Post 436.

IF THERE was ever a time that the centre seemed unable to hold, it is now.

The Police Service Commission has fallen apart, pulling the Prime Minister, the AG, and the Office of the President into its implosion. The Opposition has launched accusations of interfering political whispers, and we are left to be amazed that basic processes related to state administration could result in such spectacular failure. And the lawsuits, which feature a “who’s who” of lawyers, some who seem to love headlines, are simply adding to costs to be borne by impoverished taxpayers.

Still, public reporting of the messiness has been instrumental in highlighting the importance of decision-making and transparency by chairpersons of commissions and boards, and the accountability that must be necessarily insisted upon by other members. We’ve gained some insight into the tensions and debates that were taking place, commission members’ refusal to acquiesce without sufficient information or agreement, and their repugnance at a high-handed leadership style of commission governance.

Weeks ago, we were having another debate about boards in the face of the NGC fiasco and the agreement by Minister Imbert to grant an indemnity to the board of directors of the National Gas Company. The board misspent hundreds of millions of dollars to keep Atlantic LNG Train 1 operational. There’s now a legal debate about whether the indemnity could hold in court, the extent to which it raises red flags about poor judgment and what, in the end, will be anyone’s accountability for the risks taken with our shrinking financial resources.

Ordinary citizens would be just as interested in the details of this imbroglio for better understanding how the inner workings of boards, usually far from the public eye even in relation to public business, provide immense insight regarding who raises alarms, when decisions are questioned, whether political influence is in the mix, what role political patronage plays, and how public interest is or isn’t protected.

When the minister comes to tax you at the cash register or in your home, think about the $440 million lost with impunity. We can expect no action against the board. This is a government that appointed Malcolm Jones to the Standing Cabinet Committee on Energy during (and before dropping) the Petrotrin case against him to recover nearly $2 billion.

I don’t know how else to say it. While you are struggling to buy rice, flour and cheese in this pandemic, while your savings are depleted, intolerable amounts of public funds are wasted by ruling elites. Where do the cuts then happen? To scholarships for university students and GATE funding for graduate degrees. To stable jobs in the public sector which are increasingly becoming reduced to short-term contracts and insecure labour. To salaries for nurses who have not had a raise since 2013.

Over our history, boards and commissions whose responsibility is to protect public interest provide us with endless case studies of problematic processes and decision-making, ministerial influence, necessary whistle-blowing, and money lost to lawyers and legal opinions while the country seethes. Indeed, a few weeks ago, discussion at the Caribbean Corporate Governance Institute forum highlighted boards of state enterprises as well-known mechanisms for dispensing political patronage.

The question of board appointments also came up in relation to the TT Revenue Authority (TTRA). In the Government’s plan, the Finance Minister appoints six of nine members, and it’s claimed that the process will be fair and, by implication, non-partisan. Scepticism runs rampant, understandably. Even when board members are not directly appointed by a minister, ministerial priorities, warnings, interpretations and whims waft through the considerations taken into account by boards and commissions depending on staffing and budgetary arrangements, and the issues and relationships at stake. That’s just a common reality of our political system, and it ultimately costs us as a nation in integrity, civility and money.

When things fall apart and the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world. This leads to the last point I want to make. Governing elites may not see, but the trust of a wearied public has worn thin. Minister Imbert can be infamously quoted as saying, “They haven’t rioted yet.” However, where public institutions, representatives, boards and commissions fail to keep trust, provide value for money, and be transparent, people lose faith.

Be warned. Bringing its own dangers, such disgust can be convincingly harnessed by those mobilising on the ground as a Trump-style strongman, as desperate and dissatisfied voters see the potholes and the hunger, scandals and waste.

Post 219.

We are stewards of our nation.

Each morning, waking to a fresh opportunity to refuse a dark time for now or the future.  The alternative to boom and bust cycles may not feed our glittering fantasy of El Dorado, but it can fire hope amidst an oncoming bruising and battering for self-preservation.

The question of where to cut and to invest are ours, not the government or the Prime Minister, but we citizen’s own. We must look around our communities, at ourselves and with our representatives, and insist on our own budgetary priorities. For this reason, I appreciated the Prime Minister’s address, particularly the presentation of numbers and his direct challenge to the business community to share profits. All of us have to find more ways to go local and spend wisely. In the last decade when even workers were only drinking Johnny Walker, we were clearly living beyond our means.

My first choice for investment is the environment and renewable energy. Our natural resources will sustain wealth for generations, even centuries. And, when it comes to our air, seas and rivers, we will not get a second chance. Trinidad is full of permaculture and environmental management specialists who can tell us how our environment produces food, community and profit. Planning should anticipate how cost saving, health and wealth generation could look in seven generations. For such sustainability, now is the time to invest.

Culture is also on my priority list. Not the millions won in a night by soca stars, but investment in the yards of pan and mas making. Over years of doctoral ethnographic research with mas camps, I came to understand the incredible way that they sustain traditions to land, language, life lessons, and making a living. Going for wide dispersion of available funds to create community around the families and schools of jab jab, or blue devil, moko jumbies or Indian mas can also help with tackling issues of boys and masculinities.

On the supply side, the governments’ plan to stimulate jobs through the construction sector, e.g. plumbers, masons and joiners, will disproportionately benefit men. This has social costs, and reproduces women’s economic dependence, and their clustering in low waged sectors. Such explicitly gendered effects have to be empirically understood if this is pursued, along with strategies to equalize access of qualified individuals of both sexes to a construction boom. The location of a Gender Division under the Office of the PM should provide exactly such cross-sectoral policy analysis and direction. Also keep in mind that while taxes, particularly on land, are necessary, sales tax always affects women more because of their greater responsibility for food provision and making groceries.

Beyond economic policy, the government’s primary focus should be on containing corruption through measured change in effective public service monitoring and evaluation, passage of whistleblower legislation, and successful prosecution of cases. Sheer waste and mismanagement of money account for billions bled from schools, hospitals and NGOs. Governments like to say that people don’t show up to town hall and regional corporation meetings, but people know the consultation process can also be both insult and joke. Still, even if it is only through a media that powerfully tackles fiscal scandals, we must insist on government for the people, which means suturing waste and corruption in 2016.

Wherever you are when the year begins, may you experience it with safety and joy, and carry a sense of togetherness in your heart in the days ahead. May we remain pensive, grateful and blessed, drawing on our best sources for long term sustainability. Let us be guided by ground up lessons on opportunities for our islands to navigate predicted rough seas.

“Who are the magnificent here? Not I with this torn shirt”, you may say. Even with scars upon our soul, wounds on our bodies, fury in our hands and scorn for ourselves, to quote Martin Carter, it is possible to turn to the world of tomorrow with strength. The sources of such strength are all around us to recognise.

My new-year tune is Nina Simone’s song, ‘Feeling Good’. There is a new dawn. There is always a new day. Tomorrow when you awake, look it up and press play.


Post 168.

I was unapologetically proud when Kamla Persad-Bissessar became the country’s first woman Prime Minister. I loved her clean election campaign in comparison to the PNM’s labeling their opponents ‘skeletons’ and throwing insults for cheap political gain. I was completely excited that this astute politician could defeat lesser men and lead a complex coalition, unlike any other Caribbean leader before, and miles ahead of PNM’s go-it-alone politics. I’d watch Persad-Bissessar on TV and teach my daughter the name of the first Indian woman to crack that glass ceiling.

At one meeting, along with feminist grandmothers like Hazel Brown and Brenda Gopeesingh, I breastfed Ziya while the PM talked with us and I took notes. I wondered who before had breastfed while with a PM in a Cabinet meeting room, and of course Persad-Bissessar didn’t even blink, knowing that this is what women can do in boardrooms when grandmothers and mothers hold office.

I liked little decisions the People’s Partnership made, for example to ban hunting despite a myopic ‘no hunting, no vote’ campaign, to actually answer the parliamentary questions put to the government, and the initial choice to put the gender machinery in the ministry of planning. I took heat from all kinds of people because I was seen as too silent and too uncritical in Persad-Bissessar’s first years. It was because, perhaps naively, I had such hope.

Since then, I’ve found myself ending up and again on the side of citizens, led by other women, mothers and grandmothers, protesting through media and on the street. My hope has tumbled, knocked down by bad appointments, murky state spending, the homophobia of the Children’s Act, patron-clientelism, mishandled electoral changes, and reliance on PR and attacks.

In the PM’s showdown with Wayne Kublalsingh, popular sentiment that he is mere nuisance is on her side. Regardless, his death will leave no escape from unexpected kinds of regret. By first marching against the highway and then switching position once in power, the PM created the path that led to such reckoning. Her own supporters, or advisors with their own agendas who want her to fail, may spin around and say why not have chosen mediation, and why not just agree to properly done hydrology and cost-benefit analyses? What about compassion? As we grow more committed to accountability, which we will with each decade, the principles at stake here will grow less personalized to one man and become more publicly and historically clear.

I wish I could thank the PM for setting the standard for how development should best be done, through consensus rather than division. I wish I could ask her what her grandmother would advise. I wish I could congratulate her for ending this impasse as an informed, transformational leader would. After all, a patriot is one who wrestles for the Soul of her country. I wish that, as woman, she would roar at puppet master financiers. I wish her decisions meant no future struggle over the same issues, taking up time for committed, concerned citizens like you and me.

Being a woman is public and personal, for government sets the context for the intimate, for love spans ecology, neighbor and nation, justice and future, just as it does family. Knowing more than wishing is necessary, I wake up wondering which words and deeds can make the world right. These days I awake almost holding my breath, wondering how stories I’m telling are going to end. Knowing that every decision made for the country I love feels like a turning point, I wish the PM would inspire again the hope I felt in 2010.


Post 164.

Close to the Highway Re-route Movement and Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh’s second hunger strike, there have been moments of self-reckoning, of seeking optimism in every step forward, and of continuing to weave passion for a better world with level-headed analysis about the actual terrain.

I’ve asked myself what constitutes a movement and how many must comprise its ranks? Are a handful of active individuals with wider, more passive public sympathy enough?

What happens when those few individuals become worn down, hopeless, unable to sacrifice more, and alienated by others who find them too troublesome or disloyal? What is our role in supporting them and how can larger popular energy be genuinely gathered rather than appear as manufactured momentum?

What does it mean when the public does not rally en masse behind citizen challenge to state power, but when that engagement is doubtlessly better for public life now and in the future? Wrapped in the mix of public dialogue are also PR spin, media control, prejudices, misinformation, anger, fear and an array of other pressing sufferations. How to effectively engage our volatile but potential paradise with clarity and conscience, knowing that the status quo is backed by elite silences, political party loyalties, narrowly calculated development models, entrenched interests with bigger resources, and complex histories of distrust?

It’s easy to sit back and criticize what ordinary citizens, fighting for one kind of justice or another, haven’t done, to have the privilege of hindsight in evaluating their strategy, or to misinterpret their failures as proof of their illegitimacy.

It’s easy to point to questions of ego or single-minded leadership as if reflection on ego, pride and single-mindedness isn’t part of our own being human too. It’s easy to be uninformed, to disparage and to resort to quick anger. Rather, we should be asking how we can build consensus, connect to each other in ways that reveal resolution, and hold each other as allies whatever our differences, for aren’t we all called on to create one nation?

Hard and honest answers are necessary for the consciousness raising, advocacy and organizing that seem endlessly ahead, whether in relation to governmental transparency, gender equality, ending violence or preservation of the only ecosystem we will ever have.

In reckoning, I’ve asked myself what kind of leader I want to be, navigating between clear personal vision and responsibility to a shared mandate. I’ve thought hard about how the revolutionary act of motherhood, a feminist commitment to public politics but also to family, must be a strategic guide. I’ve questioned the implications of using guilt or pressure, or even unfairly disparaging citizens or officials’ names, avoiding the manipulation, and divide and rule of politicians. I’ve wondered at the costs of giving your lifetime or your life to a political principle, and hope I could find any of that commitment, knowing that there should be no other way to live.

These past weeks of this unique hunger strike, whatever its outcome, have brought me up close with passion, for who feels it knows. Wayne’s individual defense of democracy, community and sustainability as inalienable from development’s meanings is only part of a much larger collective which will soldier on for rights, justice, accountability, compassion and more, in every way we can imagine, in the ways already ongoing, fearlessly.

When in doubt, there is always our own Caribbean history, reminding that change is always possible, and that we inherit a homegrown spirit of defiance instead of defeat.

These are dread times, but when have they not been? What to remember from this moment? To keep giving life to optimism, passion and uncompromising truth.

Post 127.

On Saturday, at Central Bank, I gave a talk on why we should end sexism and homophobia. The talk explains why ending them would improve life for everyone, and is aimed at those in power. It’s pitched to all the people who think that they are not hurt by sexism and homophobia, and to those people who don’t want to be treated unequally. The talk includes statistics, legislative review, stories, quotes, cool pics and performance poetry.

Shout outs to my students are the sub-text of the entire presentation. The slide background was the awesome logo for the student feminist group, ‘Consciousness Raising’, which was active from 2007-2009 and was the first group to come out of my women’s studies class.  They held campus marches for two years for International Women’s Day and International Day Against Violence for Women. The words in their logo are ‘solidarity’, ‘freedom’, ‘take action’ and ‘change’.

The students I quoted in my talk also formed groups such as ‘Support for Change’, in 2011, to advocate for the national gender policy. They run Facebook discussion safe spaces like ‘Womantra’.  They start campaigns of all kinds such as a Port of Spain and UWI slutwalk action to show that women’s sexuality in no way justifies rape. They initiated the CARICOM-targeted campaign to end homophobia and transphobia. These students are also active in the gender studies-led Break the Silence campaign to end child sexual abuse and incest. When people ask for feminism, these are its young leaders in their actively expanding numbers. Women and men working in a wide range of movements. Rock on, radical university youth!

Among the coolest things I showed was the picture of my Introduction to Women’s Studies class of 2013. This is the seventh year that my students have done popular actions on women’s rights at UWI, in a course first taught in 1982. These are the people doing movement engaging and building, and I got to put their faces in her/history. My students this year were open-minded, thoughtful, ethical and courageous. It’s wonderful to see a politically conscious, Caribbean feminist generation coming out of UWI.

I hope the PNM, in its upcoming Parliamentary critique, doesn’t miss this kind of national contribution, particularly in light of the party’s anti-choice and homophobic prejudice, simply so they can score political points. We will see.

I struggled a lot with the words in my talk. In Caribbean feminist academia and activism, there is lively debate about whether to use words like ‘equality’ or words like ‘equity’, or even ‘transformation’, also whether to use ‘homophobia’, which actually misrepresents the issue but is at least commonly known, or whether to use ‘heterosexism’. I also wrestled a lot with my talk’s absence of direct reference to lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons and women, though it is hard-core anti-sexism activism.

There is a lot of talk in the country, not all of it constructive. The TEDx Port of Spain 2013 event featured an inspiring line up of speakers, including Etienne Charles, Attillah Springer, Wayne Kublalsingh, Rondel Benjamin and Keegan Taylor, Stacy-Marie Ishmael, Father Clyde Harvey, Erle Rahaman-Noronha, Debrah Lewis and Dominique Le Gendre. In about a week, Google TEDx POS 2013, sit back and check them out.

There are also past talks by Sunity Maharaj, Verna St. Rose Greaves, Christopher Laird of Gayelle and others. My talk included Episode 4 of my ‘If I was Prime Minister’ series, started in 2009. For Mrs. Persad-Bissessar’s Cabinet, it’s a must-see.

It’s also for those with homophobic religious beliefs, or who care about children, the economy and creating safe communities. Watch it with an eye to the leadership we will need beyond 2015.

Post 105. 

I’m spending much of the next three weeks in Chaguanas West, following the by-election. I’m interested in the extent to which having a woman PM and party leader expands the possibilities for women’s political leadership and democratic participation, and their ability to challenge an entirely male dominated political culture. I’m interested in women’s experience of contesting elections, the roles played by young women, housewives and those in the women’s arms, and whether aspects of masculinity and femininity shape how men and women voters view Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Jack Warner and Khadijah Ameen. 

As an older, wealthy, dominant man, and as one who expertly plays the politics of patronage from his own and state largesse, Jack starts out with status, resources and power that Khadijah has no access to, even with the backing of the UNC. There is a reason that Jack can gun sling on his own, like a Clint Eastwood. We understand this model of manhood well, and it always commands respect. 

Khadijah Ameen is a young mother, racially-mixed, politically experienced, loyal and, frankly, quite brave. At some level, she knows she is positioned as the party’s sacrificial lamb as she faces off against Jack Warner, who has managed to constitute himself as both David and Goliath. Some think that Khadijah is ineffectual, too green, not friendly enough or has a problematic political history. Kamla’s direct support of her brings both benefits and costs, after all, in this election, the PM is fighting for her life as well. For feminist political anthropologists like myself, this election is gold mine for when and why gender does and doesn’t matter. 
The fact is that the call to party loyalty is falling on deaf ears. Jack’s supporters are absorbed by his ability to be their savior, fixing everyday sufferation with box drains, scholarships, wheel-chairs and groceries, when state institutions have seem to have entirely failed. Constituency voters think that everyone in the UNC is corrupt anyway, at least Jack is a Robin Hood for the poor.They don’t care if the UNC and Partnership government falls, Jack is the man they want for Prime Minister. Let’s be clear, Jack’s rallies may have the euphoria of a fete, but they carry the momentum of a mutiny.
If the government had strengthened the institutions of the state, people would look to local government and the right ministries for what they are willing to turn to Jack for. If the people of Chaguanas West were not so fearful of being abandoned again by the political parties, they could see the wider national skepticism about Jack as a future Prime Minister. If we didn’t think that elite corruption was everywhere, we wouldn’t be so willing to excuse it. 
Women don’t necessarily make better leaders than men, nor represent women’s needs better, but I’d like to see women be given the chance to make the differences and the mistakes that men have had since the beginning of the social contract. As both Kamla and Khadijah lead this struggle, two of the total minority of women in our politics, we will see how the forces of Jack, Inshan and others square off against Anand, Roodal, Suruj, Devant, Vasant and so on, and their financiers. I’ve my own fears that in the end none of us are really going to win.

Post 81.

I’m not as bad as Stone, who once got lost in a parking lot, but I’m a very close second. I’ve been lucky to have good friends who are natural geographers and who would again and again direct me around streets in Woodbrook that I should know well and to the location of their houses, which by all rights I should be able to find blindfolded.

I was reflecting on this while getting lost near Monroe Road last week as I was trying to find my way to the National Muslim Women’s Organisation meeting.

This amazing group of primarily grandmothers is doing so many national activities and is so well organised that they would do a better job than the Partnership if they decided to put up a slate for the next election or decided to stage the most friendly, flowersy and motherly coup one could imagine, thus offering a Muslim women’s alternative to anything Abu Bakr would ever have conceived.

Coup is a bad word in Trinidad and rightly so, but we need much more of friendly on the political and national stage.

This became wretchedly obvious last week Monday as I watched Roodal Moonilal’s now-notorious character assassination of Wayne Kublalsingh. If Roody wasn’t several bags of aloo heavier than me, and because I wasn’t actually there with the UNC heartland getting a lesson in gutter politics, I wasn’t able to run up with a broom (borrowed from the back of an authentic Debe doubles stall) and sweep him and his dirt off the stage.

I’d have to have kept sweeping too, as Jack came up to do his best imitation of Ziya’s diaper before she learned to use the potty. You think I’m joking? I’m not.

I felt genuinely ill and sad watching them divide citizen against citizen, use the platform that we, the people gave them to legitimise insult and offence as a mode of political deliberation, and substitute the full depth of logical, transparent argument for the hollowness of bacchanal and crowd frenzy.

I had to stop myself from thinking that if Jack just died quick, quicker than he hoped for Wayne, there would be one less out-of-date politician sowing poison for future generations to reap as spoiled and bitter fruit.

You can understand now why I get lost driving. Being driven to distraction and destruction can make you lose your way.

To their credit, they were right, though. We should all know where Mon Desir is and Roody and Jack probably know the country better than most.

I therefore also felt inspired right then. Lost by a wrong turn and marvelling at the beauty of ordinary Trinidadian communities with their pink and yellow houses, undulating fields and pious flags, I decided that when Ziya got old enough, we would get in the car together, with a map, and just drive. Buenos Ayres, Busy Corner, Mundo Nuevo, Caigual, Cumaca, Princes Town and Poole as well as Chatham and Mon Desir, here we come.

She would learn to be a better geographer than her parents, she would see the communities for which Wayne was willing to give his life, we would visit all the Muslim women whose mission is about national harmony, respect and equality, and we’d talk politics so that Zi could chart her own path away from where lost politicians will lead.

Post 80.

What happens when you fill ordinary people’s heads with the idea of being good citizens is that they become hungry for responsible government.

What happens when you emphasise the importance of civics to children is that they become hungry for the kind of participation that is accountable to their voice, their views and their needs. What happens when citizens start to believe in putting country first is that they become hungry for transparency and accountability from our national institutions.

What happens when we erect statues to Gandhi and Cipriani in our most populous cities is that we become hungry for people of conscience to move amongst us, ordinary mortals drawn from our ranks but answering to a more transcendent sense of justice.

Dr Wayne Kublalsingh’s hunger strike shares the belly pain of those of us hungry for an end to illegitimate authority, the kind that tells us what to do but will not tell us why so that we can decide for ourselves.

His act of conscience draws on no moral authority beyond his own body or beyond his own belonging as Trini and Tobagonian to the bone. We are distrustful of this as a society and yet we know it so well. Office, patronage funds, legislation, fancy suits and big words have always exercised control, but they have never fully consumed our hearts, and our sense of what is fair, reasonable and right. We make peace with power but remain hungry, and quick to anger and rebellion, because the promises we believed continually leave us empty.

Writing this, my gut hurts because no citizen should have to starve just to show how hungry we all are for government that knows a way beyond division, corruption, secrecy and domination. No good citizen should have to risk death so that those of us alive today do not gorge on the sustenance of future generations: ecosystems; agriculture; community; family; local businesses and a non-violent state.

In the public debate, most don’t know that Wayne is fasting simply for the public release of the impact assessments, the hydrology reports, the cost-benefit analyses and the technical reviews of the highway section planned from Debe to Mon Desir. He is not fasting to stop the highway, he is hungry for information, for answers which should be out there but which he must beg for like crumbs, like a vagrant lying on the street outside an all-inclusive party. What is frightening is that he is not alone. His hunger for answers, his simple request to be given some room at the table, is heard every day in citizens’ grumblings.

As a new generation, Ziya’s generation, begins to realise that we are fast consuming all and leaving only our debris behind, they too will feel the pangs of hunger for some other way ahead that can only be found together, without insult and injury between each other.

Wayne, know that your hunger shows ours as stark, unnecessary and untenable. Prime Minister, know that our hunger has been centuries in the making, but that you can help us as we struggle to find a different way to survive and thrive.

People of this Republic, know that beyond all the polarising politics, is a citizen like us filled with love for his nation and nourishing our hunger with his care. Let us not feed this moment with division and hate when we are hungry for common ground and consensus across our communities.

Post 51.

I had the most amazing meeting today. I was in a room with Ziya and seven grandmothers, just watching these amazing foremothers and forerunners lay the groundwork for generations of women who will come after them. We were meeting about the establishment of a National Commission on Women and, as usual, the discussion was all about strategy, next steps and the way forward. But what was amazing was being amidst the power in that room, experienced, capable, caring, fearless, skilled and hardworking women who were talking about their vision and how to make it happen. What an absolute privilege to be part of their history.

I was a little nervous about having Zi with me. Normally, she’s the bestest baby when she’s out. I could boast about this because when she misbehaves, it’s usually at home. She’s done more meetings that most 16 month-olds as well so I feel pretty confident about having her on the inside. Plus, she’s addicted to ‘boobs’ and easily zens out once she starts to breastfeed. So, once I breastfeed any and everywhere I need to, she handles being out and about like a pro. I fear the day (or night) I stop breastfeeding and don’t have the easiest solution to fussing at my fingertips.

Still, she wasn’t properly combed, I had broken my glasses and I was late for a meeting with the PM. Trying not to rush down the highway, I just hoped things would go smoothly. It’s one thing to have your baby at a meeting at Parliament, it’s another to arrive late with your baby, and it’s entirely something else if your baby decides to throw a tantrum for any reason. My mother had warned me that there might be a possible stinky pamper on the way too. Great.

Still, given the logistics of baby-sitting, and driving East to West and back again, this was the best option. So, mothering worker that I am, I put my child in some red shoes and put all my resources to work at managing to both pay attention to the discussion and to keeping Zi calm.

And it was okay. In fact, it was great. Before the Prime Minister came in, I listened to Minister Auntie Verna talk about how much she would love to spend all her time caring, feeding and spoiling her grandchildren, except there is the people’s work to do. The youth policy, the gender policy, the change to the marriage acts and more. At the last meeting, Jacquie Burgess had talked about how much her own grandson loved to spend the night. Brenda Gopeesingh, Hazel Brown, Ramona, Yvonne Bob Smith, Lisa Ghany – who first appeared a bit scandalised that against all proper protocol I had waltzed in with Zi and who later showed me little 10 month Leah who sleeps from 9pm to 7am(!) – and even the PM who reminded me so much of my mother when, beaming, she talked about the rejuvinating joy of spending time with her grandson. It’s then that I looked around the room and realised that all the women there were a generation before me. They were all that unmatchably wise kind of ancestor called grandmother. They also ran companies, ministries, women’s movements, NGOS and the nation.

While I held my breath throughout the meeting, just thankful that Zi was happy to quietly sit on my lap and scribble all over my notebook – and of course breastfeed in between – I also realised that all these women would have known exactly the challenge of juggling work and children. They would totally understand not only why I might have had to have Zi with me, but also why it should be okay to do so. We were doing work for women, work with women, and we all knew that the working world had to change to accomodate the ways that women do the work they have to, that is both the work of mothering and the work of movements, institutions, legislative agendas, policies, research, social protections and empowerment.

I felt so safe in that moment, so unselfconscious in a way I never would have – even as an unapologetic feminist – in a meeting of older men, unless they were the kind of men who wouldn’t blink an eye at the idea of taking your toddler with you to the boardroom. Those men are definitely out there, but I was nonetheless so thankful that women have broken the glass ceilings that they have, and can totally transform the expectations and assumptions of a space like Parliament without any of them needing to articulate this in words. I thought of the day when Parliamentarians could debate and breastfeed in the House or keep an eye on their grandchildren in a creche in a nearby room, in the same way that women for milennia have had their children and grandchildren with them while they do their work.

And, just as the meeting began with talk about mothering and grandmothering, so after the down-to-business stuff was done, conversation returned to extending maternity leave, the PM talking about having to study for law exams while her son cried and knowing through her own tears that she had to excel. Hazel heading to her car ever mindful of the first Shouter Baptist school about to open, and the lack of a safe and proper crossing for the children.

I never imagined I’d breastfeed through a meeting with the first woman PM while sitting next to tireless and history-making second wave African and Indian women’s activists as I participated and learned from just listening. I felt so lucky to somehow have ended up there. I looked down at Zi and wondered whether at my age she would ever have these moments of witnessing such women in action, not just on upper floors of high rise buildings, but wherever these women are. I hope she does. These meetings seem mundance but they inspire, and she’s been with me, learning from such women before she even realises that’s what is going on.

Post 18.

how does a women deal with the many things she must when her identity as mother shapes what is expected of her? i’ve been reflecting these last two days on how Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the first woman PM and Indian woman PM in T and T, should deal with the cuss out and threats directed at her in a non-Indian young girl’s online rant.

This girl’s video carried so much racialised hostility against the PM, it was disturbing and hurtful for Indians and particularly Indian women of all ages. it was disturbing to anyone, especially mothers and women who saw it, regardless of their ethnicity. the attack on kamla was powerfully sexualised, with kamla’s body and “cunt” the site for retaliation for the state of emergency’s penetration into working class, urban, Afro-Trinidadian communities, a penetration that has been perceived as making Afro-Trinidadian males vulnerable. when did the Indian woman’s body become a public symbol for political violence?

the AG rightly advised the girl to give herself into the police. many instead hoped for a solution based in mediation rather than punishment. women in particular wanted kamla to deal with this young girl as the mother and grandmother figure she embodied on the campaign platform.

my mother first asked me what i thought kamla should do. i thought that she shouldn’t get involved at all. she was busy running a country under a state of emergency, having to act decisively on many fronts at once, most of which were getting full frontal public critique. why couldn’t this young girl get her telling off, and letting off, from a magistrate or the family court instead? where were her parents? Was it even judicious to intervene? The PM needed to be left to do the work in her portfolio. Was she supposed to meet with everyone who chose to act out and needed some serious reasoning? that would be all of trinidad, shotters and politicians included.

i discussed this with two colleagues. One said he thought the familial, caring gesture, the challenge to a masculinist model, would be for Kamla to meet with the girl. The other, mother to a teenager herself, felt that teenagers say and do stupid things. usually they think through and mean little of what they say. she pointed out that everyone in our society, from union leaders to political leaders, abuses and threatens and cusses people, with no consequences. why come down hardest on one teenage girl?

in the end, kamla made the gesture that no man politician would likely have done. she suggested, against due process, to meet with the young girl and talk rather than criminalise her. is this what happens when mothers take office? is this how conflicts are worked out when grandmothers become PM?

i have found the way that kamla calls mothering and grandmothering into political life to be brilliant. she’s been critiqued for playing up stereotypical female markers. must women always be understood in relation to reproduction, even when its not relevant to their other roles? but i think its important that she governs in a way that, perhaps, reflects having seen life through the practice of caring.

kamla is an interesting historical figure as well because she symbolises the mother figure of an Indian community, and the nation. To say her success was one for all women is true, but it was also a victory for Indian women who have been defined as one of the most disempowered and marginalised groups in our history. she’s a heroine that all too humanly brings together the sacred, the profane, the personal, the political. Her success has elevated her to status of the mother goddess in the Hindu community. She’s like Kali, the destroyer of her two rivals, Panday and Manning, and creator of a new order. She’s like Durga, empowering and protective. She’s like Lakshmi, symbol of national hope that from darkness will rise light. It’s fascinating, these multiple motherhoods. At the heart of them all is Shakti, the female energy, that powerfully pervades the cosmos…and us all.

Looking back at this incident, there will be much for us all to learn about how we mother our children and our girls, about how fathers and men of all kinds need to set the kinds of examples that mothers would, about how politicians would behave if they thought of themselves less as patriarchs and more as nurturers, about how vulnerable women, their bodies and their sexualities are in office even or especially when they are also Prime Minister, and about how politics may be, not perfect, but perhaps different if situations were handled the way mothers would.