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Post 336.

When warriors walk into the pages of history, it is up to those of us left behind to write the words that give life to their memory. So it is with Guyanese activist, Andaiye, who passed away on May 31, 2019, aged 77.

Born Sandra Williams in 1942, she changed her name to a Swahili one, meaning ‘daughter comes home’. I always admired her singular name and have never met another Caribbean woman with one name, so chosen. No patriarchal or colonial lineage to negotiate, just what Dominican revolutionary Cecilia Babb would call her ‘woman name’.

Such boldfacedness seems to have come from a fiercer time than now, when Caribbean women, indeed Caribbean people, imagined ourselves on entirely liberated and self-defined terms.

Andaiye’s story won’t be told by the victors, but by those who stood at her shoulders, her comrades, her feminist sisters, another generation of upcoming social justice foot-soldiers, and others from all walks of life whom she continues to call into battle, her spirit as unrelenting in its call for our commitment as she was in life.

She was a sharp woman, wry and acidic, yet wonderfully encouraging and compassionate. She could bless and warn at the same time, empower and humble, educate and listen. I met her many times and she was always full of quiet and unwavering truth, her gaze looking right through pretensions, power and politicking.

Forty years ago, Andaiye was a founding member of the Working People’s Alliance at a time when revolutionary politics was sweeping the region, from the Workers’ Party of Jamaica to the New Jewel Movement of Grenada to student protests of the 1970s that aimed to topple the ‘flag independence’ and establishment politics of Dr. Eric Williams in Trinidad.

She worked as Coordinator and Editor, International Secretary and Women’s Secretary, until 2000. It’s like she herself was walking in the footsteps of the renowned radical, Trinidadian Claudia Jones, tireless thinker, writer, and fighter for working people, for justice for women, and for an end to the racist legacy of colonialism.

After the assassinations of Walter Rodney, Maurice Bishop, Jacqueline Creft and others in the 1980s, our Caribbean dream of a new world seemed impossible. In this dark time, women around the region began to organize anew. Andaiye co-founded Red Thread, a Guyanese women’s organization committed to women’s economic independence and power, cross-race solidarity, working-class women’s leadership, and development built on care and justice.

Women like her created and held a space bigger than our current aspirations seem. At a moment when everyone, from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to the big banks, is talking about women’s economic empowerment, Andaiye insists that this demands actually changing power relations in households, the economy and culture, and between our local economies and the global economic order.

She would scoff at the cheapness of a definition that aims to get more women into the waged labour force while ignoring the care labour they still carry, and while failing to support cross-class women’s movements so that the poorest of women are organized to exercise a say over our economy.

When CLR James wrote, Every Cook Can Govern, he wasn’t thinking of mothers, housewives and domestic workers, but Andaiye and the organisations she was a part of, the Women’s International Network for Wages for Caring Work, and the Global Women’s Strike, always did.

In Andaiye’s words, “I believe fundamentally that seeing how women’s unwaged labour underpins everything is the starting point of everything ranging from understanding capital to organizing against it”.

Her passing reminds that we should cherish what a generation of women spent their lives and labour working toward, and steady ourselves for the unfinished business with which we are left.

For her, Venezuela and solidarity with its people are our business. The “whole doctrine of pre-emptive strike – with all the rogue states and failed states being countries with people of colour” is our business. Men and boys murdered by the thousands across the region are our business. “Women at the bottom – working class, of color” are our business. Counting women’s labour is our business. Turning to our common humanity as a basis for political action is our business.

“I always feel good when people are not taking it – are fighting back”, said Andaiye in 2004. When published, her collection of speeches and writings will be titled, “The Point is to Change the World”. When we live by those words, we keep her memory alive. And, perhaps, that is all that needs to be said.

http://andaiye1942-2019.com/

 

 

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Post 181.

As Saturday’s crescent moon rose over Cazabon Street in Belmont, people gathered from all over the world to remember Claudia Vera Cumberbatch, better known as Claudia Jones, on the one hundredth anniversary of her birth.

There were also gatherings in Harlem and London, but it was the few dozen holding hands in a lamp lit circle on a ribbon of rough asphalt, who got to hear the unexpectedly beautiful percussion of corn and rice rolling like rain off the galvanize roof of her childhood home, and who witnessed the first time that African invocations, water, palm oil, memories and appreciation were offered from us here to this little known daughter of the soil.

For women busily going about life, organizing communities, hand sewing their traditional portrayals for Carnival, establishing their own incomes, dreaming of being writers or wanting to make a fairer world, Claudia Jones is the inspiration whose picture you could pin to your clothes, like Bobo Shantis do with Haile Selassie, to remind yourself that articulate, fearless and powerful women have long been home grown.

Born in Trinidad, on February 21, 1915, Claudia Jones became the leading black woman in international communism between the 1930s and 1950s. While living in the US, she was arrested and imprisoned for ten months for giving a speech on “International Women’s Day and the Struggle for Peace”. Facing deportation and eventually choosing exile to England in 1955, because Trinidad’s Governor was too frightened of her movement-building capacity to let her resettle here, she organized the first Carnival celebrations in London. Her belief that “a people’s art is the genesis of their freedom” established the precedent for every Caribbean Carnival now held around the world.

A communist, pan-African and women’s rights political agitator, more radical than any men of her time or region including Marcus Garvey and CLR James, Claudia Cumberbatch began to write as Claudia Jones to throw the CIA off her tracks, knowing that the US government considered her a threat. She was indomitably bad ass, crossing out the job title of secretary that was put on her passport, and writing ‘journalist’ instead, the only right thing to do for an immigrant woman who later wrote for and edited youth, women’s, workers’ rights and African American magazines, and founded her own newspaper, The West Indian Gazette and Afro-Asian Caribbean News.

Last term, my students and I read Left of Karl Marx, Carole Boyce-Davies’ book about Claudia Jones’ life and politics, marveling that she even met China’s Mao Tse-tung and Martin Luther King Jr. I wanted them to know that when Caribbean students learn about transnational, anti-imperialist, anti-racist feminist theory, we don’t start with US Black feminism and Angela Davis or Third World feminism and Chandra Mohanty, and we don’t start in the 1960s. We start decades earlier, in Belmont, with the thinking of Claudia Jones, an activist, intellectual, cultural worker and writer without any degrees to her name, now buried in London, to the left of Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery.

Yet, even having taught her book, it never occurred to me to turn onto the lane where she walked as a child and to look up at the same moon she would have seen, on her birthday. It did occur to those who invited the nation to honour a woman who died, at forty-nine years old, alone on Christmas day.

By putting passion and pen to our principles, making transformation of black working class women’s lives our marker of change, and unapologetically pursuing equality and emancipation for all across the world, may we mightily walk in the footsteps of the path-breaking Claudia Jones.

Post 139.

Girl Guides Rock

Photo: Nikki Johnson

It was the Girl Guides who rocked the International Women’s Day (IWD) march, held on March 8 in Arima and organized by Ida le Blanc and the National Union of Domestic Employees (NUDE).

Under midday sun, these young women carried us forward on their songs. Caught up by their camaraderie, all I could see was them making the right steps to becoming the faces of future Caribbean feminisms.

An earlier generation of committed women’s rights advocates was there, women like Jacquie Burgess, Hazel Brown, Rhoda Reddock, Folade Mutota and others. Those younger than me, Marcus Kissoon of the Rape Crisis Society, long time reproductive rights activist Nicole Hendrickson, and UWI students Stephanie Leitch and Sommer Hunte, were in the intergenerational mix. Besides the women, there were men from the OWTU, Shiraz Khan representing Trinidad Unified Farmers Association, and more.

We were continuing the path cut by women like Daisy Crick and Elma Francois, Thelma Williams, considered the ‘mother’ of the OWTU, international socialist and pan-Africanist Claudia Jones, Christina Lewis, of the Caribbean Women’s National Assembly, who first started International Women’s Day commemorations in Trinidad in 1958, and Clotil Walcott, founder of NUDE.

These were women who knew that neither they, nor we, could get weary until labour held the reins of power, legislated the rules and wages that created decent conditions of employment, and transformed the kinds of injustice that affected all workers and especially women, unequal workers in their own homes, in other people’s homes and in the lowest paid sectors of the economy.

Fifty years after our first IWD march, commentators were proclaiming feminism’s demise. Once needed, now obsolete. Once outspoken, now silent. Once everywhere, now abandoned. Such ‘post-feminist’ premature ejaculations should have been kept zipped up. Around the region, my generation and those upcoming are unapologetic about diverse and critical feminist-movement building.

From Barbados, Tonya Haynes of Code Red for Gender Justice and CatchAFyah. Sherlina Nageer of the Red Thread Women: Crossroads Women’s Centre and Vidyaratha Kissoon of the International Resource Network, both working from Guyana. Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe of Groundation Grenada. Angeline Jackson of Quality of Citizenship and Tracy Robinson, an LGBT rights scholar-activist, both based in Jamaica. Kenita Placide of United and Strong, St. Lucia. Nikki Johnson of the OWTU in Trinidad. Our own activist teaching with students of the Institute for Gender and Development Studies, UWI, St. Augustine. Local LGBT organizations like CAISO and Women’s Caucus.

Alissa Trotz in Toronto. Jahajee Sisters, with their cross-race, anti-violence work in New York. US based scholars like Angelique Nixon, working with communities in Haiti, while challenging sexism and homophobia. Caribbean feminist writers and artists from my generation are fire-starting through words, music and culture. We don’t just work in one organization, but across many kinds. And, we are more. Many more.

We are here. We are not afraid. Our numbers include men as our allies. Our feminisms are rooted in our legacies and in contemporary realities, as defined by the power of the World Bank, yes, but also by those domestic workers marching in Arima.

One day, politicians and Muslims will openly march with sex workers who come out of well-known brothels to demand their lesser-known rights.  One day, farmers and unionists will walk with lesbians, gays and transgender folks desiring equality, because the struggle for emancipation cannot end with inhumanity.

Generation with generation, in spirit and in solidarity, across race and across the region, those Girl Guides need to know that such politics is theirs to carry forward in their power to lead. One day, I hope we will add their names to this long march of history.