Post 304.

The PNM’s Stuart Young appears more frightening than Monday’s call to block the nation’s roads.

The social media call tried to mobilise citizens fed up of “poor governance” and “secret deals” to “shut down the country” by shutting down their cars at major locations.

It’s a great idea, simple and potentially effective, if it actually reflected the emotions pulsing through the nation. But, it didn’t. Not yet.

School children and workers are already frayed on mornings by endless traffic, which reflects poor transportation planning, and poor governance of land use.

All this has been overseen by the PNM, which has governed for more than forty-five years, and has primary responsibility for our problems today.

Families just want to get where they are going and get on with making ends meet amidst increasing unemployment, crime and debt, all reflecting similar decades of poor diversification of a petro-economy, poor levels of crime convictions, and poor levels of savings in our Heritage and Stabilisation Fund.

As both Minister of Communication and National Security, Young had zero sense of the nation’s pulse, and resorted to strong-arm state muscle to deal with a threat in which citizens had little investment. Too much sense of power and too little clue.

However, it gets worse than warning police would be out “in full force” to make arrests as if it was the water riots of 1903, which burned the Red House to the ground, for similar reasons of “poor governance”.

First, Young’s signature authorised government communication which declared the ‘gridlock’ call was the work of Opposition. When a government accuses the ruling party’s opponents without facts, on official letterhead, not only is there a disturbing mix up between state and party, but also worrisome use of state power for party politics.

Second, the public release unwisely confused ‘irresponsible’ and ‘unpatriotic’. Blocking the nation’s roads would have been irresponsible, but what would have made it unpatriotic? Is public protest against a government unpatriotic?

Our history is filled with pivotal illegal protests against inequity and unjust rule. Contemporary politicians mimicking colonial governors should note that the goal isn’t to repress such protests, but to prevent them with good governance in the first place.

Protesting can be necessary as is blocking tractors when they are razing mangroves without a proper certificate of environment clearance or without necessary social impact and cost-benefit analyses, even when Jack Warner illegally brings the army with him to intimidate you.

Patriotism means loyalty to one’s country and its people. This has been twisted to mean loyalty to the government and state, but don’t get chain up. It takes patriotic citizens to resist secret deals and government irresponsibility.

Third, CoP Griffith, who once recommended rolling military tanks into Laventille, also warned against communicating and publishing any statement with a seditious intention.

Under Section 3(1a) of the Sedition Act Chapter 11:04, “a seditious intention is an intention to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite disaffection against Government or Constitution.”

This 1920 law has long been wielded against labour leaders and workers. Maybe the ‘mother of all marches’ worried Minister Young, the way worker unity worried Dr. Williams.

Uriah ‘Buzz’ Butler, hero of the masses, was charged with sedition in 1937. Colonial police attempted “full force” in Fyzabad and Corporal Charlie King, who misunderstood the mood of protesting oilfield workers and who wanted to be hero, was burnt to death.

Months later, Elma Francois, a labour and pan-African organizer, with only a primary school education, was also charged with sedition. The first woman in the country to be so accused, she defended herself, discussing workers’ poverty and increasing taxation in her speech, and was unanimously found not guilty.

“Not a damn dog bark” has defined a PNM approach to dissent. I remember PM Manning sending the riot squad, in full military war gear, to unarmed, peaceful, responsible, legal and patriotic civil society gatherings. It was dark and undemocratic, and not a damn dog in the party barked.

“I don’t know that my speeches create disaffection, I know that my speeches create a fire in the minds of the people so as to change the conditions which now exist”, said Elma Francois at her defense.

Both Minister and CoP should refrain from macho brandishing of law and police boots. Such authoritarianism is a red flag. It poorly chooses fear and obedience over mutual respect and trust.  Luckily, there’s time for both men to learn from history, for people are not ready to shut down the country.

Not yet.

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Post 298.

The Prime Minister has finally apologized for the PNM’s Family Day debacle. Unfortunately, in this being made a Hindu issue, with apologies to the Hindu community, all and sundry have missed the broader injuries.

Overzealousness from the newly expanded Tabaquite base and collective enjoyment of violent picong by the wider, more established base led to this tangled web.

It’s an interesting example of the complexities of traditionally Indian and UNC constituencies changing party loyalty, and reflects deep disregard and disgust for the UNC amongst those willing to turn against the hierarchy that was once their own.

Indeed, the scene was a premier example of pre-election gutter politics, which is why it was received as uproarious bacchanal among the PNM and high-handed terror among the UNC. If Tabaquite has turned against you, do you have any chance of winning Tunapuna?

Both Stuart Young and the PM could have avoided a wrong and strong approach. Meaning, a wrong happened, but shouldn’t persist with impunity and both acknowledgement and humility, or recognition and apology, were the right first instincts to have in communication with the nation.

Instead, trivializing the skit, as public statements by Womantra, CAFRA and the Hindu Women’s Organisation pointed out, reflected a failure to understand how rape culture, or treating sexual violence as normal fun by women asking for it, continues to powerfully and instinctively work in our society.

This doesn’t mean that individual men, such as the PM, are themselves being labeled rapists – which it seems only letter-writer Kevin Baldeosingh and ex-Central Bank Governor Jwala Rambarran – found it hysterically and stupidly important to say.

Rather, the term rape culture refers to the possibility of a scene where a women’s public disrobing can be made into an acceptable show of political power, and many not see how profoundly predatory that is.

This is standard stuff in tribal politics, so well entrenched that we don’t think of it explicitly. In inter-ethnic, cross-caste and multi-national conflicts, it’s the conquering of ‘their’ women that are the signs of triumph, for women remain objects of ownership and exchange, and controlling them remains a sign of man power and status.

At the same time, the nation is considered to be feminine, under rightful masculine or at least patriarchal authority, so the wider symbolism was not only of conquering UNC bodies, but also the body of the nation one constituency at a time, rescuing it from potentially becoming too Indian of the wrong kind.

In the discomfort of seeing women’s disrobing as political fun, its religious and racial marking was clear, but its not just an Indian or Hindu or UNC insult, and treating it this way divides women along racial, religious and political lines.

These wider implications seem to have missed the PM and the party. There was also the discomfort of seeing party faithful depicted as gorillas, which is unimaginably racist, and shouldn’t happen with impunity either, but that injury has disappeared from the narrative entirely and unfortunately, but conveniently.

The UNC and Kamla Persad-Bissessar seized on this issue as an opportunity to rally their base, and were right to do so. The skit was meant to directly symbolize a public dress down of Persad-Bissessar, as the most visible and vilified Indian woman in the nation, and the stripping of other Indian, Hindu and UNC women from these identities in order for them to become truly PNM through replacement of an obsolete yellow sari by the modernity of a red t-shirt.

Underneath it all must also have been a realization that the UNC is imploding or at least bleeding from within, and the protest was necessary to show morally respectable leadership and resilient political power, covering what should be internal party worry, for if ex-UNC Indians will turn against still-UNC Indians so publicly, and if Beetham will rather flood as PNM, despite their own disgust, than go yellow at the ballot-box, where will votes come from in 2020?

So, as the world turns, the PM is yet again denying he is a rapist, while being clueless about rape culture. He’s playing the ground war in placating Hindus while the UNC is rallying the Hinduvata and broader race-baited ire for whatever mileage it can offer, especially in the face of the SDMS’ grumpy withholding of support.

And, the issues of how women are seen, included and represented in public life, as shaped by the tangled web of sexism, racism and violence, yet again make front page, though nothing in Trinidad and Tobago appears about to change.