Post 397.

I had been quite disturbed a few weeks ago when I overheard a conversation between Ziya and a friend. They were discussing Donald Trump and whether he had Covid-19, at a time when his purported infection, vaccine experiment and full recovery were campaign fodder. One said that she heard he had it, the other said that he could be lying, and I thought what a world in which to be growing up, when children have no idea if adults, and leaders, are telling the truth.

Over on Saturday night for Ziya’s 10th birthday sleepover, the little friend sat with us watching Kamala Harris’ speech. Zi had been excited about the campaign and the debates, and knew early on that there could be a Dougla like her as the first woman Vice President, making US history. She was aware that my family in the US had been feeling unsafe, fearing a triumph of Trump and ascendancy of the ‘white right’. 

We had even discussed what that phrase meant one night, and I had ineptly explained what politically left and right referred to, going back to Karl Marx and, from there, muddling the rest from working mother exhaustion. 

So, it had been a few weeks of discussions whenever her antenna picked up snatches of campaign news and opinion, like a nine-year old version of BBC news. And, it was big tears the night of the vice-presidential debate when I made her go to bed because it was late. 

As we watched Harris’ victory speech, I was immensely relieved that there was an articulate, tough and well-raised woman speaking directly to children, regardless of their gender, whose words could be believed. I was gratified as a mother that they could have this memory at such an influential moment in their development as girls, whether Indian-descended or from the Caribbean, from the African diaspora in the Americas, or from migrant communities. 

Whenever a woman anywhere cracks a glass ceiling, it should be celebrated for that crevice has been opened up for others to join in breaking it. That there are still firsts for women today is astounding, but, in every country, there are still such old, resilient limits for girls and women to insistently crack. 

When that woman is also connected to the Global South – to both India and the Caribbean, when she understands contemporary immigrant experience – which so many of our migrating family members have lived, when she is able to speak knowingly about the systemic violence of US anti-blackness, and when she looks like she could be family to any of us – which is very Trinidadian, there’s a more intimate sense of connection to her achievement. 

Then, there was Harris’ message about standing on the shoulders of those that came before, and their struggle, determination, strength and vision. “Dream with ambition, lead with conviction, and see yourself in a way that others might not see you, simply because they’ve never seen it before,” she said, while girls wearing rabbit-eared bandows and playing with party balloons, watched from our living room.

At the time when the internet sexualises adolescence more than ever before, when hypersexualised Netflix movies like “Cuties” show terrifying trends in how girls are being impacted globally, a mother could do with moments like this; with a powerful woman talking about climate justice and racial justice. At a time when US pop culture continues to overwhelm the region’s local content, an alternative message to girls that isn’t about beauty, brands or bling provides a much-needed respite.

From the experience of Obama, we know that the Biden-Harris term may be defined by less virulent forms of US imperialism, anti-immigrant policy-making, white supremist backlash, man-made climate destruction, and wealth concentration amidst impoverishment of working-class families, but these will not be ended by two centre-left individuals in four years. Though, as we have seen with PM Mia Mottley, there are possibilities to inspire and pivot the world toward more sensible and caring leadership, to mend some trauma, and to soften a public discourse which, so much like ours, has become mired in the inane and insulting. 

Women’s political leadership always secures a symbolic shift, but the substantive difference of the next four years will emerge through partisan negotiation, lobbyist pressure, and the strength of activist movements’ demands. It’s clear that the presidential campaign will be for Harris in 2024. Between now and then, Zi will enter adolescence and encounter inevitable disappointments, but may also learn to continue to choose hope, decency, science and truth.  

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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/