Calling for Justice – In Solidarity with Trinidad’s Highway Re-Route Movement

Guest post by Angelique V. Nixon

solidarity gathering

On Thursday 2 October, people from across Trinidad came together in solidarity to support the women of the Highway Re-Route Movement (HRM), outside the Office of the Prime Minister. We joined with representatives from women’s organisations and other civil society organisations to make our voices heard about social justice, environmental degradation, and government accountability.

At high noon, armed with banners, signs, and our voices, we gathered on the street facing the PM’s office and offered up our presence in solidarity with the goals and principles of the HRM. We called out for justice and sang together in support of the HRM and in particular the women of the movement, who bear the brunt of so much of the issues at hand.

We were blessed with the powerful performance of Cecilia Salazar evoking the spirit of Trinidad’s own rebel, public servant, and whistle blower Gene Miles, who fought against corruption in the 1960s. This served as a much needed reminder that all the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have a right to expect and demand government accountability, transparency, and responsibility. The warrior woman Gene Miles brought alive through Salazar encouraged us to be as fierce and defiant as she was, and I believe helped us to stand taller, be braver, and shout even louder.

Social Justice. The Power of Principle. Highway Re-Route. We chanted. We sang. We shouted.

The tone was a mixture of reflection, somber defiance, and passionate response. Some of us prayed. Some of us shared in quiet moments. Some of us spoke. Some of us were just learning about the movement. Some of us had been involved for a long time. Elders. Youth. And all the ages in between. Students. Activists. Artists. Teachers. Leaders. Concerned People. We were all there to show our solidarity with the movement, to support all those who have been working on this for years.

As the press release for the gathering explains:

“For eight years, the women of the HRM have petitioned and protested peacefully against the proposed destruction of an entire community, which has been living in harmony with the land going back three generations. Despite the tremendous odds stacked against them, these women continue to ask that the recommendations of the Armstrong Report, commissioned and paid for by the Government, be considered. The report concluded that work should be halted on the disputed Debe-Mon Desir section of the San Fernando-Point Fortin highway until the proper social, economic and environmental assessments are done, and the correct procedures followed, including the cost-benefit analysis of alternative routes.”

Environmental activist and leader of the HRM, Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh is on his second hunger strike calling for the PM to do what she promised two years ago – to abide by the Armstrong Report – and to stop the construction of the proposed highway immediately. Thursday was Day 16 of his hunger strike, and he was surrounded by supporters and members of the movement. His determination is incredible, and the power of his principle feels boundless.

Activist and main organiser of the gathering Gabrielle Hosein offered these important reflections in her column on Thursday: “Does it really take this much time and sacrifice to successfully secure accountable government? People are critical of Kublalsingh’s choice of strategy, but the alternative is lifelong commitment to disallowing corruption or lack of transparency in whatever form. None of us may choose to die, but how many of us make this other choice instead?”

Coinciding with the gathering, the HRM delivered a letter with 29 civil society organisations’ signatures to the Office of the Prime Minister. This letter supports the HRM and calls on the PM to seriously address the concerns laid out in the Armstrong Report and consider the HRM’s new proposal – the optimum connectivity proposal.

This new proposal will be way more cost effective, will utilise existing roads, and prevent the destruction of the environment and communities along the proposed route. This new proposal reflects the concerns of the people, the environment, and needed development. As Gabrielle Hosein argues: “We want development, but development that is more than concretization. Development includes a right to information, truth and the best plan possible for future generations, not just the partial truths and wasteful plans that governments choose. After all, who bears the costs? We do.”

Since the demonstration, good media coverage of the event and some international press has raised even more awareness about the seriousness and urgency of the issue. The latest press release from HRM indicates that there has been a response from the governement, and the new initiatives are being organised by leaders and civil society organisations who have signed on to the petition calling for support of the new proposal. The situation is dire and the stakes remain high. The calls for social and environment justice, accountability, and respect continue. Let us all maintain the vigil and be even more defiant in our demands.

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Practical, Tactical Tech with Tonya Haynes

Practical, Tactical Tech with Tonya Haynes

FREE ICT and Social Media workshop for activists in Barbados. Will take place during the Crop Over season. Watch this space for updates and details.

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CARICOM can do it! We can end transphobia, homophobia & all forms of violence!

CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network recently launched a Call to Action against homophobia & transphobia.  We called on our communities to recognise everyone’s right to be, to condemn violence and celebrate life collectively on August 19.

CODE RED for gender justice! and Groundation Grenada used their social media platforms to distribute the call.

Here’s a report of some of the activities that took place:

Jamaica: Immediately after the murder of transgender teen, Dwayne “Gully Queen” Jones, Quality of Citizenship Jamaica held a popular action themed Everyone Has The RIght to Be in Emancipation Park (click for photos).  They followed up that action with a a social media breakout entitled: “Action, Not Words”.  In their press release, they had this to say about the event:

Our hope is that this event will instigate action on the part of our Governments with respect to acknowledging the human rights of this marginalized population and implementing further measures to protect them. We look forward to your active participation and implore you to engage others so that we might have a successful event with comprehensive commentary, which includes the voices and opinions of us all.

Grenada: The launch of the Gender Issue of Complexed Magazine coincided with the Call to Action.  Groundation Grenada and Youth Advocacy Movement hosted a film screening of “Gun Hill Road”, featuring a Caribbean family living in the Bronx, New York. In the film, a hardened ex-con returns to his family and struggles to stay on the right side of the law as his overburdened wife guards a sensitive secret about their 16-year-old son, Michael. The film centers on Michael’s story as a transgender youth.

Guyana: Activists hosted a speak out/action event. Read reflections from Vidyaratha Kissoon and Sherlina Nageer. The event was also widely covered in the press with reports on the testimonies of persons living with disabilities, LGBT rights activists and families who had lost loved ones to violence:

Colleen Mc Ewan of the GuyBow organisation opened with a plea for personal action against violence of all forms. She made specific reference to the recent deaths of transgender individuals. Dellon Melville, whose body was discovered earlier this month in Mocha Village, three days after he went missing, was the most recent of such deaths.

Trinidad & Tobago:  CARICOM Can Do It is a social media project started by Stephanie Leitch of WOMANTRA.  It features photos of diverse Caribbean people showing off their national colours and using “the tagline “We Can Do It.” It is an attempt to lobby CARICOM governments to take a clear position on homophobic and transphobic violence. Contributors are asked to wear their flags as a head tie and pump their muscles for peace.” Check out this high impact popular action here and be sure to contribute!

CAISO also hosted a Dwayne Jones movie night which was well-attended.

Want to participate? It’s not too late.  Organise a local event wherever you are, share the Call to Action, email us with details of your event and upload photos to the CatchAFyah Flickr pool.

Stay with us for details of other events in the region. A Belize event is upcoming. We’re still planning the Barbados event, email us at redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com if you want to be involved.

Social Media Strategies For Caribbean Activists

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Social media is useful in building and mobilising community, raising awareness (and even money!) about the issues you feel passionate about and getting the attention that helps to amplify your efforts.  Here are a few tips from our experience with CODE RED:

1. Show, don’t just tell.

Facebook has moved to a pay-to-promote system on its pages. The only people who actually get your posts in their feed are the ones who interact with your page a lot by clicking like, share or leaving a comment. Posts of videos and photos get more shares so use your facebook page to show off all the stuff you do offline.

Also, blog posts with a photo or image get more views than those without.

2. Connect with like minds. 

Join WOMANTRA, like Walking Into Walls and CODE RED for gender justice! on facebook, sign on to the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network, share images of your activist work on the CatchAfyah Flickr group.  There are lots of Caribbean social justice organisations online.  Connect with them and build relationships by supporting their work (and in turn you’ll get lots of support for yours). Link to their blog posts in your own. They’ll appreciate the love and you’ll build your network effortlessly.

3. Use more than one platform.

You can’t just use facebook. Facebook is seeking to monetise every aspect of the experience and you simply can’t afford to pay to promote each post.  It’s pretty easy to sync your twitter, facebook, tumblr, youtube and wordpress accounts so do so! Use only those platforms that you can manage and that are relevant but don’t leave it all to facebook.

4. Know your networks.

For Caribbean people facebook is by far the most widely used.  Twitter is perhaps a close second with national and regional networks of Caribbean people. Twitter is also proving more useful for discussions than facebook pages though facebook groups are useful discussion spaces too. Use the #catchafyah hashtag to connect with the Caribbean feminist twitterati and lookout for our popular tweetchats.  Tumblr users tend to be younger (teens/early 20s). Air Me Now is successfully using youtube for their oomanist live show. Knowing your networks helps you to decide what to use and how to use them.

5.  Relationships! Relationships! Relationships!

Someone leaves you a comment? Reply.  You ask a question? Dive into the discussion too.  Don’t be afraid to show your personality.  One Caribbean feminist activist once told me that she would post about a range of issues affecting women and no one would respond.  One post about feeling like eating doubles and an avalanche of responses.  The “social” in social media is all about human connection.

6. Just do it.

You can’t get it wrong.  Well, you can sometimes. But you’re only human.  The point is, that with social media, as with life, most things are figureoutable. You’ll learn a little CSS and HTML by trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try. And use google.  Or call upon that network you’ve been building. And apologise gracefully and unequivocally when you make a mistake.

7. Be ethical. Always.

I once copied & pasted a news headline about an incident of violence against women (VAW).  The minute I clicked enter I recognised how sensationalist and exploitative the headline was.  The post, however, spread like wildfire on fb and twitter with major international VAW campaigns retweeting me (even months after the initial post). While this shows that sensationalism sells.  You’re an activist, not a tabloid reporter.  Don’t compromise your values.  We want our posts to go viral and reach the mainstream but if we compromise our ethics we compromise our integrity.

8. Either the Caribbean is a Nation or it’s nothing

Daniel Miller and Don Slater noted in The Internet: An Ethnographic Approach, based on fieldwork in Trinidad, that representing the nation is an important part of Caribbean people’s online activity. It’s easy to get a sense of this from the names people choose for themselves which point to them being Trini, Baje, Guyanese, Jamaican etc. In the early CODE RED days I definitely had a sense that Caribbean people had a preference for social media spaces and initiatives which were identified with a specific country. To this day folks who should know better still want to break up Caribbean cyberspace along national boundaries. It’s like they can’t deal with the transnational, inter- and outernational nature Caribbean cyberspace. But that’s the way it is. There is a regional community of activists out there waiting to welcome you. Connect what’s happening locally to what’s going on in the rest of the region.

9. Take a break when you need to

Some like to think of what goes on online as frivolous.  It ain’t. It’s work.  It takes time.  The better you get at it, demands increase.  I’ve had people email me to complain when the CODE RED facebook page is not updated with the speed they expect. When you need to unplug do so. Without apology. It helps to have a team. Inviting submissions to your blog is one way of building a team if you don’t have one in-house.

10. Contact Us

Our team has not only been using social media for activism for a long time, some of us have facilitated social media training, conducted research on Caribbean people’s online activities and I’m currently working on research on Caribbean cyberfeminisms.  We’d love to help! Email redforgender [at] gmail [dot] com.

What are the Caribbean activist social media spaces that we should know about? What have been your successes and challenges? How do you link your work on the ground with online communities? What other lessons have you learnt that you can share? Tell us in the comments!