Farewell to the King

Heartbreak enemy despise
Love shines in my eyes
So let love take us through the hours
I won’t be complaining
’Cause your love is alright, alright
—Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough Michael Jackson

The first man any of us were in love with, notwithstanding Amitabh Bachchan on a Sunday afternoon. And now that they say he is gone I remember the eighties and long for that innocence again. When my big sister Didi was the coolest person alive. Because she could do the moonwalk and to add insult to injury allowed me with my annoying six-year-old self to lime with her and all her cool friends, not least of all, the boyfriend whose name was, oh sweet Lord, Michael. When Thriller came out and we listened to that record for hours and staged concerts in our living room for a scandalised George Lamming who had, to our own disgust, not yet heard of this marvel called Michael Jackson.
Back then, before the pederasty, before the plastic surgery, before Jacko became wacko, we loved him like a brother. Like a part of the family. He sang for us, for every black child wanting to be great. Wanting to be more than just skin and hair and nose. When those things became tangible talent, superstardom to take to you to moon and back, to soar endlessly. I laughed til I cried years later when Didi was in London and sent me a letter detailing her fainting as he came onstage at Wembley. By then he was thinner and whiter and stranger but still a star. Still worthy of causing my otherwise sensible sister to faint from the sheer emotional exertion of being so close to greatness. He was too great for this Earth. And so he became the joke, the freak show that we all are desperate to avoid. The non-belonging artist on the moon, far out in orbit, trying to get his fans to take the trip with him. No one is that amazing we try to tell ourselves. No one can be so great.
He soars higher still, but we decline the journey preferring to lose ourselves in the driving sex-soaked bass of dancehall and the frustrated realism of hip hop. None can deny though, not Sizzla, not Public Enemy, not Method Man, that the King is the King. His time is gone now, a sacrifice at the feet of superstar gods who demand the ultimate price for such genius. Madness haunts any who dare to fly so high. His face melted like Icarus wings and none of us held out our hands to catch him. And it occurs to me that the thing we robbed him of is the thing he represents the most to all of us. He gave us the happy childhood he never had, haunted as he was by genius madness and demands for those less talented for him to reach never-before-seen heights of superstardom.
He gifted us a less difficult time. A less complicated time when you could be in love with a superstar. When you could dance away your troubles. Back then when you didn’t know every awful gory detail of his life, you couldn’t hear the pain in his wailing. You couldn’t hear the loneliness in his high fragile voice. You could just see the moonwalk as a dance and not a man retreating to some far far place where none of the people who exploited his immense talent could reach him. I mourn not just a singer. I mourn a symbol of my own struggle to know and love myself. How many black people wished they had that Jackson money to change their faces into something that might be more beautiful by someone else’s standards.
How many want to rub out their reflections so that the nightmares do not stare back when they look into the mirror. How many fight demons every day. His heart broke because we didn’t believe in him anymore and I am sure he stopped believing too. Part of me wants to believe that he is not dead. Because he was meant to be immortal. He was meant to transcend this physical place because the Earth was far too puny a place for him. The King is not mere flesh that withers on the bone. The King is pure electricity now. Existing in our nerve endings, infectious and divine. The King stops time and space to make people forget their troubles and dance. Forget their sorrows and dance. Like the first time you heard Billie Jean and wondered what manner of man could make their spirit want to jump out of their skins, just so?
It is the power of music. In that moment of moonwalk nothing else matters. He walks on the moon alone. He trods the superstar road alone. He dies alone. Unrecognisable by those who came to know themselves through his music. Far more than any of us have wished for ourselves. Far more than any of us could have dreamed for him.

A victory for justice

So now that we moving
Let we move in one accord
Is time we get closer
and give thanks and praise
O Lord
We are here to shine our light
Keep you fire burning bright
Never give up never give up never give up
It will be all right
Life is full of ups and downs
We are here to carry on
Never give up never give up never give up
Don’t stop No

—Never Give Up, 3Canal

Dear Justice

Dean-Armorer, to tell the truth I was afraid. I was terrified that you might have ruled in favour of the Government and the EMA. I couldn’t bear another disappointment from Trinidad that day. I couldn’t bear the heartbreak of knowing that injustice continues unchecked. Too many examples to call. Too many things that break my heart every day. I couldn’t bear the heartache, Madame Justice. I stood outside Woodford Square for a while. Watching the cameras, and activists. Wanting to be there with them. Wanting to give my energy to the gathering crowd. To go down with them fighting. And I don’t know if I am getting old and bitter or falling into the new fear that paralyses all Trinidadians/Tobagonians these days.

But I slinked away from my friends. From people with whom I have fought for three years. I didn’t know if I could hold it together if you ruled in favour of the Government. I didn’t know if my heart could take another dose of Trinidad tabanca. But in this yes man town, I am relieved that there is a woman willing to say no. In this yes man town you have managed to restore some small piece of faith. Some small beacon of light that shines with the possibility that, yes, the people can win sometimes. The people can see justice done sometimes. I don’t know if you fully understand what you’ve done for people like me. Who spend many days shouting at and berating friends and strangers to take responsibility for this place. To take some kind of emotional interest, to make some kind of investment in making it better.

We walk through this landscape feeling so disempowered. We stick our fingers in our wounds not knowing how to heal them. We are lost in a limbo of leaders who don’t know how to lead, preachers who don’t know the power of their words, children who have forgotten how to be children. We are so familiar with failure we don’t know how to win anymore. And what is worse is that we don’t know that we have the right to fight to win. I don’t know if you understand this is not just about the smelter. This is about everything that is wrong with T&T that we now have the opportunity to make right. This victory is for Amy and Sean and Akiel and Tecia and Richard. This victory is for denuded hills and depleted fish stocks. This victory is for every unsolved crime, every unkept campaign promise. It’s not just a victory for the people of the community.

What you have done has made it possible for our children to give us some respect. For them to look back 50 years from now and say, you know it was a good thing that happened on June 16, 2009. That day when someone stood up not just in defence of fragile environment, but for the people who depend on it too. Justice Dean-Armorer, I am not putting water in my mouth to tell you that I felt a great sense of relief wash over me on Tuesday afternoon. That I held back tears, three years worth of emotion. Three years worth of being on the wrong side of public opinion. Three years worth of being accused of being anti-development. This is not time for tears. Whether they are happy tears or not. And I know this is another beginning. I know that Papa Patos is not going to let go of his beloved gas-guzzling smelter, although you gave him the sweetest of meggies Tuesday afternoon.

I expect that he will be even more wrong and strong now. I expect that we who stand in defence of the environment and fair consultations between the Government and communities will become the new terrorists. But it is a relief to know that there are those who know and understand. Who feel and know and have logic on their side. I want to thank you not just as a tree hugger but as a woman, as a human, as an earthling. Thank you for understanding. Thank you for standing up for ordinary people. Thank you for seeing regular Trinidadians/Tobagonians as having valid voices. And for saying to the State and all its functionaries that the people are neither crazy nor stupid. And I hope that because of your landmark, groundbreaking, revolutionary judgment, future generations might not in turn judge us so harshly.

On the Outside

I go many places
I go business places
And I see, see, see
All the bad, bad, bad things
Dem dey do, do, do
Call corruption
And dey call nepotism
Inside promotions
And inside all business
I say I waka waka waka
I see, see, see
—Coffin for Head of State, Fela Anikulapo Kuti

Here we are, standing on the outside. Watching them dig out our insides. Outside of La Brea no one knows what is happening. No one knows the terror of big trucks on your roads at all hours. No one knows the trauma of living with sea breeze all your life and then having to install air-conditioning units because some man with book sense decided that it was a good idea to cut down 800 acres of land around you. Outside of Sobo, Square Deal, Union, Vance River, Vessigny no-one understands what the fight is about. No one grasps the social impact of an aluminium smelter. Not least of all the man whose decision it is to build it there. It takes one to know one, and he who is the most disconnected can identify the outsiders from a distance. He can smell them like the stench of melting aluminium.
Outside of Vessigny beach. Outside of this country’s development. Outside of a connection to the land. In this blind Vision 2020 we are all outsiders. We are all begging to be let in. For our voices to be heard. For our opinions to matter. We exist on the periphery. And the father of the nation builds a big tall wall around what is for him and those who support him. Leaving the rest of us on the outside. Only he knows who is worthy of belonging. Like a club bouncer he gets to say who gets inside and who stays outside. Who isn’t beautiful enough, who is too black. Stay outside and hope that one day the bouncer might decide to give you a bligh. That one day you might be good enough to get into the club where the nation’s resources are shared. Where scotch flows like the blood of little black boys on the outside. Where deals are made and broken like the backs of workers.
Outsider. I am an outsider. We are all outsiders. I wonder who is on the inside. Who has the right to be there. Is it the woman who is near hysterical when the Prime Minister speeds past her? Is it the woman who has voted for PNM all her life, who has supported Patrick Manning throughout his career, who declares with all the pain of the excluded—Patrick Manning hates black people? It is an easy conclusion to come to. Since the black people who look like him that put him on the inside are now the outsiders in their own land. The black people whose support he depends on might get jobs cutting grass on the outside of the Alutrint smelter. Four thousand have many years ahead of them to wait outside the health centre for their medical monitoring. And if they are found to have cancer from Papa Patos’ smelter’s toxic emissions will their health surcharge be able to cover their medical expenses?
Unfortunately they won’t be able to go outside of Trinidad to get medical care like the father of the nation. And the father of the nation in his dark glasses to protect his 2020 Vision from the glaring truth of protests by people who have voted for him knows who is the outsider. He knows the face and name of every child. Of every tantie, or every grandfather and youth man. Even as workers from other parts of the country are bussed in to give support to their smelter. Even as the Government goes into debt with the Government of China to build a smelter. Even as community leaders and village council members remain on the outside of their air-conditioned tents.
And the police can clear the roads for Papa Patos to pass but the protesters get blamed by a newspaper for causing the death of a child. He must know who is the outsider because he has created the distinction. He has given the parameters for insideness and outsideness. And if you don’t like it you could put it in your pipe and smoke it. The smoke of the smelter will infiltrate the insides of those the father of the nation calls outsiders.

De place gettin warm…

Every other morning for the past couple weeks, I’ve received calls from friends in La Brea about what is happening down there.  You would never be able to tell by watching the nightly news broadcasts, but hundreds of residents in that part of the country have been engaged in daily protests against Alutrint, the government owned aluminum smelter plant that they have recently begun construction of.

This morning things came to a head. My sistren called me to say that a police officer had just fired a shot, in the midst of women and children in Union Village.  He had to be quickly escorted out of the community, as this angered many of the residents who have been engaging in various non-violent protests since 800 acres of land were first cleared from around their village five years ago.

Tomorrow morning Prime Minister Patrick Manning is carded to turn the sod for the Alutrint power station.  Word is that attempts will be made to stamp out any sign of protest, from destroying their camp to arresting anyone seen to be making the Prime Minister look bad.  La Brea is a PNM stronghold, which is why the initial resistance to the smelter was able to be overshadowed by what seemed to be overwhelming support from the community.  But the promises of jobs have turned out to be, well, not exactly true and now even the people pro-smelter people are taking to the streets.  

The following statement is from those members of the communities who are standing firm against the building of the Alutrint smelter.


JUNE 9, 2009

We understand Mr. Manning is planning to come La Brea tomorrow to turn the sod for Alutrint’s power plant.

Protests involving the villages of Sobo, Vance River, Vessigny, and Union are growing. The citizens involved are against the building of the Alutrint Smelter. We now have the information that Alutrint has been hiding since February 2008 on the health risks of the smelter and the facts on such things as the loss of our beach that has been hidden from us since 2005.

Please note protests that started about two weeks ago were for jobs and fair relocation practices. However, our protest is by villagers being left to live near this smelter and we do not want it! The residents scheduled for relocation and the residents being left behind are standing together.

Those who want jobs in Alutrint have a separate platform. However, we sympathise with them as we have all been fooled that there would be safe jobs for our people. Instead we have hundreds of Chinese roaming about our backyards.

The representatives on many village councils and in the Parliament are representing Alutrint not us. They are trying to shove the smelter down our throat to silence us. This is why we are in the streets, we are representing ourselves.

Today the police discharged a firearm in the air in the midst of children in Union Village. Our protest is non-violent. We will not back down.

The State wants the people of Trinidad to believe that only a handful of residents of La Brea do not want the smelter. This is not true. For example, last week when C-news came to do a feature on La Brea they were only taken to La Brea Village where some persons told them they want the smelter. We waited for them but they never came to our villages. Please note the La Brea area consists of many villages. It is the some 4000 plus residents of Sobo, Vance River, Union, and Vessigny villages that have to be tested every two years for cancer. The residents of La Brea Village do not have to be tested. They cannot speak for us! We speak for ourselves. We do not accept this hurtful smelter.

The State is trying to create the impression that all is well and that the smelter is moving ahead at pace and is unstoppable. They want the people of Trinidad to believe we cannot stop it. This is not true. There is no plant on the ground yet. No plant will go on that ground.

We are calling on right minded citizens of Trinidad to support our call for justice and fairness. This is not just about the environment. We will continue our non-violent protests tomorrow and as long as it takes to safeguard our health and community.

Lambs to the Slaughter

What yuh see is just an illusion
Trapped in yuh worries
And your confusion
Your philosophy just a fusion
Of your illusion
Hallelujah Hallejuah
Jah gimme de strength
And I see right through yuh
Don’t think that I would submit
To the pressure
—Trials and Tribulations, Orange Sky
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. In a country where people kill each other for the slightest of slights. He is telling people to sharpen cutlasses. Political violence fill your city, yeah. Laugh and say ray as he sharpens his political cutlass to buss the throats of more of your children. To fight for political power endorsed and blessed by the Fat Arse Brigade. Blessed by mothers who have wept for their murdered sons. Wept for no water since they first voted for the PNM 50 years ago. He is sharpening his political cutlass on stones painted white by Cepep workers. Because every overlord needs peons to do his bidding, a willing and unenlightened mass easily entertained.
Sharpen your political cutlass he says. Sharpen it like the fangs of all the snakes in that there clump of balisier. Who, unlike the UNC who openly fights for power scraps, play the genteel games of a nouveau riche black elite digging out the eyes of their own. Not seeing the reflection of their grandmothers, and tanties, and great uncles. Those who worked hard and long and fought for their right to go to school and have a respectable civil servant work. Those who sold toolum and beat clothes on rocks for them to now become these insufferable stuffed-shirts who sneer at anything grassroots but are not averse to using them for political mileage. Like all the La Brea residents that Fitzgerald Henry used two years ago before he was MP of La Brea to support his pro-smelter rally outside Whitehall.
Back then when the political cutlass being used was the promise of jobs in their Alutrint smelter. Jobs that if anyone had read the Environmental Impact Assessment would have known didn’t actually exist. And now Fitzgerald Jeffrey speaks of being disappointed about the lack of jobs being offered to locals. Now it is not outsiders who block the streets of La Brea but the people who were promised the world for a smelter in their backyards. But they are sharpening. As people become more and more agitated, more nervous about job losses, more antsy about the recession that is bound to come in the wake of all this excess. They start to talk fighting talk. Planass talk. Chop-up talk. Political badjohnism fills your Parliament, yeah. As if this country were not violent enough. He encourages us to really turn on ourselves now. To really begin to feast on our own blood.
The father of the nation is “bloodthirsty” and he is cleverly calling out his army to do the work that will dirty his own hands too much. And you know that these are not idle threats from people who make deals that no-one in this whole nation of macos, picong masters and satirists has the cohones to question. The subtext of this call to arms is to ask the most important question on this force-ripe small island right now. And that is, which side of the cutlass do you stand? Are you the chopper or will you be chopped. Are you willing to dead stupid to prove a point? Or are you going to stand on the side of the wrong and strong. Like an area don he demands loyalty. Like a gangster defending his turf he gives his neighbours the most sinister of ultimatums. If you’re not for me then you must be against me. And I can’t guarantee you protection when things start to go haywire.
It is the hardest decision you will ever have to make. It is the difference between life that is livable and the one that you cannot even bear to imagine. Where the police see your mother and tell her that they’ve just seen you in town, just so that she knows they are monitoring your movements.
Where a seventy-something year-old man staging a placard protest outside President’s House gets threatened by police for exercising his constitutional rights.

Sharpen your political cutlass. Not to clear land to grow food. Not to clear a path to a nation of citizens who feel a sense of what or why this country is worth fighting for. Not to get rid of all the negative forces that lurk in our psyches. Not to create a new paradigm, a new vision, a sense of belonging. Nothing but endless violence. Nothing but endless bloodloss. He sharpens his political cutlass and we like willing lambs offer ourselves up to the slaughter.