Post 296.

The floorboards creaked and tore as if daily life was almost too much weight to bear. The windows broke from their rusting hinges for their joints ached and they gave in to the pain. The roof hung with a sadness only the neglected know, its desire to protect unnoticed, its watchful eye met with ones closed to its needs. The house had been falling apart for a long time.

I’d describe its crumbling as imperceptible, except it was everywhere – in the decaying cupboards, the stained kitchen countertop, the scuffed furniture, the torn curtains.

These were plainly apparent, but too overwhelming to see so the best option appeared to not look. It’s like that sometimes, living in an old house past its grandeur, the walls of the rooms are made of memories, so you can live in the past when the white paint shone and the roof glistened like a whole beautiful blank sheet, before botched by time, weather and neglect.

Meanwhile, parts fall or break down, like organs, and the structure becomes unreliable so that even its all will no longer be enough. High winds, normal for changing seasons, blow from unexpected directions and everyone holds anxious, insecure breath.

Moving was inevitable and overdue, but gutting. You wake up for twenty years in one room and the light falling across the floor just so feels like the quiet intimacy of long-time companionship.  The birds sing from their perch on the eaves, and your heart aches that their song cannot be wrapped in newspaper and carried with you in a cardboard box.  Your favorite corner of the room will disappear when demolished.

Taking pictures down from the walls, and seeing their outline remain written in dust, like a ghost that won’t leave, makes your vision ricochet between all the past times you looked there – the contexts, reflections and familiar sounds, and the present – which is all that matters. The house remembers everything in its bones, in every break that wasn’t mended, in every echo of anger, laughter or silence.

Anyone who has ever had to pack up a life to move knows that it’s a reckoning. What you discard or keep evokes the story you want family history to tell and the stories even you want to forget. What gets put in boxes for immediate unpacking rather than those you may not end up unpacking for years tells you much about what once mattered and now can be forgotten.

As glossy as the new house may be, you have been shaped by the old space, the way that your mouth shapes your words or your hands curve around another’s or the way a coocoon envelops a butterfly. A house isn’t bricks and mortar or wood and galvanise, it’s the ribcage in which your breath has been steady and protected. It’s a space for a heart.

Saying goodbye isn’t easy even if you don’t want to or can’t still live there. It’s like pulling away from your own skin, which shrank from the salt of too many tears and, now, like a soucouyant, you cannot get back in. It feels the way that thin, slivery cobwebs cling to your hair and lips because they are not built to let go.

You are going to somewhere new and better, something that isn’t threatening to trap you in its collapse, but as I keep coming back to, a house is the embrace you sleep in at night, its arms warm and familiar.

The new house, with all your life teetering around you in boxes of different weights and sizes, isn’t quite finished, and it will take a while to get the windows and doors right, to know where the motes dance in afternoon light, and what calls speak to your house at night. You stand amidst all this, in limbo between past and future, unsettled, but asking for acceptance from the foundation and walls, and the wind that moves through.

In the old house, grown decrepit and ruined, sorting each object reminds that this moment will never come again. In the new home, everyday construction and care, fresh eyes and fresh paint, are the loving gestures you make to complete a dream you returned to when you couldn’t sleep.

Such departing and arriving are the only metaphors I can find for when your heart and mind are occupied with the many emotions of moving, and when you walk away from an old life and open the door to one both necessary and new.

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Post 290.

Once, Hindus were not allowed to legally marry under Hindu rites because marriage was only legitimate if it was Christian. Spiritual Baptists were not allowed to practice their religion because it was associated with African community and spiritual customs. Muslims could not commemorate Hosay, for the gathering of masses with sticks and drums so threatened authorities that the Muharram massacre of 1884 occurred.

Vagrancy laws were notoriously used to confine indentured Indian workers to sugar plantations, preventing and punishing escape and rebellion. Once, and perhaps still, you could get harassed and locked up just for being Rasta.

These are all struggles which show how violent and oppressive the law and those who enforce it can be, particularly against the poor and those deemed to not fit in or to be out of place. These are all examples of individuals and communities trying to live as they choose, committing no harm to others and being criminalised anyway. Finally, these are all histories of those among us who successfully sought freedom and protection from injustice.

We would be talking history if this wasn’t the story of individuals and groups still dreaming of an equal place in the region, still dreaming of what you may take for granted; the chance to live without threat, discrimination and harm.

Tomorrow, the Caribbean Court of Justice is considering these very dreams of equal belonging. In McEwen et al v The Attorney General of Guyana, a case is being made to strike down as unconstitutional an 1893 law against cross-dressing for an ‘improper purpose’ in public.

In 2009, seven persons were arrested for being ‘males’ wearing ‘female attire’ in a public place for ‘improper purpose’. These were trans or gender non-conforming persons who, not-unusually, pleaded guilty given the small fine and absence of lawyers. They were fined under this 19th century vagrancy law.

‘Females’ appearing in a public place, for a supposedly ‘improper purpose’, in ‘male attire’ can be similarly convicted, which seems excessive, bizarre and outmoded. What is an “improper purpose”? What is “male attire”? It’s not even clear in the law.

This same legislation criminalises practicising witchcraft. In TT, similar summary offences legislation could get you sentenced to imprisonment for a month for pretending to tell fortunes or imprisonment for three months for bathing in the Maraval River. And, God forbid you are found singing or dancing with rogues and vagabonds, a constable has a right to forcibly carry away all gongs, tambours and chac-chacs.

Such loitering or vagrancy laws have also been used against LBGTI persons who are often arrested without being charged or told of the charges or advised of their rights, who have experienced humiliation and violence during detention, and who are convicted of minor offenses for being on the street or dressing how they choose. In other words, simply for being who they are.

It’s like when police rough up fellas on a block who have committed no crime, but are treated as criminals because of their skin colour, hairstyle or clothes, and who could get hard slap for resisting such profiling. Such advantageousness happens to those whose race, class and gender get them cast as illegitimate, threatening, and subordinate.

Curiously, when four of those convicted in 2009 challenged the constitutionality of the 1893 offence, the Acting Chief Justice in 2013 ruled that cross-dressing in Guyana was perfectly legal, just not for an improper purpose. Yet, in 2016 and 2017, after the CJ’s judgment, various trans women were prevented from attending magistrate’s court dressed in ‘female attire’, as if going to court amounts to an ‘improper purpose’.

At the CCJ, McEwan et al will be arguing that that the law is too vague to be valid or applied without enabling dangerous and arbitrary application by police, that their rights to protection of the law, freedom of expression and non-discrimination have been infringed, and that the law therefore violates constitutional and human rights as positively upheld in Guyana. It also exacts conformity as the price of equality, and reproduces both impunity and social exclusion.

Once, colonial powers decided who we should be and punished us for wanting to decide for ourselves. The CCJ judgment will set a precedent for a region rising up against the savings clauses which keep such colonial laws in place and penalise marginalised communities.

There is now none but ourselves to free each other, whether from poverty, stereotyping or an inhumane justice system. Imagine shaking off colonisers’ boots and walking in the footsteps of those who sought inclusion.

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 263.

I’m in Fiji for the Civicus World Assembly. Civil society organizations and activists from around the world have gathered to renew energy and redefine strategies for transforming injustice as experienced across the planet. Feminists from 350.org, Greenpeace Canada and the Pacific region are in conversation about the necessity of an energy transition to renewables, which must happen sooner rather than later, or a majority of species and people will suffer and die.

Hope may spring eternal, but data regarding climate change is grim. Within thirty years, all of us will know someone displaced by drought, hurricanes, rising sea levels, floods or conflicts that result from these.

I’m thinking of Dominica and Barbuda, and other Caribbean islands which, as close as next year, might produce climate refugees. And, I’m thinking of tiny, fossil dependent Trinidad and Tobago, not likely to change our oversized footprint whether for reasons of economic or ecological justice.

What’s the relevance of this discussion to us, not as potential small island state victims, but as small island state contributors to an oncoming crisis? “We must rise before the tides”, cautioned Brianna Fruean, Pacific Climate Warrior, but this seems impossible to achieve back at home where Shell and BP stalk gas fields like kings, and our PM prioritizes agreements in Houston over Paris in order to pay for our next dose of salts.

“Articulate the demand, even if it’s far away from being achieved”, responds May Boeve of 350.org, “Make policy makers do their job in solving these problems, but set the bar. Keep fighting”.

There are two fronts here. The first is the creation of alternatives – to plastic, to capitalism, to borders, to jails, to violence and to carbon dioxide production. We can also adopt green, de-growth, solidarity, commons and other sustainable approaches to wealth, work and wellbeing.

The second front is the challenge to the political and economic power reproducing a broken, unjust and immoral global economy. There are strategies such as compelling divestment of stocks and bonds from companies in the fossil fuel business, defense of public regulations, and taking environmental battles to the courts.

In a later panel, ex-CIVICUS Secretary Generals Miklos Marschall’s and Kumi Naidoo’s messages go further. We need radical hope, love, fury, imagination and solutions because when humanity faces big injustices, decent people have to stand up, say ‘no more’, and be prepared for civil disobedience against decisions that breed abandonment and anger by the billions.

Anyone who tells you that growth can get us out of the current ecological and, therefore, economic crisis hasn’t factored in the ecological or economic costs of extraction, consumption, pollution and species extinction, or must wake up.

The model is a necropolitics. It is killing us and our struggle must be to protect our children’s lives and future. “With our quivering voices we sing our children to sleep, unsure of what they will wake up to”, sings a young performer. What will we do when, increasingly, this becomes true?

Solutions and accountability trackers exist everywhere. They need commitment and collective civic pressure. For this reason, CIVICUS ended with a Declaration on Climate Induced Displacement in order to build a broad-based call for commitment to keep the increase in global average temperature well below 2 degrees Celsius and acknowledge climate change’s unprecedented impact on migration, human rights, equality and self-determination.

In a fierce whisper, St. Lucian Kendel Hippolyte’s poetry reading from the previous day’s Commonwealth Writers’ Conversation comes to me:

“i woke one morning and the Caribbean was gone.

She’d definitely been there the night before, i’d heard her

singing in crickets and grasshoppers to the tambourine of

the oncoming rain.

i thought: she can’t be gone. If she is gone,

what is this place? With her gone, who am i?”

I’m listening, breathing in quietly. There’s still time. Back home in the Caribbean, I can still know who I am.

I am the power of the demand.

Post 235.

The PNM’s media machine experienced a disastrous week of damage control in relation to PM Rowley’s words, “I am not in your bedroom, I’m not in your choice of men. You have a responsibility to determine who you associate with, and know when to get out, and the state will try to help, but then, when the tragedy occurs, and it becomes the police, the police must now go the extra mile…”

The AG said that Mr. Rowley said nothing wrong, how the PM speak is how he does speak, and that it was true that a person was “equally responsible” for his or her situation. Fitzgerald Hinds said, without irony, that he didn’t understand gender sensitivity, but he didn’t see any offense in telling women they should leave when they begin to see signs of violence, despite the fact that many women don’t leave because of economic insecurity, children or straight-up fear.

The OPM awkwardly angled the story in terms of the PM offering “empowering advice to our women” so that women could “make smart choices”. Though, these choices do not include safe and legal termination of pregnancy in situations where violent relationships may make women feel another child will mean less ability to leave.

The press release then listed Gender Affairs Division programmes which have long been in existence and are unrelated to Dr. Rowley’s leadership, and pointed to the Community Based Action Plan to End Gender Based Violence in Trinidad and Tobago, which has not yet been approved, and needs adequate resources from F&GPC to succeed.

All Mr. Rowley needed to say was, he understands how traumatized people are feeling about violence against women, he’s sorry his comments may not have been phrased in the most sensitive way, it wasn’t intentional, and he’s prepared to grow and improve in his engagement with gender-based violence, as we all should. All the spin would have been unnecessary. We are all fallible. We can all practice accountability.

Nonetheless, the problem isn’t Mr. Rowley.  It’s pervasive myths about violence against women that feel like common-sense: that women deserve it when they are abused or killed and their bad decisions are where accountability lies.

However, women have no responsibility for male violence. Men’s enactment of violence is entirely their responsibility and occurs in situations where they are taking control of a woman, not losing control of themselves. We should nonetheless consider that male violence takes place in a wider context where male supremacy is considered normal and natural. This kind of gender inequality shapes what boys learn about manhood and power as they become adults, leading to invisibility of male domination and violence except in situations where it becomes severe.

Second, women do not get into relationships with men who are abusive. Abuse develops over the course of relationships and may start when women get pregnant, the more children they have, when they become economically dependent, when they get their own jobs, when men lose their jobs, when women try to leave, and when they take out protection orders.

Third, gender-based violence is a societal, public health and citizenship issue when women’s inequality, and their greater vulnerability to violence defines their experience of belonging to the country. Intimate partner violence is only one kind of violence that women experience by the thousands each year. Yet, state response to violence against women has never been adequate at the level of policing, social services, anti-gender based violence training in schools, and in the court system. The protection order system needs to be completed revised. Programmes for perpetrators or men who want to address their own violence, or its potential, need to be in place.

The fact is that its women’s refusal, whether on the street, in gyms, in offices or in relationships – not choosing of men – that often provokes violence. And, state officials need to be clear that women are at risk at work, in transportation to and from work, and when they become unemployed and are searching for work. Women are already choosing to leave when they can, and being stalked, harassed and even killed because of it. Right now, “empowering advice” from the PM simply is not what all these women need.

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 225.

Two weeks ago, I wrote what I then felt was a story of hope. Or, perhaps, what I then felt was the story that should be told. Everyone involved, from the neighbours to the Rotary Club members who were assisting, to the woman and her children, was talking about the chance for a happy ending.

I had my doubts. Having been defeated over years, women leaving batterers often return several times before ever permanently escaping abusive relationships. And, battered women tend to be at high risk of being killed when they do finally decide not to go back, creating great fear about trying to permanently leave. Women also face endless harassment from their abusers during the process of leaving itself: repetitive calls to their phone day and night as well as demands, guilt, blame, manipulation, pressure and promises. Familiar with such harassment, women may feed this pattern, perhaps because they feel incapable of moving ahead on their own.

I had other hesitations, what if this woman couldn’t manage the stress of caring for seven children by herself, even with charitable help for an apartment and living costs? Could she heal enough to re-establish clear thought, good decision-making and secure self-esteem if, in the end, she never received sustained counseling? In this likely scenario, would the children heal as they should or just endure, perhaps repeating a dysfunctional cycle in their own lives as they grew?

I write again about this real life story, which I suspected wouldn’t so simply unfold. There’s an eighth child due in a few months, following a failed termination, and the woman remains a heavy smoker, though when I took her to hospital last week the doctors said that it was affecting her heart and breathing. She left the apartment secured for her and has taken the children with her back to their father. She and the children remain at risk of various levels and kinds of abuse.

The clothes and other items they received from public help are at risk of being sold to pay for their father’s drug addiction. They can tell you where drug blocks are. All the children there are at risk of being involved in stealing, with parental knowledge, to survive.

The neighbours have been pushed away, for the woman felt that they were too much in her business. She’s threatened them harm if her children are taken away by authorities, and, fed up, her neighbours are resorting to responses we know so well: ‘she must like the licks’, ‘she wants the children so people will provide charity’, ‘there is nothing more we can do’.

Right now, they wait impatiently for the Children’s Authority to remove the children from the room where they again now live, all of them sharing two beds, the oldest complaining of cockroaches. There’s a home where the children can be sent together, but it’s the authorities who have to exercise that decision-making power, and they need to do it sooner rather than later.

One older boy, who has had to look after the younger siblings when both parents are not there in the day or at night, starts to cry when he talks about the situation, his feelings of frustration and powerlessness clear, for the adults whom he loves who will not do what is right.

Every day those children are around such neglect of their needs counts. How many days until their situation changes? What does a happy ending for them mean? How can we help make that possible?

Before we resort to the single narrative of woman-blame, we should remember that daily, professional, even over-the-phone, crisis counseling for a woman trying to leave a long-term abusive relationship is not accessible, making the messiness of this current outcome much more likely.

Even if a good shelter takes in all the children, they are unlikely to ever receive the extent of counseling they too need. Both batterers and victims have often grown up in abusive homes, and in one way or another repeat details learned through socialization to violence. Crucially, our social services are completely unable to cope.

This is one story, of thousands, across the country. Today it is told with more uncertainty than hope.