DON’T LET SPIN WIN.

In citizen struggles to hold governments accountable, their Goliath is spin. Suddenly, we find ourselves pelting stones at each other, distracted from resisting strong-arm domination.

In the long battle waged by the Highway Re-Route Movement, the government’s response has only ever been such spin.

SPIN 1

Everywhere, government highlights the suffering of the people who desperately need a highway. This positions them as saviours, motivated only by their selfless commitment to caring, and makes anyone who questions them an unfeeling, privileged, foreigner-to-South whose only aspiration must be to unconscionably let people suffer.

Why is it spin? It absolves the government of actually addressing any of the legitimate claims that all citizens have to see the studies, such as hydrology reports and cost-benefit analyses and social impact assessments, that we are due as a nation, whether you are from South or North, particularly when 200 000 truckloads of aggregate from the Northern Range is at stake.

You might not understand the details, but these studies are the last forms of protection that citizens have against mega projects that will cost us, ecologically, financially and socially, more than they should. We should be defending the fight to have these studies properly done and in the public domain at all costs, if only for our children.

“The government cares about people’s suffering, Kublalsingh does not. Give in to state wisdom! No need for public documents or clear answers! Build the highway!”

This is the wafer-thin spin being offered like redemption at communion. The request for such studies and reports remains legitimate, especially for the people in South, but we are too busy pelting stones at each other to build our defenses and to take charge of our own power to decide for ourselves what is best for us.

Be clear, there must be highways and they must also not cut corners along the way.

SPIN 2

The government’s next tactic has been to say that the HRM has lost in the courts and therefore its claims are illegitimate.

First, the HRM lost the injunction because the judgment took too long to come and, ironically, construction was too far gone, not because their expectation to have answers was incorrect.

Later, they lost because shifts to the path of the Debe to Mon Desir Highway over the many, many months of the court case meant that the original claimants were not the ones in immediate danger, not because their struggle is illegitimate.

Their call for the studies, and the totally neutral, civil society led Armstrong Report’s call for the necessary studies, has never been illegitimate. That was never up for consideration in the courts. It is not even up to the courts. It remains a decision for us to make regarding the extent which we are willing to be ruled by secrecy.

Government spin tells us to leave what is ours to others to decide. But losses in court do not in any way make it less legitimate to say: Show us the Studies! Show us your justifications! Show us the properly done impact assessments! Show us how the billions will be spent!

It remains our national right to know.

SPIN 3

The third strategy has to been to call the HRM and Kublalsingh to account. Show us your foolproof alternate routes! Have they undergone rigorous hydrological assessment? Show us your medical records? Where are your documents to prove why we should believe you? You are avoiding answering for yourself! We have asked clear questions in the press and you are providing no clear answers! Charlatan! People with secret agendas seeking to distract the population from their real needs! You! You! You!

And, more stones rain down between citizens uselessly, for neither Kublalsingh, nor the HRM will be responsible for the damage to the hydrology of the Oropouche Lagoon or to the Northern Range or to long established communities or to our national deficit or even to the processes of accountability and transparency to which we are due.

Meanwhile, PM Persad-Bissessar, AG Ramlogan, Ministers Rambachan, Barath and Khan, and Carson Charles sit back to watch Goliath come out to challenge us, and we sit in our concerns, divided against each other, no better informed about or willing to represent our rights, retreating into gratefulness to our saviors regardless of the murkiness of their salvation, and questioning our power to get both the needed highway and every single page of due process which should already be in the public domain.

We fall for the idea that it is either or. Either highway or rights. Either transparency and accountability or much needed development. That’s just spin.

THEIR GOLIATH IS  SPIN

This is what spin does. It sets up false options. It tells us to decide from falsely limited choices. It distracts us from seeing that, yes, we can get all we deserve, and makes us be grateful for much much less. It makes us compromise so that next time we fear the bruises that we will rain on each other and we keep quiet so that spin and shadow become all we know. It makes us pelt stones at each other and let Goliath trample on in.

And that spins out of control. We don’t ask questions about corruption by the millions anywhere anymore. We don’t ask questions about untendered contracts. When citizens take the government to court just to get the information they keep locked away, we think poor souls, fighting a lost cause, they should just give in, we have lost so many times already, what is once more.

That is what spin does. It tells you that war is peace, when you know that peace doesn’t seek to kill. It tells you I beat you because I love you baby when you know it’s control behind violence, not care.  It tells you that you don’t need to see properly done hydrology reports or environmental impact assessments or explanations for why billion dollar contracts go untendered to corrupt companies because those are not also your needs when citizens are saying, yes, those are in fact our needs, and our rights, and we will not let you diminish what we know to be true.

Any government that avoids transparency is hiding something. Any government that pits citizens against each other is hiding something. Any government that pays Ernie Ross, the government’s biggest paid Ad Man,  millions of our money to fool us up about the right questions and answers are when we have been asking the right questions and not getting answers to them yet, is hiding something. Any government that turns to spin is hiding from truth.

The million dollar spin is coming to distract us from the billion dollar questions, to turn us against each other and to allow the government’s Goliath to make us give in.

Stay focused on getting both solutions to transportation suffering and solutions to government secrecy. This is about our money, our communities, our environment and our future.

Join for as much as we can get and as best as we can get it.

Don’t let such spin win.

#reroutetnt #democratizedevelopment #showusthestudies #reroutegovernmentspin

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Post 160.

As Santa Cruz develops, almost completely unregulated, I’ve seen its green bamboo beauty turned to dust. One misty morning, standing at my kitchen window, my eyes clouded as I saw the forest on the hill in front of me being torn down. The sound of trees cracking as they fall is surely identical to a heart breaking. Besides their whispering with the wind, that crashing cry is the only and last sound those giants make. My joints hurt as I heard them splinter.

I thought of the birds who spent many days and nights in those trees, and who were watching their habitat fall to its knees. Above the tractor, I couldn’t hear their songs or their alarmed calls to each other, but if I felt helpless in the face of such harm, surely so did they.

I have power though. I could help build the movement to regulate development so that we learn better co-existence with the ecosystems around us. I could pursue changed processes and rules, and increase public commitment to different possibilities. Some trees will fall, but many could be saved even while we erect our own barren forests of asphalt and concrete. It’s a matter of choosing to challenge an unnecessary injustice to other species who have just as much claim as we do, and to do so right to the very end, sacrificing whatever is necessary as an act true, deep care. It’s a matter of vision. Not only what I felt as I watched those trees die, not only what alternative I could imagine, but what I pictured as my own responsibility for our image of development.

In Mon Desir a few hours later, a kindly man whose home is facing the same fate as the trees, gave me a neem sapling from his garden. If the government has its way, that little sprout, now given soil in Santa Cruz, will become a living memory of a habitat soon completely erased. Those tiny leaves made me reflect on how many days and nights it took to build a house, wait to reap from a plum tree, bury a baby’s navel string, cultivate a garden, grow children in the backyard, and give meaning to a landscape through generations of love. What will be lost when there is nothing but a highway extension, and what is our role in making development responsible to the souls and spaces it will irrevocably change?

Just as abundant wildlife are facing oncoming tractors, so too are families in Mon Desir. They are connected. For example, when mountains are quarried to build a roadway for future tar sand mining, both ecosystems and communities will be razed, leaving me feeling I should be doing more even after a long, long day.

Those families in Mon Desir have a right to due process, to promises kept, to transparency and truth. That highway extension is taking down whole communities, too few of us hearing their calls of alarm, too few defending yet another site from being leveled by the same governance issues: gaps in public planning, institutional lethargy, too few necessary state protections, and too little mix of development, community and sustainability. As I left Mon Desir’s spirit of resistance, I wondered how to protect those lives nested in Santa Cruz’s trees before me.

A neem plant, from a Mon Desir backyard threatened with extinction, will survive in Santa Cruz while the tree-cover of Santa Cruz, similarly threatened, will slowly be clear cut and paved? There is a vision and responsibility to more powerfully wield for such beloved homes to be defended and saved.

Post 119.

Yet again, I found myself standing outside of the PM’s office watching the women of the Highway Re-route Movement peacefully but defiantly sit against the walls of the building, trying to give visibility to what happens when government disregards its own rules. They were not going anywhere and why should they when they have their very houses and lands to lose, potentially leaving them with money as compensation but no place to go and no community that is home.

I saw the police first try to reason with them, and then physically lift them out of the compound.  I saw the actual tears in these women’s eyes, tears from feelings of frustration, defenseless, anger, disappointment and fear of loss. I could have cried right then too.

I saw how elite politicians pit police against people, forcing those who must enforce the law to simultaneously fail to protect people from state illegality.  These women’s breaking of the law, by occupying the PM’s compound and blocking the pavement, was more morally valid than the police’s exercise of force.  Officers were just doing their jobs, keeping their jobs, upholding one law for ordinary people and another for those on the inside of those walls.

Wayne Kublalsingh also watched from his usual spot across the street. Once my UWI colleague, Dr. Kublalsingh’s contract was not renewed because he missed classes while undertaking his breathtakingly courageous, 21 day hunger strike, and because the university decided he was a “risk” to students.  When I heard that news, I could have cried then too.

Universities should provide intellectual and political leadership to nations and communities. Our job is to spark, engage in and educate about progressive social change through theory that informs collective and individual action.

Some of us are full or part-time, have family responsibilities or are at a career stage where we need to get tenure or secure promotion, and so we make decisions about focusing on our research or our teaching or our families instead of our politics. It was therefore our responsibility to make sure that colleagues who are taking risks we are not, over issues of governance and development that affect us all, get to keep their jobs too.

Research gives universities an international reputation, but so do their public intellectuals, whether they are Arundati Roy, Noam Chomsky, Angela Davis or Vandana Shiva. The university desperately needs students willing to take risks for democracy and sustainable development.  As Sunity Maharaj sagely said to me, it is when you are taking a risk that it’s most important to speak out. Those are the kinds of theoretically informed, civic minded, ethical, politically astute and fearless students we need to produce, and the lecturers who can inspire that are role models to be held onto. Our message should never be conform to the status quo or we have no room for you.

On my way to the PM’s office, I passed Sea Lots’ graffiti that shouted, “ we not taking dat”. That, more than any campaign speech, is the national mood. Chaguanas West already told the PM that it felt alienated and even betrayed. Mon Desir is saying the same. People are resisting exclusion from decisions that affect their families and communities. Forget tears, one day all that will be left is anger which has less and less to lose in the face of power. 

I saw real leadership in this small group of committed women, leadership that I do not see in our political and academic hierarchy. That’s why I was there on Thursday. Solidarity on the streets and from the university is necessary.   

Post 111.

Standing on the road in front of the PM’s office on Tuesday, I had to shake my head that the Highway Re-route Movement and Wayne Kublalsingh are back under the hot sun. Respect and more power to them. They’ve been in this battle since 2005 and there is no doubt they are fed up, even as they stand firm.

They stood respectfully at the side of the road with their placards saying, Heritage Before Highway, Save Homes, Communities and Thousands of Acres of Agricultural Lands, Mega Money Project for Millionaires, and most wretchedly or perhaps powerfully of all, Listen Prime Minister, The Voice of Truth is the Voice of God. They’ve organized camps, sit-ins, protests, meetings and vigils. These are neighbours and members of humble families saying things other citizens of the republic are also saying or shouting or bawling every night on the news. Old and young are out in the sun to sort out the future of their own homes, but their struggle puts the rest of ours in clear view.

Our elites are all terrified of stepping out of their air-conditioned SUVs, they’re living in enclaves looking like upscale barraccoons, and moral national leadership will not come from them. These are business people, they do charity. As a class, they won’t be the ones who get laws into place for domestic workers’ rights or against illegal quarrying and for environmental sustainability. The poor are focused on getting water in their taps more than once a week or finding taxis that will work on bad roads or securing small work however they can, but when the state runs out of money or its debt payments are too high or when social impact assessments remain undone or when representation sheer fails, they are the ones who suffer most. They might be too busy trying to eat to think about the failures of democracy, good governance or unsustainable development, but these will reach in and starve them first, which is why thirty or so, everyday folk standing on the roadside saying ‘Abide by the Armstrong Report’ is our business too.

Watching them, I found myself wondering how this movement could do more than grab media headlines and public attention, how they could awake the sleeping giant of popular emotion, which is what made Wayne’s desperate hunger strike so successful last year, and what they could do to make other citizens from Icacos to Toco understand and care. If we don’t care, the PM won’t either. Progressive change is always a momentum from below, when citizens let politicians know that they will feel if they don’t hear. Like the Highway Re-route Movement, all most of us need is for those at the top to actually do the things they know are right, follow the rules, just even follow through. Then women, men and children wouldn’t have to stand in hot sun to find out if the PM will do what she knows she should without having to be told to.

It could be protests to protect mangroves from Movietowne or the savannah from Carlos John’s license to pave or Toco from a shipping port or Chatham from a smelter or heritage from a highway. Here we are again is all I could think as I got in my car to get Ziya from daycare and get myself to work, leaving Wayne and the others to struggle for decision-making processes that the nation is rightfully due. When government acts above the law, today it could be them, tomorrow it could be me or you.   

 

Post 33.

As a vegetarian, I plan to raise my child as a vegetarian too. i stopped eating meat 17 years ago and i had my last Coke then as well. in those years, i started back eating eggs and fish, mostly because i dont make the time to make sure i get enough nutrition, and i need to not suffer from starvation because of a combination of food politics and personal neglect. i try even if i don’t get it all perfect. still, the reasons i became vegetarian remain relevant – animals are bred with hormones and other drugs, in cruel and factory conditions and in ways that are a wasteful use of the planet’s resources. philosophically, i’m not against meat eating, though i totally get and support people who are. evolutionarily, i think that humans are omnivores, i just don’t think we should carnivore as we do.

there’s me and then there is stone. i eat vegetables, no meat. he eats meat, no vegetables. i am from muslim family who do not eat pork. he loves pork more than any other meat. we are the Sprats. you can imagine it’s going to be interesting for Zi.

so now that she’s started eating food, the debates have come up. expectedly. stone’s all like ‘wait till she wants to try some bacon! you never go back!’. i’m all like, ‘well, it better be organic, free-range, happy bacon or else its not healthy and my child’s not having it’. this is one of those marital conversations that last for years.

luckily, without my prompting, our pediatrician gave him the same retort when he asked her if its normal to let kids try meat if they want to (meaning he was warming up to some argument that not letting her eat meat is one of my ‘issues’….and i was thankful she instinctively crushed that like a discarded cigarette). luckily too, he’s so unlikely to get himself to some over-priced shop in town that sells meat i’d approve of (which is none really), so through sheer unwillingness on his part to make the extra effort, i know that this whole meat thing is only going to discursively revolve around our kitchen without ever actually landing on Zi’s plate.

in the midst of this, when Zi had dengue and wasn’t eating, I started giving her a little egg for breakfast because I thought that the protein would be good for her. so, of course, i myself went into town to buy her expensive eggs from non-hormone and non-antibiotic filled chickens. but who’s gonna go into town every wednesday to get these eggs – not me (i work), not him (these are my ‘issues’ remember?). so now i’m on the hunt for other sources, what regular folks call eggs from ‘common fowl’, meaning raised in your backyard and fed household stuff, corn and whatever else they scratch up as they run around. you know, chickens raised old-school style.

stone wants to know what the point is. why buy organic-shop eggs, but not everything else i give to Zi? what about the pumpkin, bhaji, apples and the pesticides they’ve been grown with? and lord only knows if she’s eating GMO basmati. i shudder to think about the non slow-food, non locally-grown New Zealand Gouda. he thinks i’m making fuss and hullabaloo without making enough commitment or much difference.

and while i disagree, partly because i think you can’t fight all battles but you can wage some successfully and partly because i’m not going to entirely lose this one, i too wonder how far i’m supposed to go and at what point to stop. and if i’m not going far enough, do my efforts make any difference at all? and, of course, all this is wrapped up with my own notions of what makes me a good or bad mother in relation to not making efforts when i should or letting things slide that i shouldn’t or being apolitical when my consumption counts or making my child’s health enough of a priority.

i’d totally buy everything organic if i could except that the logistics are difficult and the costs are beyond me. lecturers make good income, so i’m not yet having to drive taxi in the night to make ends meet (though its not unknown for university professors to turn to the informal economy to survive hard economic times), but just buying the eggs made me thankful that i had a job. between carrying Zi’s costs, handing out extra money to my mom and her helper and my own helper, paying my bills and saving, i’m not sure i can afford more than eggs. certainly not everything she eats. we grow a bit in our garden, but as with everything else i could do more if only there were 34 hours on the clock, i still wasn’t up in the nights and i didn’t get home from work around 7pm on most days.

i know my position is defensible, but credibility is all in the doing, the doing well, the doing in full. i got the eggs and now i’m paranoid about the pesticides, and wondering if i’m wrong to not spend the money, make the effort, organise the logistics and somehow make it happen weekly. this feels like just adding another responsibility though perhaps its really just recognising a responsibility already there.

this is the personal as political, how the mundane decisions of life highlight society’s systemic arrangements as well as the difference our own choices make. i’m still figuring out this one, linked as it is to animals, agro-capitalism, health, motherhood, the earth, social movements, household negotiations, wages, consumption, the global economy, bee populations, sustainability and, of course, Zi.

i wish old MacDonald had an organic farm. she was really called old MacMoonan and hailed from Santa Cruz. And coincidentally she lived right around the corner from a doing-my-best, wondering-what-to-do working mom like me.

Post 11

i’m happy for all i have because i believe i work for it. at the same time, i am terrified of chance, the random instant when it all changes. i love living in Trinidad but I feel terror of crime. Some men, and women, will do anything to get what they want. As I sit out in the simple beauty of a perfect night, i am edged by complete fear that our house could be fatally and violently attacked. i am sure a lot of other people are too, especially women. What kind of life is this?

i feel politically committed to work in my region, where i can make a difference. yet, i dream to live where i am not in fear, and yet migration is my last option. it is one thing to fear for your life, but another to also fear for your child and her father. i’ve seen the tragedy covering front pages too often.

i fear for my child. what to do? stone doesnt feel as i do, but he is also a man. we also live in a pastoral community, with less crime. but having been very close to criminal violence and male attack before, men attempting to kick in the bedroom door, trying to hang up my call at public telephone, mauling my family, i have learned that it can happen anytime. just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t. am i being paranoid? many many people i know have been robbed and there are many many more guns in circulation now. wtf.

i’m still uneasy from Ester’s Ugandan story of violence. that has me reflecting on just what can happen. the unbelievable. am i ready? what should i do?

i’ve thought about it many times. i’ve actually scripted it as a movie. i would do everything to get control of the situation and survive. i’d kill anyone without thinking if they attacked me and i feared for my body and life. seriously. a guy i knew once told me, you only have one chance. he was right.i’m that mother in defence of her cub. no wonder mothers are so territorial.

i’m also mourning the death of too many of my people in the last day alone. i am thinking of those mothers who have lost their children. death stalks the land like men in business suits and men with guns. i feel sadness at all our loss. how could we not?

i’m reading and thinking, recovering from a tiring day. safely and happily at home in domestic quiet. typing in joy. and i am glad for the world. for love and relationship and home, purpose and passion. i feel like this palace on the hill is this beautiful planet, with this starry night. whatever life’s challenges, i am lucky. here is where i am supposed to be. yet, amidst all this are shadows. i want to focus on the good. rather than worrying for my family, i wish them safety.

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