Post 322.

Sunday’s semi-finals provided annual bliss of sweet pan. As night fell, I rolled up on the dusty asphalt of the track, loving the tradition of rich and poor rubbing shoulders.

This is always my favorite place to be. As the bands move toward the savannah, all and sundry stand up close and in between the pans, holding on and swaying in suspension of tensions of sex, race, class and creed just for those minutes of high mas, and watching the players practice like anointed spirits that descend back into ordinary life once the last note is played.

You could close your eyes and safely get lost right there, for around you others also seem lifted by sounds of iron and steel dissecting and combining and jumping up into the air.

Wandering toward the stage, I meandered through children and babies playing amidst families and friends drinking, eating, talking and leaning back against muted sounds of soca from food vendors, for this wasn’t a fete in here, with its distorted bass and its bawling DJs, this was social space for communities of pan players and lovers to congregate over finer points of music.

To see the police walk through, maybe twenty strong and parting the crowd the way Two Face Crew once – a long time ago – used to, showed an approach at odds with its own cultural context.

People are happy for policing that makes society safe, but that effort doesn’t always have to appear more badjohn than the bandits. There’s an embeddedness in the local rather than a separation from people, that if conveyed, would make police presence more welcomed, and more respected.

I thought about how much more accepted police would appear if they walked through dispersed in smaller groups, acknowledging those around them, rather than seeming at odds with or distrustful of informal cultures of togetherness.

Seeing them, these blue-uniformed women and men who are indeed our own, I didn’t feel safer, I felt criminalized and infantilized, like the relaxed intergenerational joy I had been experiencing was sternly told to keep within bounds of good behavior. I felt like when old school teachers walk into a classroom of talkative students and hush descends as they menacingly take out a hard ruler, and you get frighten even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

Threats are everywhere and police have their job to do, but policing isn’t just swagger, it’s engagement with multiple representations and strategies. It requires an assessment of the present and an understanding of the past.

During Carnival, there are tensions around policing itself for completely valid historical reasons. It was police, in keeping order, who kept oppression in place, and Carnival revitalizes significant memory about why such force should be resisted. At the same time, levels of gun crimes, murders and feelings of insecurity also provide valid reasons for police visibility. Still, the whole country doesn’t need to be intimidated as if it is a criminal gang.

We’d all have felt their presence, and all have appreciated that could mean deterrence of crime and quick response when required, but we would have felt this way even without such a mass show of strong-arm force. There’s skill in asserting the professional authority that connects to what publics expect and what makes people feel reassured without overkill.

In my decades on the track, I’ve seen how spaces of public safety and artistic connection, and family feeling and national togetherness do exist. These are a resource for policing which should be embraced, rather than dismissed.

Part of pan bliss is the collective energy of people pushing steel bands on stage in a powerful metaphor for the idea of taking care of our own, and putting a hand in with beloved and stranger alike to press ahead, in pace with sweetness, ambitious camaraderie, and excitedly beating hearts.

As I crossed with All Stars, the phalanx of police appeared again, burly with stern faces, set jaws, helmets and big guns, to hurry us off stage, for such togetherness has to be kept on time and in order by the threat of a lil rough up for not listening quick enough.

I would have exited just as quickly if such anti-riot assemblage was replaced by nice ladies in bright t-shirts, without guns in competition for power with all that steel. As the band began, I looked on thinking about what Carnival taught us long ago. There’s fear and there’s love, and no power can govern legitimately through the first alone.

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Post 160.

At Pan on the D Avenue on Saturday night, there were people of all kinds and ages. There were few bars selling alcohol, none lining the pavements. I appreciated that, while there was drinking, it was not to excess or defining of the space, making it more inclusive. There was chipping and sweetness without the wining and adult sexuality associated with Carnival and fetes, so I felt more comfortable being there with my three year old daughter who I want to protect from the world of hyper-sexuality for as long as I can.

The pan sides from across the nation were filled with children lifting all our spirits. It was like a pan yard stretched for miles, bringing together very different friends and strangers, in an atmosphere of melodic harmonies, safety and community. Too few activities for families are planned for such beautiful nights, freed from cars, traffic, and overwhelming amplified sound which is too often too loud for still developing ear drums.

The sense of open space alone turned the frenetic urban energy we are so used to into a chance to exhale. Growing up in a musical household, Ziya was clapping, dancing, pointing to the players, and listening deeply while we explained the songs. How wonderful to see pan get such public visibility on just a random day in August, the way a national instrument should.

The protesters in front of Parliament also deserve special mention. On Monday, Zi walked the pavement with them. We drive home together every evening and she usually falls asleep, so I haven’t been able to take her to support the women and men whose presence outside of the walls of power is something she should see for herself. There were concerned citizens of all creeds, brought together by a critique of what political parties will do if people don’t stop them by coming together.

We spent little more than an hour, but she got a chance to ask about the placards, what it means to protest, and why people thought Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar and the government were being naughty. She asked why the police wouldn’t let protestors go into the large building and later told her dad that it was because the government was afraid. I explained that protest is when people tell them the rules they are making are unfair, and she kept asking me, what will the government do? I introduced her Nikki Johnson and Merle Hodge, knowing the best place to learn about Caribbean feminists was to see that they take to the streets too.

Now that she’s almost four, I want to take her everywhere, to enable her to begin to understand that everything from music to protest breathes life into belonging to a place, because both are founded on citizens coming together, in solidarity and in ways that build connection and trust.

Along with her Carib-descended godmother, I want to take her to the sites where sovereign nations of indigenous people once forged community and committed to resistance to forces of domination, for this is the legacy left for a half-Indian, half-African smallie who should understand that history, as remembered through pan, protests and place names, tell more than the victors’ story.

There is the bitter. Heartbreak at garbage in our clear rivers. Criminals targeting nearby neighbourhoods. Political elites to whom we respond with peace rather than violence. May Zi also learn to be protective of the sweet, those days and nights of coming together in families, on pavements and streets, with others of all creeds, and feeling both the angers and joys of loving freedom.