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.

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Post 101.

This week, listening to 30 year old memories of the Grenada Revolution, all I could think about is the legacy of forgetting. My generation feels almost no connection to the vision of the revolution, the sweat and solidarities of the women and men involved, and the reverberations of pain that rippled across the entire Caribbean when gunshots, assassinations, US occupation, and fear, secrets and loss marked the end.

Being as intimate with that history as we are with the long plot of Game of Thrones or the personal sagas of the Kardashians could change us all. Claiming Cuba’s attempt to strike out against passivity about our economies and lives would help us realise that what happens in Chaguanas West matters less than what deals our Ministers sign, without a study to stand on, for highways to be built or tar sands to be mined.

Party school wouldn’t be about the history of the party but about the history of political attempts to free us from the kind of development that creates more who have but, inevitably, many who will not. It would be a place for establishing adult education at night in every school or mobilising community campaigns to grow the vitamins we need in our backyards or advocating for an end to criminalization of young people’s same sex desires in the law.

The Youth Arm of the UNC or the PNM wouldn’t be limited to election campaigning or proving loyalty to the leadership.  Imagine if those very youth learned about the bloody resistances that mark the country from Sangre Chiquito to San Fernando. They would start roaming the nation and the region to fill up on lessons of how politics can be and has been done differently. Party schools that teach them etiquette, correct dress and their leaders’ biographies would be rightfully empty.

If the Women’s Arms of the parties were even once taught about the role that women can play beyond waving flags, you think housewives would be running around in hot sun securing votes for a parliament and a Cabinet that remains indecently, overwhelmingly dominated by men? Knowing their power, these women would rise up and say no to inequity at the top because party school taught them this is what they do. They would wield the names of women from Elma Francois to Jacqueline Creft like a bilna and a balisier, symbolizing to their parties that it is these women’s struggles that they came to continue.

For all their participation in their political parties, not a PNM or UNC Women’s Arm activist can stand on a corner, while Celine Dion or Bryan Adams blares from the loudspeakers, and ex-tempo about how women and men from little two by four countries dreamed for more and then fought for those dreams until big stick diplomacy beat them into their corner. This is why today’s leadership will not organize for all out regional self-determination. Caribbean people have not recovered from the economic and political punishments and pain of Haiti, Guyana, Cuba and Grenada.

What can my generation could do to remember Grenada, plan a new revolution that promises never to leave women behind and invent a regionalism that fits our realities thirty years later? I know young feminist women and men from Guyana to Barbados to Jamaica. We can mine our islands and our seas for more than oil, we can mine them for memories. All those still alive, who are holding them safe and close, are just waiting for us to ask the right questions. I’m humbled by how much there is for us to know and to still achieve.