Colonising the Climate March

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I went to the Climate March in London -a 50,000 strong triumph – so the organisers say.
It was cold literally and otherwise and I walked through the march feeling like an outsider until I got to the front where the Wretched of the Earth bloc were marching.
It was good to walk with the Global Pan Afrikan Peoples Parliament, it was good to hear Ken Saro Wiwa‘s name being called, it was good to meet with the young members of Black Dissidents it was good to meet Indigenous people from the South Pacific, Peru, Northern Scandinavia.
But in one bizarre moment, there seemed to be some confusion about who should be at the front. The big NGO’s tried to push the Wretched of the Earth out of the way. Some of them were wearing giraffe and zebra head pieces.  I guess because giraffes matter more than PoC and Indigenous human lives.
In the weeks leading up to the march I spoke with PoC activists about participation in conversations about climate change and the consensus was that the climate change movement was colonised by the white middle class.  Those suspicions proved true at the march.
Why is there a lack of understanding that human bodies are at the frontline of these climate struggles? It’s as if the people of the Global South  must always play victim, we are trotted out to perform but we must otherwise stay silent, we cannot articulate our pain, we cannot celebrate our triumphs, we cannot mourn our dead, we cannot shout our defiance.
As the Climate Change talks begin today in Paris, it is really crucial to ensure that the voices of indigenous communities and people of the Global south who are at the frontline of climate change’s effects are heard.
Don’t white wash climate change. Don’t colonise the climate change movement.
We are watching you, governments of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia who are still convinced that industrialisation is the only way forward, yes you bauxite mining in Jamaica,  yes you T&T with your obscene levels of CO2 production per capita,  yes you Nigeria with your unchecked oil pollution, yes you India trying to steal land from the Adivasis.
To the governments of the Caribbean, Africa and Asia who are aiding and abetting corporate colonialism, we are watching you and promise that our communities are finding each other, we are linking our struggles and we are joining voices and forces for justice.
The song the Sami people of Northern Scandinavia raised for Mother Earth is still ringing in my ears. It was more of a wail really, echoing through the heart of Babylondon. I sang for my own African and Indigenous ancestors,  on behalf of those killed for profit, to demand justice not just for the destruction of their bodies but for the destruction of their land, their rivers, their way of life.
The climate march was a stark reminder to me that we can’t wait for others to decide what we need to be doing for ourselves. And in as much as we know that these spaces continue to attempt to deny us our voices, we have to continue to hold the line, stand firm, claim space and shout for justice.  We have to remind them this week and everyday that without Indigenous and PoC participation, any conversation about climate change is meaningless.
Photo by Tom Lebert

Dance the Guns to Silence II – 20th anniversary of the murders of Ken Saro-Wiwa & the Ogoni 8

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DAY of ACTION on the 20th Anniversary of the outrageous executions of writer and campaigner Ken Saro-Wiwa and 8 Ogoni men.

8:00 – 10:30am, VIGIL at SHELL, Shell Centre, Waterloo, London, SE1 7NA

Gather at Shell to demand environmental justice in Ogoniland using Ken’s own words, and mark the lives of each of the Ogoni 9. Called by MOSOP (Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People) and Action Saro-Wiwa

19:00 (doors open 18:00) , DANCE THE GUNS TO SILENCE II – music, spoken word, performance, DJ. At Rich Mix. £10.00/£5.00 (adv & concs)

Major celebration with performance poets, writers, musicians, and filmmakers, with an introduction by Lazarus Tamana, Coordinator of MOSOP.

Read more about Ken Saro-Wiwa and the struggle against Shell in the Niger Delta here

Music from Virtual Migrants, headliners Bumi and Dele, DJ Tillah Willah, spoken word from Dorothea Smartt, Young Poet Laureate for London Selina Nwulu, Zena Edwards, Sai Murray and the Numbi family.

Plus updates on live events in the Niger Delta. Dance the Guns is a co-production between Numbi, Action Saro-Wiwa and Sable LitMag. Hosted by Kadija Sesay (Sable) and Kinsi Abdulleh (Numbi). Come and make some noise for Ken, whose people are still fighting for justice.

See you there. Book Now.

Beat It like a Good Friday Bobolee

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A community betrayed is a community undone. It is a neverending story of the human condition played out in Trinidad and Tobago’s own often brutal history, at endless moments when communities have made attempts to stand against injustice. In the absence of armed struggle, right to recall, effective or enforced environmental laws, and other forms of justice for communities, we laugh through our anger and frustration — and beat a bobolee instead.

Like so many other cultural forms in Trinidad and Tobago, the Good Friday bobolee — usually made of simple household materials — is a piece of performance art that goes much deeper than its ragged clothes. A bobolee is a public shaming of those who think that title, position, or social status are any protection from the wrath of the people.

Read the original article in the Current Issue of Caribbean Beat here:

Letter to Senators from the Citizens Assembly

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Dear Senators,

We write to inform you that an Assembly of Citizens drawn from a number of civil society organisations has joined the call for a halt to the parliamentary debate on the Constitution Amendment Bill, 2014.
The Assembly, which was held under the auspices of the Lloyd Best Institute of the West Indies on Sunday 24 August, 2014, wishes to alert you to the fact that the proposed amendment to the Constitution has been brought before you without input from the public. This is in direct contradiction to the Prime Minister’s pledge of engaging “a system of participatory democracy” as the basis of the Commission’s work. Specifically, we point you to her statement on the occasion of the launch of the Commission on March 02, 2013:

“We believe that the Constitution should reflect the collective will of the citizens of this country.We have learnt from the failings of some previous attempts at reform, which did not truly take into account the concerns of the most important stakeholders in this country, the people.We recognize that change must come from the people.We therefore are not adopting a “top-down” approach. Instead, through the consultation process, the views and expression of the people will be considered and will then become the basis upon which a draft document is prepared. “
We draw your attention to the fact that the proposal of a run-off vote as contained in the Bill before you, was not the subject of any public discussion before being tabled in the Parliament. We therefore urge you to exercise your judgment and authority to ensure that this omission is properly repaired before the Bill is taken to the vote.
We feel certain that you have a clear understanding of the difference between what is legal and what is right in the context of a representative Democracy. As custodians of the public interest, we urge you to utilize your Constitutional power and responsibility to ensure that this amendment to the Constitution, which is being brought to you unprotected by the requirement for a special majority vote, does not move past the Senate without the benefit of broad public consultation in line with the mandate given to the Constitution Reform Commission.

In trust

Winston Riley
Chairman

A letter to President Goodluck Jonathan

I went down to Nigeria House this morning. No official protest, just me and my friend of more years than I care to count and her daughter, all of 16 and a half months of Nina awesomeness. We stood there with our little placards just the three of us, people passing by looking at us in that special way that is reserved for crazy people who think that standing up at the side of the road in the cold is a good idea.
Eventually we tried to give them the letter. They sent us from one entrance to the next until finally one man came out and told us that he isn’t authorised to receive letters for the President and that we should send it via Registered Mail. So it’s been sent registered mail and it will also be sent to this email address provided by the Nigerian High Commission in Trinidad nigeria.portofspain@fma.gov.ng 

Dear Sir
We are concerned mothers, sisters, aunts, daughters of various nationalities. We are writing to you to express our deep concern on the disappearance of the 234 school girls in Chibok, Borno.
We are writing to ask that you treat the issue of the missing girls with a bit more urgency.
The history of Nigeria, the ethnic, political and social realities that gave rise to this tragic situation are all areas in which we have limited knowledge. It does not help that we continue to get distorted versions of these stories from international media sources, that neither understand nor care to explain these contemporary and historical problems, nor how colonial powers were and continue to be involved in the instability of countries all over the global south.
Our concerns are for girl children around the world. We cannot imagine our lives without the girls who surround us.
We imagine that if our own children were to go missing we would want the world to come to a standstill and help us find them. We stand in solidarity with the families of the missing girls and ask that you use everything in your power to return them to their rightful place.
We also ask that as the leader of the largest democracy in Africa you consider why so often women’s bodies become the battlefields upon which wars are fought. And why young women continue to be scarred by battles that do not not concern them. We echo the concerns of the relatives of these young women, the future of Nigeria, the world.
We echo their concerns because we too are surrounded by young women who are under threat in different, but similar ways. This is not a problem that involves a small town in Nigeria, this involves all girls everywhere.
We hope that you feel neither shame nor pride in calling on the help and support of those who have the concerns of these girls at heart.
The real shame would be for them to live scarred lives or worse for their innocent blood to be on your hands.

This time next week, I’ll be in the midst of the bacchanal that is Jouvay. Jouvay is truth in a way that nothing else can be.
So as I get my heart and mind ready for this week, I’m reflecting on my Jouvay truths. My love for Trinidad and Carnival and art.

What Caricom did next….

It is especially repugnant that the ruling ignores the 2005 judgement made by the Inter-American Court on Human Rights (IACHR) that the Dominican Republic adapt its immigration laws and practices in accordance with the provisions of the American Convention on Human Rights. The ruling also violates the Dominican Republic’s international human rights obligations. Furthermore, the ruling has created an environment where, with the abrogation of rights that flow from citizenship, arbitrariness can flourish as illustrated by recent media reports of the forced deportation to Haiti of persons claiming to be Dominican and with no linguistic or familial ties to that country.

 – Caricom Statement on Dominican Republic’s citizenship ruling.

Last night I attended an impromptu audience with Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines Ralph Gonsalves who was in Trinidad for the Heads of Government Meeting at which they finally made their statement condemning the shocking and racist court ruling in the Dominican Republic against Haitian descended Dominicans.

The meeting was hosted by Jouvay Ayiti – a Trinidad based collective dedicated to addressing the question of Haiti through what Rawle Gibbons described last night as the ‘mechanism of mas’.

Jouvay – the opening of Carnival celebrated in several islands across the Caribbean- has always been a point of protest and social commentary in Trinidad.

So the choice to use mas as a means of confronting our past, present and future engagement with Haiti is not only valid it is vital.

Jouvay Ayiti first responded to the DR question on November 6, with a mas action in Port of Spain. This was followed up with a petition sent to Caricom.

Meanwhile it’s taken over two months for a statement to come from Caricom and it is largely, I am inclined to believe after last night’s audience with the SVG PM, due to his agitations. He even joked about the similarity in the language of the Caricom’s statement and the letters he sent to the DR’s  on October 11 and another on November 11 (neither of which has received a response to date).

As Angelique V Nixon points out in her article on Groundation Grenada, Haitians are also regularly discriminated against and deported from the Bahamas.

The Bahamas — somewhat like the DR’s new ruling — also denies rights to the children of migrants, the difference being that children of migrants do have access to birth citizenship rights, which they have to apply for at 18. However, this process can take years, especially if one does not have access to legal assistance. Unlike the DR, Haitian Bahamians do have the right to stay in the country until they turn 18. However, many Haitian Bahamians remain stateless after 18 because of the difficulty in securing their status. On top of the legal challenges that Haitians and Haitian Bahamians deal with, they are socially stigmatized — from slurs and stereotypes to poor treatment at public clinics and hospitals, Haitian people bear much blame for a variety of social ills in Bahamian society. When times are rough, tourism is down, crime is on the rise, or people get laid off, Haitians are the scapegoats for everyone’s troubles and strapped resources. This resonates eerily with what has happened in the Dominican Republic, and I offer this comparison to remind us of the vulnerable position in which many Haitian migrants find themselves — not only in the DR but also elsewhere in the region.

Gonsalves openly stated last night that he disagreed with Caricom’s ‘quiet diplomacy’ approach. He read the two strongly worded letters he sent to Medina and also the letter he sent to Venezuela’s  Maduro, calling on him to consider suspending them from the Petrocaribe agreement.

So aside from threats of suspension from Cariforum and CELAC, the Petrocaribe issue is probably going to be a defining factor in the outcome of this regional embarrassment.

Money talks, after all.

And in as much as I am glad that Caricom has finally found  voice and interest enough to make a statement (Norman Girvan in introducing Gonsalves last night said it was the first time he could feel proud of the Community) I’m still concerned about issues of free movement in the Caribbean. 

Since the issuing of this statement, the planned talks between Haitiian President Michel Martelly and a high profile team of officials from the Dominican Republic have fallen through.

So what comes next? Aside from the threat of sanctions and diplomatic snubbing how are we really going to start to address institutional and other types of racism in the Caribbean between nations?

It brings me again back to my concerns with regards to the reparations issue – what is Caricom’s policy position on the complexities of our ethnic and racial interactions?

How are we engaging with these complexities at the level of education, at the level of policy, at the level of government initiatives?

 

Because let’s face it, the reason for our lack of action on Haiti is the fact that in 1804 a bunch of enslaved Africans had the audacity to fight against the French, win and then declare themselves a Republic.

And the question of blackness and/or African ancestry is still a point of shame for far too many Caribbean people of African descent, despite the fact that we have given the world some of the leading luminaries of Pan Africanism (Henry Sylvestre Williams, Marcus Garvey, CLR James, George Padmore, to name a few). And of course one of the major issues plaguing our relationship with Haiti is the continued fear and loathing of African spiritual traditions

One of Gonsalves’ closing observations was the virtual non-existence of any critical thought or action coming from the University of the West Indies.  This is something that has bothered me for years. I’m watching and waiting but I’m not terribly hopeful.

Gonsalves started his speech talking about his days as a student at the University of the West Indies Mona campus when he organised the protest against the banning of the late great Walter Rodney who dared go into the ghettoes of Kingston to ground with his brothers. 

45 years later the issues we are afraid to confront are similar if not exactly the same.