Category Archives: Political Animal

The magic and danger of the man who would be POTUS

(subtitled: small axes and big trees, little giants and big dreams)

I want Barack Obama to become the next President of the United States the way I wanted the Soca Warriors to advance to the second round of the last World Cup.

Which is to say, I live in hope but dare not believe, because to believe is to set oneself up for overwhelming disappointment – or the shock of a lifetime.

Continue reading The magic and danger of the man who would be POTUS

Social Fora Fatigue

The World Social Forum is coming, and already I’ve had to politely decline Facebook invitations to participate and/or care in some way.

There. I’ve said it. I don’t care about the World Social Forum, which purports to be:

an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences and inter-linking for effective action, by groups and movements of civil society that are opposed to neo- liberalism and to domination of the world by capital and any form of imperialism, and are committed to building a society centred on the human person” [Porto Alegre Charter]

Shivonne Du Barry offers a more more concise take on the WSF over at her Ramblings and Reason blog:

… more than anything, it enables discussion of critical social issues that impact us, especially given our place in the global economic structure.

Fair enough. Except that in my experience of this and similar fora, there is very little reflective thinking or democratic debate; nor is there the free exchange of anything except leftist propaganda.

Back in 2004, I worked as a volunteer translator/logistics guru/general lackey at the European Social Forum in London. I’d been talked into by a couple of socially-minded friends of mine, and in any event, it was a very LSE thing to do (a bit of self-important saving the world action coupled with a good line or three on the all-important CV, etc).

I started out with the very best of intentions. By the third day, I was sick to death of people trying to persuade me of the evils of globalisation-as-imperialism.

These non-conformist-conformists – overwhelmingly white, European, “dreadlocked”, hemp-clothed and DC-shod – all evangelizing about evils of capitalism (and selling £20 t-shirts), environmentalism (while covering the streets of Bloomsbury and the halls of Alexandra Palace with forests of paper and pamphlets) and Saving Africa (because I’m so into Bob Marley, and he was African, you know?)

If this is an exaggeration, it is only a mild one. I went to the ESF hoping for some of that much-vaunted conversation, for discourse, for an actual exchange of ideas. What I got was reactionary rhetoric and sometimes disturbingly extremist left-wing propaganda.

As for freedom of expression? Not quite. Subhi al Mashadani, leader of the Iraqi Federation of Trade Unions, was shouted off the stage by hecklers who accused him of “collaborating” with the US.

Security had to usher him away while we hapless volunteers attempted to get people out of the room.

And the people shouting him down? Europeans who have never themselves lived under occupation, and many of whom are career activists who never miss a WSF because they don’t actually need to work. What need have they of a trade union?

And all this talk of changing the world? It’s just talk. Because all the petitions, all the Facebook groups and all the clever t-shirts in the world will not make a jot of difference. Fora like these are sops to the liberal conscience. Why wait for the WSF, or ESF, or ASF?

Change something right now – walk instead of drive, buy vegetables from your local farmer/parlour/vendor, support your local artisans, stay home and help your children with their homework instead of lining the pockets of fete promoters…

I digress. But the point is that change involves doing, and doing involves a lot more than screaming “collaborator” at someone with whom you disagree.

Yes, another world is possible, and another T&T is possible. But we have to come better than this.

Audaciously Hoping

(to the tune of Better Than Ezra’s Desperately Wanting)

Barack Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses – the first major nomination contest for would-be US presidents – inspired a frenzy of comment in the international media and blogosphere (Caribbean bloggers included).

It should also inspire Trinbagonians – to demand more of our own politicians, and of ourselves.

Senator Obama’s campaign – the slogan of which is “hope, action, change” – is breaking all the rules. In Iowa, he won more support from women than did his chief rival, Hillary Clinton. He galavanised record numbers of young people and previous non-voters to seriously engage with politics. And of course, he proved a black man could win the hearts, minds and votes of white, Midwestern Americans.

The Obama campaign is based on a triple platform of change, unity and (the audacity of) hope – and I love it.

I love it because what he’s doing in America allows me to believe that the same can be achieved in Trinidad and Tobago – “a new type of politics”:

“Something different. A politics focused not on what divides us but on our common values and our common ideals, [focused] not so much on ideology, but practicality.”

A new type of politics, with a new kind of political discourse:

“I am convinced that whenever we exaggerate or demonize, oversimplify or overstate our case, we lose. Whenever we dumb down the political debate, we lose. For it’s precisely the pursuit of ideological purity, the rigid orthodoxy and the sheer predictability of our current political debate, that keeps us from finding new ways to meet the challenges we face as a country.”

One which ceases to cynically exploit – and create – division:

We think of faith as a source of comfort and understanding but find our expression of faith sowing division; we believe ourselves to be a tolerant people even as racial, religious, and cultural tensions roil the landscape. And instead of resolving these tensions or mediating these conflicts, our politics fans them, exploits them, and drives us further apart.


Maybe there’s no escaping our great political divide, an endless clash of armies, and any attempts to alter the rules of engagement are futile. Or maybe the trivialization of politics has reached a point of no return, so that most people see it as just one more diversion, a sport, with politicians our paunch-bellied gladiators and those who bother to pay attention just fans on the sidelines: We paint our faces red or blue and cheer our side and boo their side, and if it takes a late hit or cheap shot to beat the other team, so be it, for winning is all that matters.

But I don’t think so.

This man believes. He believes in the potential for change, and he is the change he wishes to see.

I cannot say this of Messrs. Manning and Panday, nor of any of their minions, not when their campaigns are less about actual policies and more about who had the better Jamaican artiste at their last fete.

Nor can I say this about my country, since we are so caught up with our expensive cars and designer clothing (Miu Miu rather than Meiling) that we are happy to overlook our failing infrastructure and rising inflation .

But Senator Obama gives me hope. He gives me the courage to question the state of things and to challenge the status quo.

To look at what passes for politics in Trinidad and Tobago and say – I don’t think so.