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.

The Bacchanal Now Start

They cah stop the bacchanal

They cah stop the festival

Nutting cah stop the carnival

Because tis the season to wine

Hold someting and wine

Hold somebody and wine

I telling yuh

Wining Season, Machel Montano

Who needs to play mas when there are people playing it on TV for us? A big big mas. Even before Carnival Monday and Tuesday. This kind of mas is the one to beat all cockfight. This kind of mas is even more exclusive than all the bikini bands with rope around them charging more money for a miniscule piece of cloth than most Trinbagonians stand to make for the first three months of the year. Only certain people could play this kind of mas. Big, high people playing a big big mas they call the Commission of Enquiry. And the rest of the country like burrokeets, getting ridden through the badly paved roads. The rest of the country could only play a donkey mas while their money jumping up like so many soca fans in a big fete. But who needs Carnival in this place where leaders could play mas with democracy? Watch the whole thing unfold like a Minshall tableau on the now gone Savannah stage. Watch the whole thing move in slow motion with high falutin’ Pierrot speechifiying in big English accent. Watch lawyers carré, dance a big dance with your money. Hear the Professor dreaden them like a King Kootoo doing a bluest devil jook. This is a big big mas and you don’t even need the jackass costume they give you. All you need to do is sit down and watch. Because this is real mas in all it’s mind boggling shiny splendour. This is mas in yuh masses. And sometimes you have to look twice because you not sure if it is a masquerade or mass hysteria, or masturbation. You not sure if to laugh or cry at how your leaders wining down on your right to know what they do with your money. You not sure if this is serious or just more entertainment. You not sure if you’re supposed to get vex and start to riot or hold your head and wine down low, lower than the price of oil. You not sure if all this bacchanal and long reports on the nightly news is just to distract you from the fact that we now have a budget deficit and we not getting anywhere near the proper royalties for natural gas. This big mas and noise come like last Carnival when the big sequins band push the 90-year-old blind Midnight Robber out of the way. Because this mas is the mas to beat all cockfight. Meanwhile Alcoa reported a 929 million US dollar loss and pull up brakes on several of their smelter projects in Iceland. Environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief that the economic decline has saved them from more unnecessary destruction of Europe’s last remaining wilderness. Meanwhile they just laid off 250 bauxite workers in Jamaica, because the global price of aluminum has plummeted so drastically. Meanwhile Rio Tinto Alcan just announced the closure of their Angelesey smelter in Wales, the largest single energy user in all of Great Britain. 14,000 jobs gone there to reduce capital spending by £5 billion.Meanwhile a decision is expected in the case against Alutrint this month, which has been in court since October, without so much as a sideways glance from the media. But aluminum is just as much of a nice mas as Udecott. Definitely not as sexy. Environment and mineral resources and small communities being bullied off their land is not as sexy. It not ready for the big stage yet. Let that stay on the back burners. Let us focus on the bigger better, louder, shinier mas. Because this mas is much more important. This mas is affecting the bottom line of many people who thought they were going to be getting a lot more out of this government. This mas is about the elite—some black skins in white masks, some wild Indians, some foreign drunken sailors on shore leave looking for Jean and Dinah in the construction industry. And all of them want to protect their bottom line and their right to wine. Meanwhile the lack of investigative journalists means the government could continue to play mas with the global financial crisis and say what they want without anybody bothering to question their robber talk. The bacchanal now start. But from the look of things, this masquerade will never end.

The Valley of the Shadow of Debt

Don’t forget your history
Know your destiny
In the abundance of water
The fool is thirsty
Rat Race, Bob Marley

The first word I learned when I went to Iceland last year was utsala.   I still remember it, because it was everywhere, on billboards, in shops and bus stops.
When the news of the deepening economic crisis hit this week, it popped into my mind again, the one word from that language so different from my native that made an impression on my consciousness.
I guess it was fitting, since I was in Iceland for a conference on the global impact of the aluminum industry.  We couldn’t ignore the obvious economic advantages companies like Alcoa and Alcan were reaping from targeting countries like Trinidad and Iceland and South Africa.  Countries with lots of natural resources and small bendable populations.  So many sale signs dotted across the landscape like smoke rising from the many geothermal springs whose energy was being tapped as green energy for smelting primary aluminum.
There was a sense that money was easy, money was no problem and Icelanders were welcoming any and everyone who wanted to partake of the wealth.
We gathered two hours east of Reykjavik, a bunch of people with much love and rage for the state of our respective parts of the planet. I told them about Union Village and the animals clubbed to death when they came to clear those 800 acres in the name of progress. I learned about the Narmada in India and the protests against Alcan in Johannesburg.  And farmers in northern Iceland who were promised the world but ended up with respiratory problems and a dead end job in a fish packing plant.
Leading the charge was an American performance activist called Reverend Billy and his wife Savitri who manages his Church of Stop Shopping.  Reverend Billy and Savitri and I waxed lyrical about the shopocalypse.  It seemed a long way away in the midst of all those signs screaming utsala.
I knew that Babylon had to fall.  We fantasized about it and wondered what we would do and where we would be when the bottom finally fell out on the spending and the debt and the conspicuous consumption.
We were hopeful, but not really.
On the last day a woman rolled up in a stretch Hummer and those of us who had lost ourselves in the starkness of the landscape and the spareness of our tents and sharing food and ideas and dreams of changing our worlds got tired again.  I quoted Rat Race to her. She shrugged and gulped her champagne.
On Monday we turned up at a mall in Reykjavik, and Reverend Billy started preaching the gospel of the shopocalypse to the scandalized middle class Icelanders burdened with their bags from the many utsalas.
The security guards were swift and brutal.  We sang, regardless, handing out fliers, asking regular Icelanders to watch what their government and their big companies were choosing to do with their land, their money.  Most of them looked confused, some of them were downright angry.
Eventually they released Reverend Billy.  We gave out free hugs and walked through the streets of Reykjavik utsala signs flapping all around us.
A year later and Iceland, where aluminum is king, is on the brink of bankruptcy.  This week, Alcoa’s profits halved as the price of primary aluminum dropped due to seasonal fluctuations and a downturn in the manufacturing sector worldwide.
One report from Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch said “Alcoa warned that the profit squeeze will be exacerbated looking ahead due to lower aluminum prices, waning demand and still-high input costs.”
Now I see Reverend Billy as he walks through main street America seeing his comic prophecy become reality.  He preaches his stop-shopping gospel now to more people who see that the line between mad man and prophet is not that thin.
The warnings are there, too many to ignore.  You don’t have take on the insane ravings of tree huggers if you don’t want to.  But people better start waking up.  Better rebuild their community parlours and their sou sous and their gayaps.
In the panic of markets and the trillions of debt and the excess of luxury, countries like Trinidad and Tobago and Iceland, with so much for sale, will suffer the most.
With no sensible leaders and a business elite that is not obliged to share their vast wealth, who will be our buffer zone protecting us against the global economic crisis?   Who will save us from loans for shopping at Christmas and loans for playing mas in obscenely expensive costumes at Carnival?
As we walk through the valley of the shadow of debt who will speak out for our homeland security?  Who will mark out a new energy policy now that the rich countries are closing ranks and shutting down all the businesses that we keep tagging our economy to?
Who will save us from selling ourselves short of our own worth?

RIP Grace Dolsingh

Funeral pyre of Grace Dolsingh, anti-smelter activist

Went down south this weekend for the cremation of an old soldier from Cedros, Grace Dolsingh. It was a sad weekend for lots of various reasons but I feel like I’ll emerge from this fog of sadness stronger, lighter and more focused on my life and what I have to do.

Check out pics and post over at my much neglected Rights Action Group blog. At least I’m blogging there again….

Too rich to care

We’re on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin that ride to nowhere
Well take that ride

I’m feelin okay this mornin
And you know,
We’re on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go
Road to Nowhere, Talking Heads

I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but George Dubya Bush might actually be right about something.

It’s taken him just shy of eight years of barely literate speeches but here in our newspapers this week appears this most eloquent of statements. The man’s been more wrong than the fashion choices at a passa passa dance, but it might actually be possible that he got something right this time.

And it’s exceptional that the thing that he got right was something to do with T&T.

Outside of all the economic speak, the thing that stood out the most in the whole story in Wednesday’s paper was the statement T&T is too rich.

Too rich to get access to preferential trade. Now we have to fight up with all the countries that have centuries of experience in trading, wanton destruction, not to mention exploiting child and sweat shop labour.

But this is practice for 2020. When, hey presto, we will be developed. We will all of a sudden be civilised, whatever that means, and advanced and so rich from the fruits of our labours that it won’t matter if America is giving us preferential trade or not.

It is a mark of our rapid development that even Dubya can see that we’re too rich.

Pull the gas out of the ground faster than you can say environmental impact assessment and you’ll see that we’re too rich to protect our citizens from the industrialisation fall-out.

Put plenty police cars on the streets and as they blare and scream our wealth into the congested streets you might miss the howls of prisoners in overcrowded cells.

We are too rich for preferential treatment from America. We’re so rich we can walk over homeless people and not feel ahow.

We’re so rich we can more than afford the international embarrassment of a Prime Minister who goes to big conferences and speaks so movingly about sharing global concerns about global warming, cutting CO2 emissions and such like, but then comes back home and tells the citizens to put a smelter in they pipe and smoke it.

We’re so rich, the EMA can host nice conferences and sweet competitions for schoolchildren to talk about environmental protection.

Meanwhile a steel mill gets clearance in Claxton Bay in the middle of a community and in the middle of the rainy season they’re planning to destroy some acres of mangrove.  But we’re too rich to care about mangrove.

We’re so rich there’s a secondary school place for every child sitting the SEA. We’re so rich, I hear in a taxi that the children who pass for a junior sec beat up the one child that passed for a seven-year school.

We’re so rich, we don’t have to pave the roads, because everyone can afford to buy a truck with really good shocks so you don’t notice that you’re driving on an obstacle course.

We are rich enough to have a lot of tall buildings in Port-of-Spain to shade the vagrants and the pipers from the sting of the noonday sun.

And we’re too rich to have child protection legislation. And we’re too rich to have a good healthcare system. Why bother if everyone is rich enough to go away and get treatment?

What is perhaps jokiest about this whole being-too-rich thing is that this statement is made just a week after Papa Patos signed a US$400 million loan with the Chinese Government.

Maybe we should take this latest Bushism as a sign that we’re changing colonisers again.

After all, Chinese technology and sand and building blocks and sand and workers are being used for Alutrint’s smelter. Chinese labour is building our schools, our Prime Minister’s residence, our arts academy.

If we switch colonisers, it won’t matter whether Dubya thinks we’re too rich or not. It won’t matter if we’re rich or poor in America’s eyes.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is the buyer when you are a sell-out.