easy enemies and false battles, especially against ourselves. Ordinary citizens join because of what matters to each individual. This highlights a key aspect of successful social movements; their openness, flexibility, scope, wide ranging relevance to everyday life and ability to allow women and men to directly and democratically determine their own existence. As Burton writes, ‘ours is a struggle to preserve and sustain the vital integrity of our space in its totality’ (92). As he also writes about the Rights Action Group (RAG), this is a struggle which ‘does not seek narrow ideological purity’, but seeks a membership ‘of those committed to transformation – those of a socialist orientation committed to radical economic/political structural change, cultural activists, those committed to a spiritual vision of human life and society, those involved in the arts or simply decent human beings prepared to walk wherever such decency leads’ (147).

Walking where such decency leads makes us folks who are not against industrialisation, but unregulated, dangerous, unnecessary, excessive, unsustainable industrialisation. The narratives that we create must hold tight to the threads that reel back to questions of energy reserves, water availability, waste disposal, health, community destruction, false party promises, ethnic and class divisions, and the privatisation of gains and socialisation of losses.

Using essays, speeches, letters, plays and Midnight Robber poetry, Burton provides us with an important little book for a big revolution. I use the word revolution because what we require is really a radical transformation in how we, as a post colonial society, think about development, natural resources, progress and wealth. It’s not the kind of thing Ministers of Finance take seriously, but our economic planning cannot speak in 20 year terms or for that matter 50 year terms. Sensible planning must think in terms of generations. What can I say? Generations of the world, unite!

Matching ancient ways with future approaches, the short pieces are ideal for introducing a range of issues to those yet to become allies, especially the young, and for inciting debate and discussion amongst those already in the ranks. Burton’s style of writing conveys the impression that not only can every cook govern, she or he can publish. On the question of publishing, I was intrigued at Burton’s insistence that his anti-smelter work was pro-PhD when, in fact, little writing can be done while driving across the country, listening to citizens of all kinds, speaking up everywhere necessary and supporting actions that must be organized. Yet, this book proves me wrong and has only increased my admiration for someone who can organize, theorise and write – and sing and pray, perform poetry and enact praxis – seemingly all at the same time and in one book.

So, tonight, I want to celebrate this publication by one of our own, our companero Burton Sankeralli. This collection of thoughts, reflection, personal vision and call to arms is something CLR, Rodney, Martin Carter and Elma Francois all understood. I must here also invoke the late Lloyd Best. Even Ganesh Ramsumair, the hero of Naipaul’s Mystic Masseur, began his long march by publishing his own books. I want to congratulate Burton on adding a step to the great Caribbean tradition of radical thought and collective action. Two hundred years from now when researchers and future generations want to read the voice of scholars who were actively weaving the story of social movements with many threads, many narratives and many voices, this book will be here. May we all carry this book everywhere and take it out onto the road with every gesture of self-determination and exuberant rebellion. May these words help, however we play our role, to change our world. May we win this war, ‘bringing people together as community to engage this new peril and new possibility’ (89). May we draw our energy from ‘the eternal possibility of love’. ‘Bonds splinter, dreams die but struggle continues…’ (166). No Smelter!
Thank you.
GJH