Post 388.

New MP to the House, Vandana Mohit, shouldn’t have posted about covid19, the PNM and karma. She should also have been sensitive to the fact when you are an Indian woman making such statements about the PNM, those statements will be critiqued for their implicit targeting and alienating of Afro-Trinidadians/Tobagonians. Her use of religious language unmistakably played to Hindu nationalism, and her statement would have been received by a UNC base as politically deploying both racial and religious code. In such a tense post-election national context and at a time when mortality rates will rise, kuchoor was bound to result from such a message and its cheap political scoring.

That said, Senator Laurel Lezama-Lee-Sing also left my eyebrows raised. In response to then sitting PNM MP Maxie Cuffie’s atrocious and unrepentant framing of the UNC in terms of homicidal anti-blackness, with his reference to the party keeping the “knees of the UNC off our throats,” the PNM PRO’s entire response was, “The letter is under the hand of Mr Cuffie and therefore is not an official position of the People’s National Movement.” Nothing else came from the party, despite public backlash about its highly divisive and insulting contents. No apology, no recognition of hurt caused.

In comparison, Lezama-Lee Sing went to town on Mohit’s Facebook post, which was not an official position of the party, calling on her to “apologise to the nation for this nonsense, to recognise the error of her ways, and to commit…she will do better, that she will give more thought before spewing hatred and discord.” She continued, “The oath to which she will subscribe when Parliament convenes demands so much more…and we the people will accept nothing less.”

Both Mohit’s and Cuffie’s statements played on divisiveness and stoked a base. The response to them should not have rolled out a double standard, or impunity for one and blame for poor race relations on the other. It’s like playing a game you are pretending you are not playing, and we the people deserve better.

I think about this especially because Lezama-Lee Sing and Mohit are smart, articulate, hard-working, and ambitious young women with brilliant political lives ahead of them. By brilliant I don’t mean only in terms of their own career path, I mean in terms of their capacity as a younger generation less poisoned by the implicit biases entrenched in their political elders. I mean in terms of their potential to not just follow their parties’ bad habits, but to transform them.

These two, and the other young women (and young men) that are the bright stars of succession planning, hold our fate in their hands. Imagine if we could entrust them to not play the game so cynically and willingly, and rather play on their strengths and their genuine desire to see the country improve. They could usher in a shift from racial codes and logics that harm and dehumanise as part of normal political campaigning.

I admire both these young women. I want to see them, and others whose parliamentary record will emerge over these next five years, do well. Not simply on terms set by their parties, but on terms set by non-partisan hopes of “we the people.” Across race, class, dis/ability and sexuality, we need more of a generation willing to do better than those who came before so their transformational possibilities shine. Low voter turn-out and significant disillusion tell us this plainly. Mauvais langue cannot continue as our rallying go-to.

Thinking further about women in politics, I noted the PM’s swearing-in ceremony comments on August 19. Referring to Dr Nyan Gadsby-Dolly and Lisa Morris-Julian, Dr Rowley championed putting the nation’s children “in the hands of two mothers.” As Newsday quoted, “They are responsible now, not just for their own family, but the family of the children of TT.”

Motherhood requires an immense skill-set, which usually can never be cited on a resume, so it was intriguing to see it drawn into public life, and the nation cast as a matrifocal family; woman-headed though patriarchal.

But, Ashlee Burnett, young chair of the TT chapter of CIWiL, put it best, “The notion of linking women’s capabilities to serve by how well they can manage the home, not only reinforces a stereotype of traditional gender norms but it also takes away from the years of hard work and effort put into ensuring that they are both competent and the best for the job.”

The double-standard here again signals transformation much-needed by another generation.

Post 387.

There’s much to say about debates over race and ethnicity in Trinidad. What’s clear is the extent to which ideas circulating in our society take on a life of their own. They speak not only to the power of old, pervasive stereotypes, but the bed of trauma on which such views land, making their harm even more painful, and making conversations difficult unless there is mutual acknowledgement of such pain. 

For example, in her racist response to the UNC’s loss, Naila Ramsaran said “I hope Rowley starts putting contraceptives in their water supply”. Her comments echoed eugenist ideas of population control of the poor, primarily because of additional stereotypes of their burden on the state. These have been racialized in terms of Afro-Caribbean family systems and sexual practices since British colonial response to labour resistances of the 1930s, and the emergence of an idea of a state welfare. 

Contraceptives are not poison, and she didn’t threaten to put any in company products, but public condemnation justifiably moved from disgust at her demeaning of PNM supporters to fears regarding public health and the risk of genocide that deliberately poisoned products could pose to Afro-Trinidadian people’s lives. 

The problem isn’t only the racism of individuals on social media today, it’s the ease with which these racist logics circulate, appearing as accessible truths to understand others, but also to undermine them, and it’s their power to take on a life of their own.  

I don’t think the UNC intended its ad, for example, with a poor African child to be racist. I think the UNC was targeting poor Afro-Trinidadian voters who have been abandoned by the PNM, those willing to kick floodwater at Fitzgerald Hinds, those living in the marginalized communities of Chaguaramas and Sea Lots, and those who are the targets of the PM’s committee established after the protests in July.

They were not wrong to target these voters, in fact it’s necessary, but their targeting took up widely available narratives that are reductionist and misleading, and become racist representations. The same emphasis on poor Afro-Trinidadians at the bottom of the social and economic hierarchy comes from some local Black Lives Matter voices, and from those calling for an end to the Concordat because schooling disparities leave young Afro-Trinidadians poor and excluded. 

The idea of Africans at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder is an Afro-Trinidadian discourse that non-Africans hear, and may also believe, and it combusts into a life of its own as it moves across ethnicity and when it is then taken up in simplistic or opportunistic ways or should not be taken up at all.

So, the conversation isn’t whether the UNC or PNM, or Indians or Africans or anyone else, is totally racist. It’s not about a contest to list offensive political advertisements or statements, or post social media screenshots. 

Both parties have played on racial logics for decades, and swathes of the population heard and felt echoes of these logics as, at best, race-baiting and, at worst, as deliberate racism. These perceptions are the reality we have to unpack and confront, for it is here that layers of historical narratives, stereotypes, fictions and exclusions step in, creating disagreement over both history and the present, and a sense that the other does not prioritize our hurt or healing. 

What is critical is that different groups may hear these logics differently, sometimes may not hear them at all, sometimes may not consider them valid perceptions, or may see them as inconvenient but historically-accurate truths. 

Ideas we hold and convey about ourselves and each other are filled with dangerous myths, which at some times are expediently wielded and at others deeply wounding, bringing many to conversations about race with deep sense of pain. Political parties will play all this as long as it exists. We will have solid bases for accusing each other of racism, and blindness to it, as long as such logics live and breathe in our shared terrain.

There are continuous examples of victimhood because racial, gendered and classed ideas determine our grasp of history, validate shortcuts for explaining distrust and inequities, create both platforms and silences, and establish group identities and boundaries that can be conveniently exploited for political power.   

Where these discourses come from, when they can be drawn upon, why they remain effective, what truths they capture and hide, and what harms they continue to enact are necessary conversations to have as people making one nation out of the challenges of such complexity and contradiction.  

Post 380.

Decades of advocacy to end gender-based violence have led to some changes worth commending. The latest step is the Domestic Violence Amendment Bill which expands protections for children, the elderly, persons with disabilities, and some dating and visiting relationships. 

Debated in the Senate on Monday, it was assuring to see support on both sides for preventing domestic violence and protecting victims. Senator Wade Mark himself mentioned that amendments proposed by the UNC in 1999, which would have allowed police to enter a home without a warrant to stop domestic violence, were not supported. Over twenty years, global and regional advocacy continued to press for a response that prevents and protects, changing legislation all over the world, creating new norms, and making this the now accepted and required response. 

The Bill also removes the need to preserve the institution of marriage from the Court’s consideration in determining the terms of a protection order. After decades of women being told by police and magistrates to try to make a violent relationship work, for the sake of marriage and family, advocacy also created greater recognition that this repugnant norm should no longer have legal teeth. 

In their speeches, Senators, Khadijah Ameen, Hazel Thompson-Ahye, Sophia Chote, Anthony Vieira and Charrisse Seepersad, spoke in favour of expanding protection to those adults sharing a home who are not related by consanguinity or affinity, meaning blood or marriage. 

The Alliance for State Action to End Gender Based Violence has argued such expanded protection would reflect the diversity of those sharing domestic spaces today. In the oncoming economic contraction, many unrelated persons will have to share homes as they are less able to afford rent or expenses on their own. All persons who ordinarily or periodically reside in the same dwelling deserve equal access to protection by law from domestic violence.

The AG described this as a “Pandora’s Box”. In Greek mythology, Pandora’s Box released great and unexpected troubles on the world when opened. “How will we draw a line on who is a member of a household?”, he asked. So, the brouhaha is not over provisions, but over definitions. 

Here, the role of legislators is not to determine which consenting adults can or cannot be members of a household, but to protect those who are. This is why Colin Robinson, in his column, argued that “member of a household” could simply be changed from “a person who habitually resides in the same dwelling house as the applicant or the respondent and is related to the applicant or respondent by blood, marriage or adoption” to a person who shares the house and/or is related by blood, marriage or adoption. It’s hyperbole by the AG to make inclusion of an ‘or’ the cause of many unforeseen problems. 

The consequences are well-foreseen by the AG, and they relate to changes to what he has identified as 23 pieces of legislation, such as related to immigration, sexual offenses and children.  He’s repeatedly said he is “urgently” waiting for Jones v. TT to be decided by the Privy Council so he can get guidance on amending these laws. 

This is a bit of balderdash. The AG can amend all these laws without waiting for the judgment, and Parliament has the authority to pass all such amendments if it boldly chooses the right side of history. 

A Privy Council decision will compel the AG to make those changes. It will lord over any legal challenges, protecting him from having to defend these evolving norms himself. The Pandora’s Box isn’t ours, and it isn’t about legal conundrums. It is his, and it is entirely political. 

Senators were not oblivious to this, nor to their own parties’ complicity, which is why recommendations to expand protection were voted against by 16 PNM senators with 9 UNC senators abstaining, and only 4 Independent Senators, Anthony Vieira, Paul Richards, Sophia Choate and Charisse Seepersad, voting in favour.  

Yet, the call for a larger definition of “member of household” is not only about same-sex relationships. What we watched on Monday was the way that intent to deny protection to those relationships left others also excluded. It shows our deep interconnection with each other, and the jeopardy of thinking some can be denied rights without consequences for us all. 

The Pandora’s Box isn’t the risk of opening broad inclusion of domestic relationships. It is the release of the harms of discrimination, of sacrifice of some citizens for votes, of cowardice by representatives who well know what is right.  

In the Greek story, all that was left in the box was Hope. So, we continue to advocate for state response to all victims’ needs, and for a culture of tolerance, rights and peace, knowing that this is what we must do so legislators that today deny necessary provisions, tomorrow will agree.

Post 375.

Once again, so many voters looking for sanity and trustworthiness find themselves wanting. A PNM win was secured by the government’s deeply cautious, but extremely successful health response. It was also secured by the vast distribution of social and economic support to tens of thousands of citizens, and the millions given carte blanche to religious groups which constitute major voting blocs. Don’t expect these monies to be properly and publicly accounted for, of course. The PMN found the best way to use a disaster to secure gratitude in the voting booth. That’s just reality in an election year.

Fascinatingly, the Prime Minister made a lengthy speech about campaign finance reform. This sounded like a brilliant plan to spend billions as a party (in government) without the constraints of procurement regulation while cleverly limiting other parties’ (out of government) ability to spend on their campaign without oversight. Campaign finance reform, if passed, will be a double win for the PNM and cause some belly pain for the UNC as they are well aware that parties in government spend millions (and this year more than a billion) in state funds as part of their campaign and parties out of government straggle on what they fundraise.

All this cleverness now seems wasted, however. It’s clear that the PM and Minister of National Security Minister lied to the nation or maybe are lying to themselves or maybe they just open borders and meet sanctioned foreign elites on the fly. I don’t understand calls for Stuart Young to resign when the anancy story goes straight to the top. What does a voter do when the party in government is caught in a lie? Go back into a relationship without trust?

On the other hand, the UNC’s strategy has won no love. Moonilal’s ill-fated run to the US Embassy was simply to send the message that an election is coming and a change of regime would be in US interest. Threat of sanctions, which it almost seemed that the UNC was begging for, would help send that message to a population already hungry and fearful, and provide nice sound and fury to secure desperate votes on the campaign trail. Moonilal didn’t anticipate that the press would pick up the story, but kick dust in his face and it’s now clear that new bacchanal must be quickly found.   

The UNC strategy was despicable, though I disagreed with the PM that it was traitorous and I disagreed with Cudjoe that it was racist. Actually, I thought Cudjoe’s commentary on Moonilal, and Indians, was itself despicable and racist, or maybe he hasn’t read anything on Indians in the Caribbean published after 1980.

I understand why we have to remain under US policy rule as our major trading partner and neighbourhood bully, but to champion that position was to reduce us to colonial status and playing policeman of our own subordination, like little boys in khaki short pants.

There has been a global call to lift sanctions, particularly at this time, when they impose an immoral cost on the shoulders of innocents and the poorest and most vulnerable in Venezuela. Sanctions against Venezuela are also not CARICOM policy. As citizens of the world, we have a right to our own views on global affairs. We have a right to think for ourselves beyond US politics. We have to abide, or bears costs of doing otherwise, but we do not have to agree.

So, where does the last weeks’ political chaos leave us?

Over the last decades, the incumbent has had trouble getting back into government though a month ago the PNM could have called an election and, without even a campaign speech, immediately won. Today, if we vote the PNM back in, we will be showing that we accept degrees of dishonesty yet again.

The AG has the Commission of Enquiry into the Point Fortin Highway, which is racking up tens of millions and again constitutes campaign spending using state resources, in his back pocket to pull out whenever the UNC bawls corruption. If we vote the UNC back in, he will make sure it shows we are prepared to accept much the same.

As Iran bravely ships oil to Venezuela, and Caribbean waters heat up, an election season fight for credibility has begun. We will have to choose between two parties with questionable decision-making, many smart men and too little trust. As with hurricanes, we can only hope to weather the wrath of oncoming storms in our tiny teacup.  

Post 320.

The Phillip Alexander ruckus this past week has made me descend to calling for what should be already agreed upon. If you missed his critique of Hema Ramkissoon’s interview of PEP party members, it included a threat “to drag you to hell and beat you among the flames” because he felt he and the party were attacked. It included bringing up her private life and her past, her appearance, and using words like “stink” and “dutty”. It’s almost as if ole mas reached the party too early in Carnival season.

The interview wasn’t so bad. I’ve had worse from Fazeer Mohammed, and from radio hosts who thought sexist block talk was professional journalistic engagement.

I thought the women representing the party, Felicia Holder and Michelle Davis, were excellent. I’ve been on air and annoyed with media hosts for asking what I thought were baseless or biased questions, distracting the public from getting the point, and pressing me to justify my position in ways that I knew others would not have to fight for legitimacy.

Felicia Holder looked visibly annoyed at times, as I have, but also held her own, as one learns to. I liked her pitch and representation of principle, just like I like when citizens – including a younger generation – rise up and organize against those who have ruled far too long and overseen far too much injustice – and here I’m pointing all my fingers at both the PNM and UNC.

Over twenty years of observing elections, I’m not the cynic others have become. While one must always count polling divisions to calculate wins, losses and draws, I’m up for the role that third, fourth, and fifth parties play. They galvanise those who have stopped voting, represent those at the margins, raise outstanding issues, and remind parliamentarians that they do not have a sacrosanct hold on the great house. Such civic engagement makes the strongest form of democracy.

In such a democracy, violence of any kind, including in language, in images distributed, and in physical attacks, undermines broad participation. Across the world, women are notoriously more vulnerable in politics and particularly affected by such violence. They are inappropriately and unnecessarily sexualized. Their personal lives are targeted for public shame. They face sexist and threatening language to a greater extent.

Few women who have entered politics – whether as candidates or as public commentators – are unfamiliar with this, whether it’s in images of Marlene Macdonald, supposedly in lingerie, shared around the internet; or in endless totally hypocritical man-talk about Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s sex life; or in Keith Rowley’s many infamous double entendres – women as golf a course, a woman Prime Minister as a cat; or backlash gossip against women in media who say or write words others think they shouldn’t.

The Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy (NIMD) writes, “an often neglected form of violence to consider is political violence against women. Whether this is outright violence towards women running campaigns or sexist discourse undermining women’s political credibility”. Women face “literally twice as much psychological abuse/violence during elections than men”, and have “a starkly different experience of the political world”.

In a 2016 study by the Inter-Parliamentary Union, involving 55 women parliamentarians from 39 countries, the “findings reveal troubling levels of prevalence – particularly for psychological violence, the most widely spread form, affecting 81.8 per cent of the respondents from all countries and regions. Among the kinds of psychological violence, 44.4 per cent of those surveyed said they had received threats of death, rape, beatings or abduction during their parliamentary term”.

Further, “65.5 per cent said they had been subjected several times, or often, to humiliating sexist remarks…on social media and, to a lesser extent, by telephone or e-mail, or during political meetings”. Their appearance, conjugal status, emotional, sexual and family life were all subjects of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision.

In 2016, National Democratic Institute launched the #NotTheCost campaign: “a global call to action to raise awareness to stop violence against women in politics. The campaign’s title reflects the fact that many women are told that harassment, threats, psychological abuse (in person and online), physical and sexual assault are “the cost of doing politics””. Key is holding perpetrators accountable.

Working in the media doesn’t justify women’s (or anyone’s) risk of violence. Elections don’t justify it either. Political non-violence should be a commitment printed in manifestos and promised on platforms. It should be ensured by ‘women’s arms’, ‘youth arms’, and all men ruling party hierarchies, including the blustering and agitated PEP.

 

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.

Post 226.

As we approach end-of-year local government elections, and political parties’ women’s arms are mobilized in campaigns, rallies, and constituency offices, it’s a good time for such political bodies to flex some muscle and establish their expectations.

The domestication of political party women’s arms, sometimes called auxiliaries or leagues, is well documented across the region. Women’s arms are primarily drawn on in the lead-up to elections, then usually side-lined after, rather than being at the decision-making table in terms of appointments to Cabinet, boards and other state posts, and in terms of policy positions to be pursued. They are warm bodies needed on the streets to validate parties’ and candidates’ moral legitimacy, community relevance, and vote-enticing sensitivities to women.

It’s a powerful time, particularly for working class women, who know they are playing a crucial and visible role, and who bring that valuable nexus of cooking, cleaning-up, and campaigning skills and contacts when the battle for votes hits the streets. While usually male financiers stand on the side-lines making and breaking deals, I guarantee that campaign-, rally- or constituency-level momentum is not possible without largely lower and middle-income women’s and housewives’ labour, for they perform the majority of organizing work behind the scenes.

Such capacity and power shouldn’t just amount to ‘helpfulness’, but instead accrue analytically sound, badass might. Women’s arms are expected to stay within the boundaries of acceptable issues and rights for women, avoiding, for example, advocacy regarding the right to love of lesbian young women and the basic decency of safe terminations for others seeking abortions, despite their illegality.

The definition of womanhood they enact is linked to wifehood, motherhood and grand-motherhood, rather than to women as an independent constituency of sexual, economic and political beings, who, by now, should substantively occupy at least half of all political decision-making positions in the country.

They symbolize the moral centers of their party, selflessly concerned about and responsible for maintaining respect for the status quo, social order and public good, even when a gender policy is desperately needed to guide state programmes and spending regardless of whether some religious leaders realise that or not.

Within them, women learn when to stay quiet and when to speak, when to know their place, how to appropriately assert power, and how to not annoy men and elite women in the party with their non-negotiable challenges to class hierarchy, sexism, sexual harassment, homophobia and corruption, both in the party and in the society. While men present the risk of political and sexual indiscipline, the women’s arm is steadfast and loyal, like a good wife.

In this context, imagine the almighty commotion in political parties’ yard if women’s arms were seen as too fearless, too feminist and too fierce in their collective defense of women’s interests, rather than doing it nicely, despite women being currently documented as clustered in low-wage and insecure work, facing higher levels of unemployment and earning on average half of men’s wages in the economy. All good reasons for righteous rage.

Yet, there is potential for women’s arms and the women leaders they bring together to exercise power differently, in ways that are decisively committed to transforming unfair gender relations, not because party elites approve, but because its real women’s lives we are representing for here, and we are not giving party structures a choice about whether to respond. We are giving them targets, measurables, deadlines and penalties. Women’s arms should be that autonomous, unapologetic force within a political party that calls those with the most power to account for their advancement of gender equality internally, nationally and regionally.

If this occurred, there would be 50% of women amongst senior ranks, not just women clustering at the bottom. Party school would consist of training, mentoring and strategizing on how to empower women to act as transformational leaders and build male allies who defend solidarity rather than supremacy. Especially when we know a major obstacle is fear of men losing control over their women, and generally having less collective power in a society where women gain access to positions and roles which were previously the exclusive domain of men (Vassell 2013).

Given that fear, which adds to a climate where it can be risky to support girls and women instead of elite men, it wouldn’t be up to individual women to secure such progress, but up to the commitments embedded in the structures and processes of the party. No one should then resort to the easy explanation that ‘women are their own worst enemies’. Rather, the most influential party elites, particularly the men, would be assigned to ensure such progress, and come to account at the next women’s arm meeting.

What such a women’s arm would be is a strong, women-led, social movement, which successfully holds the state and political-economic elites accountable for our economic conditions, our gendered realities, the failures documented in Auditor-General’s reports, and the continued vast, avoidable destruction of our island ecology. For, the role of a women’s arm is to represent for women, particularly working class women, understanding their everyday struggles, needs, rights and dreams, using the power of the party. And, that’s what they should assess. The extent to which they secure sexual harassment and gender policies, economic and political empowerment, and gender parity within the party and nationally, without fear of that being seen as too radical, or, worse, imposition of a special interest concern.

There is inspiration for such an approach to women’s arms from across our region’s history. Thus, party school should teach about women in the Haitian, Cuban and Grenadian revolutions, in public resistances to slavery and indentureship, in riots over bread and water, in struggles to change laws regarding marriage, violence and labour, and in challenges to male dominance in organizational leadership.

It would highlight that Afro-Caribbean women have long been mass movement leaders and Indian women were never obedient, quiet and docile, but as far back as indentureship, were individually and collectively seeking economic and sexual autonomy. It would tell you about women such Audrey Jeffers, Daisy Crick and Christina Lewis, even Gene Miles, who blew the whistle on party corruption, reminding us today that we still have no ‘whistleblower’ legislation.

It should share the strategies women used to make abortion legal in Barbados since 1983 and in Guyana since 1995. It would highlight the story of the Jamaican PNP Women’s Movement which, in 1977, evolved from being an ‘auxiliary’ to the PNP, to an ‘independent’ grouping within the Party with progressive leadership that addressed a wide range of issues facing women. They recognised “the importance of organising women as an independent lobby or pressure group capable of transforming itself into an agency for fundamental change” (Beverly Manley). It would seek examples from Costa Rica and Panama, where women have pushed their parties to develop, implement and monitor a gender strategy that is integrated into party development frameworks.

Holding the party accountable for achievement of political, economic and sexual equality, equity and empowerment is the rightful agenda of a women’s arm. The substance of such an agenda would impress and attract many women voters, strengthening the negotiating power of a women’s arm when needed.

Make sure that muscle on the campaign trail results in such power after, with Local Government councilors understanding that they should give back for what they gained. “We do not wish to be regarded as rebellious” said Bahamian Dame Doris Louise Johnson, “but we would point out to you that to cling sullenly or timidly to ancient, outmoded ways of government is not in the best interests of our country”.

Diary of a mothering worker.

Post 209.

At last week Wednesday’s forum, ‘Reflecting on Gender and Politics in the 2015 Election Campaign’, young people filled the room, many of them lesbian and gay, who I hope felt that the Institute for Gender and Development Studies at UWI created a safe space for public deliberation, for once not defined by their marginality.

The event was inspired by ‘the marginals’ in national talk about the election. How could we instead think about politics beyond polls and ‘the numbers’, to see multiple kinds of ‘margins’ in our landscape, especially in the deeply connected experiences of women and the LBGTI community? How could we encourage public reflection that no other site in the country would, precisely because feminist academia is founded on solidarity with these groups’ continuing struggles for equal citizenship? How could we build on civil society efforts to bring us together across political party divides?

There was the history of the Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women to build on. Twenty years of producing a Women’s Manifesto and trying to get campaigning parties to commit to its goals. Twenty years of funding women candidates in the hopes that they would see the women who helped to get them into power as an important constituency. More years of encouraging a women’s cross-party caucus, where women politicians could gather as allies, rather than adversaries.

There was also the history of organisations like Caiso, Friends for Life, Women’s Caucus, Silver Lining Foundation and I am One to support. More than a decade of advocacy to end discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. In 2010, Caiso produced a manifesto, ‘6 in 6’, which outlined six policy and leadership steps they hoped that the new government would take in its first half year in office. Five years later, with those all unfulfilled, whether in terms of police treatment of LGBTI crime victims, the creation of safe schools or the community’s greater vulnerability to homelessness, they were still challenging their marginality. Now as part of a new network of groups called Allies for Justice and Diversity, a rights-we-deserve-not-what-rights-we-are-allowed manifesto was again created in 2015.

In a country where ‘the marginals’ decide the victor, it made sense for a post-election forum to bring together marginal groups to document their overlapping analyses and strategies, as they both contested how ideals of masculinity and femininity shape the lived realities of political life. Sexism cannot be ended without also ending homophobia, and advancing emancipation requires us to fearlessly document, understand and defy an unjust status quo. Where else then, would we discuss the homophobic bullying and stereotyping experienced by gay male candidates, from the population, their own political parties, and our headline-hungry media? Where else would we share how campaigning is experienced by women as they negotiate the significance of their family roles, femininity, and sexual respectability for their acceptability as representatives and leaders? Where else would the nation’s first transgender electoral candidate affirm her right to all the rights of citizenship, including public office?

As an act of university solidarity, and to strengthen the alliance between women’s and LGBTI rights advocates, Nafeesa Mohammed, Khadijah Ameen, Sabrina Mowlah-Baksh, Luke Sinnette, Colin Robinson and Jowelle de Souza were all on one panel. Watching representatives of the PNM and UNC sit with these citizens, knowing their parties had unjustly abandoned them in their National Gender Policy drafts and in the Equal Opportunity Act, I hoped that the young people there could see that legitimacy and space is created incrementally, relentlessly, despite setbacks and disappointments. There was more than fifty years of activist history of holding the baton in that room, from Hazel Brown in her 70s to Afro-Trinidadian, lesbian, working class young women in their 20s. A generation coming after me should know that a path continues to be cut for them to run.

On election night, Dr. Keith Rowley, said that he is the Prime Minister of all of us, and “that we are all in this together”. We lead him by our example. Those young people came because they aspire for an equal place. Acknowledgment of that is what ‘all in this together’ means for politics in our nation.

Post 180.

Now that the government has collapsed and a general election should be called, people will start asking ‘who we go put?’

Elected to power in May 2010, a collaboration of parties and principles was formed to oust Patrick Manning, but nonetheless brought the UNC, COP, MSJ, NJAC and TOP into a hopeful coalition. COP is at odds with itself and the government. TOP and NJAC bring no votes. MSJ has left never to return and the UNC, which cannot by itself constitute the People’s Partnership government, has spent four years destroying its own legitimacy from within.

Those who are left, from Speaker Wade Mark to Minister Howai, have also lost public credibility. Vasant Barath’s unholy alliance with propagandist Ernie Ross, which conjured up such ill-begotten campaigns as the ‘Kublal’ lizard, the belligerent attacks on media for censorship, and the entirely vacuous Petrotrin-funded ‘happiness’ full page ads, seems to have been involved in both setting up Gary Griffith and attempting to hoodwink the population on official letterhead. The UNC’s only political capital is Kamla Persad-Bissessar herself, her strategy of endless direct patronage, and her Faustian deals with financiers who can bling her back into power.

For those willing to assume office for the next few months, the first Cabinet meeting could only be compared to Alice’s entry to the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party or newbie skiers leaping recklessly onto a snowballing avalanche or a relay race where the runners enter from anywhere and run in any politically expedient direction. Sorry to mix metaphors, but it is that kind of pretense at coherence going on.

Then, there is the PNM. Amongst other factors, if Patrick Manning somehow makes it through the nomination process, gunning as he is to undermine Rowley, then that too will render the party completely unelectable to anyone who voted precisely to get Manning out in the first place.

So, who we go put? Perhaps, these reflections will stop us from asking this.

Perhaps, taking a break from brilliant mauvai langue memes, radio callers will push discussions on what in our political culture creates such lack of options for leadership. We’ve been having this conversation for the last decades so there is much for a new generation to draw on and this is no time to give up.

What needs to change in our constitution, state institutions and civil bureaucracy? What is the first step in our own national campaign to create more focused questions and answers about responsible government? What constitutes accountability? How is that best ensured? How can Parliament better prevent both corruption and maximum leadership? What policies and democratic practices do we expect from political parties? What must we all change in the way we relate to state resources and power across every community?

Late last year, Winston Dookeran admonished me about the importance of getting involved in politics, which in his view was the only way to change leadership and governance. You civil society activists create a lot of noise and little impact, and mostly gain a feel-good sense of self from complaining outside the walls of authority, he said. I couldn’t see how his getting into Cabinet gave him any more voice, relevance or influence, and had already chosen to invest in civil society because building power by, of and for the people from the ground up is what remains necessary.

We will ask ‘who we go put?’ for another fifty years if we don’t think of what vox populi, vox dei means beyond voting in an election. Our demand a fresh mandate should kickstart our campaign for answers to far more transformational questions.

Post 166.

I told myself that I’d be there to support Wayne Kublalsingh’s second hunger strike, even if I disagreed with it as a strategy, because you don’t leave soldiers to fight on battlefields alone.

You might disagree with their battle plan, wonder at their choices, get vex that they don’t follow your suggestions, and anticipate the victories as well as onslaught of wounds, but soldiers who decide to die fighting deserve more than dismissive derision.

I mean soldiers who put everything into the trenches of citizen organizing for more than a decade for no personal gain, and who have fought without guns, mudslinging or dogs of war for communities’ sustainable needs. Soldiers who ran out big polluter industries which would have gorged on our precious island resources, exported the profits, and left our children along the South-West peninsula mired in waste. I mean soldiers who won’t give up our rights to state accountability for any version of development, and who won’t let politicians conveniently and falsely make us choose.

While these soldiers step into the deep fog ahead, steeled by will, experience and principle, there is work for us to do.  This is my tenth column on the HRM since November 2012, every word as personal as it is political. I’ve often visited the handful of older folk, sitting peaceably outside the PM’s office for more than 200 days, forever imprinting in my mind that image of their little tent facing the façade of prime ministerial authority.  Listening to the women of the HRM marvel at never imagining quiet, rural mothers could challenge the PM, I’ve seen examples of empowerment for young Indian women.

I came of age under citizen soldiers like Sheila Soloman, Angela Cropper, Norman Girvan, Norris Deonarine, Rhea Mungal, Desmond Allum, Michael Als, and more. Their ghosts stalk our apathy. They remind that history is made by individuals handing on a sense of people power to another generation. They forewarn that some successes may only be an edging back of government secrecy and domination, some will take more than our lifetime to achieve.

Through these weeks, I’ve listened to people saying the ‘environmental movement’ should just give up on this as if giving up is what Caribbean people do, as if one tenth of our budget isn’t a public issue. I’ve listened to others divide south from north Trinidad as if a nation is best guided by the spin of divide and rule. I’ve seen million dollar government propaganda distract from the billion dollar questions.

Perhaps naively, I hoped that, against such a Goliath, we could win with our little slingshots of truth.  I’ve also listened to Sunity Maharaj sagely caution me that, if I think back to the Amerindians, to the long struggle since colonization, I’d also remember that crushing, arbitrary defeat after defeat is part of our legacy.

I could write about the dilemmas of choosing a primary school where teachers will not beat my child, and the worry of sitting in parent-teacher meetings hearing that her confidence doesn’t match her vocabulary, but I find myself more concerned with the complexity of power and its hidden curriculum, less likely to produce solidarity than indifference and cynicism.

Our work ahead is to decide what this moment will mean.  When mega projects cost us more than they should, ecologically, financially and socially, I ask myself what Ziya will think of the sides I took, and my own accountability.

May soldiers also help her learn how to educate, advocate and mobilize. In your own future dark time, Zi my love, may they still haunt those aiming at your dream.

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On Wednesday 22 October, I visited Wayne at home. Lying in his bed, looking hollow but radiant on Day 36, he pointed to a sketch he had done of three men – Martin Luther King, Walter Rodney and Martin Carter.

I had written this entry the night before, hoping to explain my own involvement, what I understand true soldiers to be, and why Wayne didn’t need to live on to lead another future struggle – for that is our responsibility. It was late when Express reporter Kim Boodram had called to say she had seen Wayne and was horrified at his state. I felt darkness like a weight pressing on my fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders and neck as I sat at my desk listening. I had not yet ended this entry and found an articulation of my emotions in Martin Carter’s

‘This is the dark time, my love’.

His brown beetles are soldiers who trample the slender grass, who produce oppression and fear. I thought of independence as the change to our own forces of authoritarianism and the guerrilla citizens who help us learn how to defend ourselves. I thought of the jumbie Wayne, now in human body, but perhaps moving to another form. I thought of how I carry the formidable commitment of civil society within me, like a pantheon, and my hope that Wayne’s spirit would also usher us ahead.When he showed me the drawing, I read this to him, glad that Carter’s truths continue to haunt us. The next day was a gathering to shed light on the darkness of governmental secrecy and domination. Light, not violence, is our weapon. 

Gabrielle Souldeya Hosein