4 Things to Campaign for in Trinidad and Tobago

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Trinidad and Tobago is no stranger to campaigning. Unfortunately, the only campaigns we hear about in our nation are unions singing “We shall overcome” for a pay raise. I could do with a pay raise, trust me, but our country is in need of so much more that I’m willing to focus on other things.

In a perfect world, campaigning would be unnecessary, because the powers that be would have no need to be cajoled into doing what’s right. If you ever find that world, please send me a ticket. Trinbago, however, is in need of some hard-back campaigners, willing to take one (or three) for the team.

By now you have had the experience of riding the emotional Kony 2012 rollercoaster, from wanting to go to Uganda yourself and have Joseph Kony’s head, to feeling a bit embarrassed about inadvertently supporting the unsavoury spending habits of Invisible Children. If not, I’m concerned about you living under a rock. Lack of sunshine isn’t good for your skin.

I am amazed, however, that a video, which focused on the working of an armed religious fanatic, Kony, in central Africa, was able to send ripples around the globe, even to our tiny twin-island republic, inciting people to action. One Facebook group is actually planning to “Rock the Promenade” in support come April 21st – Harris Promenade, in case you were wondering.

Wow, right? I wonder whether the vagrants on Harris Promenade would join in the fun.

What I think we don’t yet understand is that all things are directly and indirectly connected, and to neglect any area of our nation’s existence negatively impacts the others. Joining a global movement is copasetic and all, but when domestic issues remain unaddressed, I feel like we have become so acclimatised to our own problems that we have to outsource them.

But I say that there is no need, because we’re all capable of coming up with a to-do list of our own. Here are four areas I think we need to campaign for:

Campaign for campaigners

The campaigners exist, but they are not effectively publicised. Few people know about these groups because our local media seem too overwhelmed with crime and Duprey to deal with things of this nature.

We can only get out of this rut, if campaigners make more noise and are given more airtime. My grandfather, George Weekes, was President General of the OWTU in the 60s and 70s, and the things these men did to get attention were crazy. Unless you’re willing to slash at your arm in court, like he did, to prove a point, I’m not asking for crazy. I’m asking for loud and outlandish.

Campaigners need to move beyond just having a Facebook group and the ever-so-often article in the papers. We, the people, need to make way for these campaigners by putting their faces out there as much as possible in our blogs, statuses, photos and bumper stickers.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual rights

Since the latter half of the 20th century into the 21st, the world has been receiving constant doses of campaigns advocating for the recognition of the human right of this community. It has been a long and sometimes bloody road, with much more to go, but humanity has come far in small pockets around the globe.

Trinidad and Tobago, unfortunately, has been missing the moral memo.

Homosexuality is a “sexual offence” in our law books and it still bars homosexuals from entry into the country. Admittedly, it is not enforced, but it is still written, and gave religious fundamentalists the legal justification for wanting to keep Elton John away from us, and the support for this was not lacking.

Our laws on domestic violence do not protect a person if they belong to a same-sex relationship. Groups like the Coalition Advocating for the Inclusion of Sexual Orientation (CAISO) has been advocating for this locally, and they need our support.

Political reform

Local politics is in need of so many changes that I thought twice before choosing to write on it, at all. The one foremost in mind, though, is a change to our electoral system.

Currently, we have a ‘first-past-the-post’ system, which ensures that the candidate with the most votes wins a seat in a particular constituency. Sounds perfect, I’m sure, but the problem with this is that the demographics of constituencies are so varied, that a candidate with less than 50% of the votes may win the seat, while a person with just 2% less than him, wouldn’t. This can lead, for example, to a winning party having 40% of the total number of votes, but a majority representation in Parliament, the judgement seat of our nation’s decisions.

The alternative is proportional representation (PR) elections, which seek to match the number of votes solicited by a party to the number of seats. That way, they’ll have representation in Parliament. For instance, in our last election, the People’s Partnership (PP) got approximately 60% of the votes. Under a PR system, the PP would have gotten 60% of the seats, which are 25 seats as opposed to the 29 they’re now successfully warming.

It may not sound like much, but countries that the world looks to model itself after, like Norway and Denmark, have adopted this system successfully. It shifts the focus slightly from a politics that is unnecessarily adversarial in the quest for maximum power, to one that has its eyes on representing the public as well as possible.

I’m sure it would also stymie the levels of tripe we hear resounding in Parliament, giving our ears some much needed rest.

Environmental sustainability

Asa Wright Nature Centre starred in the headlines last week, when it highlighted massive and unsightly quarrying. I’m happy that the Government stepped in to put a stop to the extreme bulldozing. However, this quarrying business is not new, and I can put my head under a potong’s behind that I’m not the only one who knew. But did we care? Humans have the unhealthy habit of not caring about these mundane issues until they backfire on us, too late.

Our coral reefs that help protect our beaches are slowly dying, if not dead. Our forests, which literally hold the earth beneath our feet together, reducing the probability of land-slippage and flooding, are being hewn down…and we are busy sharing a Kony 2012 video, which produced a media storm that allegedly gave Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children a nervous breakdown, allegedly causing him to run around vandalising cars in his underwear, and making sexual gestures.

Trini Eco Warriors advocates for the environment and they have been doing a commendable job. Look them up, share their videos and photos and support in whatever way you can. That means money, as well. It would be great if my children could have clean air to breathe.

We need to breathe life to this campaign spirit, and stop thinking of it as that thing other people do. I am one of the first in line to support international campaigns, but I have a suspicion that people in general prefer lazy activism to buss-back working.

Kony 2012 allowed us sit behind our laptops, one tab for Facebook, another for YouTube, and click to save the world. This is far from sufficient.

I think what is keeping our nation from realising its fullest potential is apathy – our near absolute unwillingness to get off our @sses and work – and the suspicious eye we cast on people who are. So, what’s the moral of the story? This is me telling you to get of your @ss and do something in our local context. If you can’t actively get involved, like most working people, at least actively support those who are involved.

So tell me. What are your ideas for causes we need to campaign for?

Kwame Weekes

Ever met a guy who knew exactly what he was about? Well, Kwame Weekes is not that guy. The only thing he is sure of is that he loves to read, think and share his insights by any means necessary, writing being one of them.

  • T

    Gay Rights at the top of the list? Really? I would have thought issues that were socially relevant to Trinidad and Tobago would have topped this list, but apparently not. I’m shocked abortion rights wasn’t in second-place. Have we reduced domestic violence and all that other stuff to now have ‘gay rights’ heading a list of campaign-worthy issues? Really, it shames me that people are so easily swayed by what goes on in the US and other Western countries.

    • Kwame Weekes

      Thank you for your feedback. It was impossible to have an exhaustive list of campaign worthy issues that would satisfy everyone, especially since different people would have their own opinions as to which campaigns are more important than others. I am unclear as to why you would think gay rights is not socially relevant to TnT, though.

      • T

        Look at the other issues you identified and the rationales behind said issues. The Gay Rights premise was placed in the context of what was taking place in other parts of the world and you were essentially saying that Trinidad should go along with it just because without providing sufficient reasons as to why – or even why this issue should be of relevance to Trinidad and Tobago, so much so that it was number one on your list.

        Take a look at the daily newspapers – what is it that’s making headline news? What are the issues that people are dealing with daily? Children are going to school hungry, abuse is rampant, poverty, violence. This is why I say Gay Rights has no social (or cultural) relevance to Trinidad and Tobago and to suggest that it should top a list of campaigns is borderline ludicrous.

        This post was not meant disrespectfully.

        • Kwame Weekes

          Oh no disrespect taken. What I tried to do, though, was highlight just those things nobody is talking about. The things you listed are being dealt with elsewhere. I didn’t mean to make it sound like the most important thing either. Honestly, I can’t decide what’s most important at all. I agree with you that I didn’t develop my rationale sufficiently for that campaign. I will definitely work on that.

          • T

            lol No, don’t work on it. :)

    • ribber

      @T: I don’t necessarily agree with you, but I understand your point. Perhaps sex and gender equality, which not only includes glbt rights, but also reproductive empowerment, domestic violence and sexual assault, poverty, education, etc., would have been a better heading.
      That said, it is heartening to know that we can even talk about glbt rights in T&T.

  • ribber

    Even if we did want to get riled up about injustice and brutality beyond our shores, we need not look any further than Haiti. The lack of outrage and action by our Caribbean community – Trinidad and Tobago in particular, given its economic standing in the region – is appalling.

  • Kamal

    Here are some of my ideas for causes we need to campaign for. They’re all things I think we *need* to campaign, not just things it’d be nice if we campaigned for, but they aren’t in any particular order.

    1. The justice system, crime and security. TnT’s rates of murders and other violent crime has sky-rocketed in the last 12 years or so. As with the rest of the Caribbean, we need some serious thought and action on how to fix this problem, and these things need to go beyond talk of enforcing the death penalty to conversations on the root causes of the problems and issues of the efficiency and efficacy of the justice system (such as criminal procedures, apprehension rates, conviction rates, police competency, the time it takes for justice to be done, and perceptions and realities about the competencies of our judges and lawyers).
    2. Education. TnT’s education system is probably the best in the English-speaking Caribbean (and, if not, definitely up there with Barbados), but that’s the best of a fairly sorry bunch. It’s great that we give our best performers their due, but we need to stop obscuring the larger picture of low literacy rates, low pass rates of Maths and English at CSEC level, and generally poor performance of a significant portion of the population. Further, once we have a better idea of the true picture, we need to do stuff about it.
    3. Family matters: love, respect and equality of and among the sexes; attitudes to sex, reproduction and the rearing of children; issues concerning family health and stability, including marriage, cohabitation, divorce and single-parenthood.
    4. Regional integration. And here I mean social, political, economic and every kind of integration you can imagine among the Commonwealth and wider Caribbean.

  • http://thezenplayground.tumblr.com Brendon O’Brien

    I don’t disagree with T as far as abortion rights and domestic violence are concerned, but the idea that LGBT rights are not important in Trinidad & Tobago is simply not true. It’s also a very big problem that there’s such stigma surrounding even attaching yourself to such a cause – a stigma that doesn’t exist around abortion and domestic violence groups, which also have more volunteering, are easier to mobilize around and have greater access to funding. This is not to say that those causes suddenly become less important, but that there are causes just as important that are struggling to make a difference where they should be.

    • T

      But who determines what is important to a country? The people of the country, or lobbyist in foreign countries who have no knowledge of or even an inclination or desire to enlighten themselves on local sentiment?

      Let me make this clearer – I believe social change should come from within – it should be based on the will of the people. At this moment, you cannot tell me that the people of Trinidad and Tobago feel that Gay Rights is a pressing issue for them.

      But let me ask – when you say ‘Gay Rights’, exactly what rights are you referring to, so I can understand your point more clearly.

      • ribber

        T, it is a pressing issue if you are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender and experience violence and harassment because of it; for some, to the point where leaving the country is the only option. Or if your long-term same-sex partner is sick or dying and you cannot have any say in their affairs or receive social or inheritance benefits upon their death. Or if your partner is from another country and cannot claim any immigration status because of our current anti-gay laws.
        And on an existential view, homophobia is a colonial construct, so defeating it on a social and political stage is a good step in a post-colonial society, not only here, but in all of the former colonies.

        Your point that it might not be THE most pressing issue is well-taken. However, people are concerned about it, especially those who are personally affected by it. Which, thanks to awareness, is more people than you might think.

        • T

          I know I am giving the impression that I am not gainfully employed – I am, but I’m Trini so I prefer to spend my time not doing what I’m paid to do.

          While our laws are relics of colonialism, “homophobia” is not. TnT and the C’bean at large would be against homosexuality regardless of colonial laws.

          But as you pointed out, it is only a pressing issue for those who affected by it – I would hazard a guess that this does not amount to a significant percentage of the population by any means, hence my assertion that it is not a socially-relevant campaign issue. There aren’t even many people who are not gay who would mobilise around the issue, and until you supply sufficient reasons as to why people should, I’m going to say it’s not a chief concern.

          I know to you and others my responses perhaps come off as callous but I am just dealing with reality. For instance, would you say that ‘Abortion Rights’ is a campaign-worthy issue that would resonate with the people of Trinidad and Tobago? I think not…

          • Kwame Weekes

            This community will always be a minority group for biological reasons. Their issues, therefore, will never be a ‘socially relevant campaign issue’ if I were to use your definition. However, the group does exist, and they are affected negatively. It is the group’s right, and mine, to make unconcerned people aware of their problems. The changes we see happening in other parts of the world aren’t because the entire population cared about homophobic laws, but because members of the community made themselves heard. I believe this is how it was for black people as well.

            I do not think your responses are callous. I just think that you have a different set of values than I do, and I like that. If it weren’t that way, who would fight for abortion rights?

  • T

    Who would fight for Abortion rights? Certainly not me! :)

    • ribber

      T, i would definitely fight for abortion rights, and I know a lot of women and men who would as well. One might say it is part of a larger issue of sexual and reproductive justice, and is also linked to poverty and education…. hmm, it all seems to be connected, doesn’t it?

      I disagree with your assessment that homophobia is not a colonial construct. While I cannot vouch for African history regarding this matter, I do know that gay/transgender/two-spirited communities were accepted in pre-colonial Indian and indigenous societies. Our T’dadian sodomy laws are directly related to British colonial rule. And while gay rights may not be an issue to you, I would venture a guess that you know someone who is gay (whether they are ‘out’ or not). In fact, you may know a few. In fact, they might even be your family members.

      Once again, I understand your points, and they are well-taken. Just giving a different view. :)

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