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.

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.

Farewell to a Fighter

Comes a time
when you’re drifting
Comes a time
when you settle down
Comes a light
Feeling’s lifting
Lift that baby
right up off the ground.

Oh, this old world
keeps spinning round
It’s a wonder tall trees
ain’t layin’ down
There comes a time.
Comes a Time, Neil Young

I was standing on the Shore of Peace feeling not very peaceful.
Watching the family of Grace Dolsingh prepare her body for cremation, the air heavy with the scent of flowers and camphor and death.
Grace Dolsingh, who I knew only as a vibrant, committed elder of her community who decided that she didn’t want a smelter in her back yard.
Grace Dolsingh who was at every meeting, every protest, articulating in a way that only sweet grandmothers can articulate their concern for future generations.
Watching huge grey clouds gather in the Gulf of Paria refusing to burst like all the sorrow I feel for home that doesn’t want to pour down my cheeks.
Watching other families put their loved ones to rest.
There are several cremations taking place on the Shore of Peace and it is such a tief head that these people were walking the earth a few days before.
I dislike funerals as much as the next human running from coming to terms with mortality.
I dislike even more when there is a possibility that death could have been avoided.  I resent it when death turns up unexpectedly, uninvited.  Death is inevitable but an unnecessarily prevalent reality in the lives of too many Trinbagonians these days.
Because I do think that some people know when it’s their time to ride out.  To leave aside this place and return to the big void or heaven or the vast nothingness of non-existence.
I don’t know if Grace Dolsingh was ready to go.  And I as I stood on the Shore of Peace talking with her family and friends, they say that they didn’t expect her to die.
This being modern times, civilized times when we exceed our expectations and make it to developed nation status ahead of our dear politicians projections, you would think that we would have the technology or the medical know how to ensure that people survive mild heart attacks.
But when Grace Dolsingh was taken to the Point Fortin Hospital and made to sit on a chair for 25 hours after having a heart attack, clearly someone was playing a sick little underdeveloped joke.
At the Point Fortin Hospital just up the road from those monuments to our industrialized economy, I hear women are still having babies on the floors.
At the Point Fortin Hospital, still devoid, after a century of commercial oil production, of a burns unit, maybe the doctors say prayers to God who is a Trini that we don’t have any real disasters.
I was standing on the Shore of Peace trying to come to terms with Grace’s death.  As if death is something you can come to terms with, when you’re sad and angry and powerless.
Watching the pundit’s assistant hit a flat brass plate with a tiny hammer.
Wondering about karma and reincarnation.  Wondering if politicians who can afford to send themselves away from treatment, when they eventually die, do they come back as their constituents that they show so much contempt?
Do they come back to live under the infernal roar of a gas flare with nothing but faith and mango trees to keep them sane.
No answers come in the constant drone of amplified prayers.  My eyes smart from the smoke and the camphor and the reality of my mortality.
I know from the hundreds of people who are turn out to say a final goodbye to Grace Dolsingh that she lived a good life.
I wonder if politicians hope for such noble endings.  Or do they, like young gangsters simply put aside plenty money so that they can afford an expensive suit and a blinged out coffin.
Signs of a life opulently lived, with no evidence of the terror inflicted on the lives of so many families.
Her face has a kind of peace that suggests a pleasant dream, which is what I imagine death to be.
I find that I have no tears for Grace Dolsingh or for myself.  But I hope that when my time comes, later rather than sooner, I am able to give as good an account of myself to my peers, my community, loved ones and country.
And not only for karma’s sake, I find that I want to keep fighting.

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….

Patriotism matters

My people self dey fear too much
Dem fear for the thing we no see
Dem fear for the air around us

We fear to fight for freedom
We fear to fight for liberty
We fear to fight for justice
We fear to fight for happiness
We always get reason to fear
Sorrow Tears and Blood, Fela Kuti
One of the accusations that has been leveled at the anti-smelter lobby over the past two years is that it’s mainly motivated by over-enthusiastic tree huggers (yes, that’s me) who are talking more out of emotion than a real understanding of the economic and technical issues.
Which is neither here nor there with me.  Patriotism, the feeling that you have when you’re flying over the Northern Range or the way your spirit soars when you bend that last bend as catch sight of Maracas Bay, that’s emotional.
That’s what keeps us here, in spite of the fact that we’re living in some kind of nightmare in paradise.  The feeling in the pit of our bellies is what keeps us rooted here even though the soil is shifting beneath our feet.
I don’t know when Trinis became unfeeling sheep.  I wondered about this between 4 and 5 o’clock trying to go east from City Gate.  Watching little children being trampled on.  The passengers around me laughing at the fact that the maxi taxis are coming to the platform almost full.
And I started to get damn vexed until soon enough I was shouting at the police office talking to the tick ting on the next platform that he wasn’t doing his job.  And I started boofing up the people around me that they aren’t animals and this is not what it means to be a Trinbagonian.
Emotions come to the fore when you see a situation that is unreasonable.  When you just can’t seem to get your head around why in your own country you have no access to vast wealth, even if it’s just being able to get a bus without having to elbow other commuters out of the way.
I get emotional when I read the Alutrint Environmental Impact Assessment and I see the figures there in black and white that only 410 locals will get employed out of a total of 1,982 jobs that will be available during the peak construction phase.  I get emotional when I hear that on the day of Papa Patos’ symposium in Vessigny, commuters in Arima couldn’t get a bus to get into town because all the buses were being used to take the Fat Arse Brigade on an excursion.
I get emotional for more witnesses murdered and more little girls being molested and for the children living in Sobo and Union Villages who have to deal with the dust of 1000 acres of cleared land yet again.
But what do I do when the Father of the Nation says I’m in collusion with druglords?  I check my water tank.  Because I know that soon enough the time is coming when every act of questioning, every voice that sounds in opposition to the Big Daddy appointed by God will be demonized.
The equation is going to be drawn like it was in America by the neo conservatives, that anyone who isn’t for the government is a traitor.
Already there is this stiff necked capitalist assumption that people who value trees are somehow against progress and development.  That people who believe in empowering communities are some strange breed of alien.
Because by empowerment I don’t mean sponsoring full page ads for Village Councils to endorse Alutrint when there are countless people in La Brea who will tell you that no one asked for their opinion.
I appreciate the crass stupidity that prompts Papa Patos to make his pronouncements, as much as I appreciate that every legitimate community concern becomes a good jackass for opposition parties to ride.
However I also understand the significance of heavily armed soliders in town.
This is the time of professional protesters.  Of direct action for direct results.  Whether it is Chatham or Chiapas, people are standing up and pelting social big stones at state tanks.

I want to see how many Trinbagonians start feeling the feelings.  The next year is going to be a real test of who is willing to get emotional and stop waiting for the state to decide how next they’re going to jam us.