Tag Archives: tobago

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.

On being the change I wish to see (and freaking out about it)

When I first left home, six years ago, I was resolved not to come back.

Why should I? Trinidad, I declared, held nothing but bacchanal and botheration.

I felt stifled there, and bored. I didn’t fit in. I needed to leave.

So I left, and like so many other West Indians abroad, discovered that I didn’t quite fit in anywhere else either.

But at least here – France, the UK, the US – I was challenged and stimulated and free.

And now I’m going back.

Because I’ve spent the past half a decade evangelizing about the need for Caribbean nationals to return to our home countries and give back to the islands that so desperately need our talent, intelligence and experience.

Because I don’t want to be one of those outraged expats who opines on everything and changes nothing.

Because I’m tired of the cold.

Because my love is there.

But I’m terrified.

Because my work, which I utterly adore, is here. Because here I have achieved, and scaled heights otherwise impossible to conceive.

Because my life, for the past six years, has been here.

And because I’m not sure I can change anything, really. And I’ll probably feel stifled there, and bored.

Because, as Miss Melanie Johncilla wrote in a letter to the editor (via Jumbie’s Watch), of “the complacency of a society, the sheer acceptance that comes along with ‘the Trini way.'”

We sit as a people and just accept. We accept poor customer service because “that’s what you go get in this country.” We accept spates of violence, we accept fear, we accept pedantic “medical researchers” who prolong petty spats for the sheer sake of it.

We accept domestic violence, we accept sexism, we accept old white man a the father, we accept our position as developing and we accept inferiority.

We are a nation of lazy acceptors. If the waitress is talking on her cellphone while serving me, “that’s just how things are in this country; we not in America, you know.”

But kick up a fuss and try to educate and move this beloved Trinidad forward—I dare you. Because all you get in response is: “Oh gosh, relax nah lady. We in Trinidad. Calm yuhself. That’s how things does be.”

And yes, those are some of the factors that pushed me to leave. Those “narrow minds” that continue to insist that we “are not old enough, not old-school enough, and not ‘Trini’ enough.”

Isn’t that an irony? They feel they cannot affect change as they would want to because “it’s Trinidad, nepotism rules, is who you know and what hue you have.”

And that attitude is pervasive, and pernicious. The TrinBago Blog also reproduced this letter, which prompted “ponnoxx” to retort:

Trinidad and Tobago’s laid back mentality is that which makes us unique. However, I must admit that there are departments which need to be tightened such as healthcare but our society is what others aspire to reach. Trinbago’s society heads towards happiness and not towrds efficiency like the US. It is not necessarily a bad thing. The reason why we are experiencing so much crime is (assumingly) as a direct result of deportation. Criminals who are seasoned in a more rigid efficient society. They literally brought back more efficient criminals into our society. Brain Drain for us and they have a Criminal drain straight in our frontyard. I Love my country just how is.


It’s the same for Jamaicans abroad, according to a young lady who wrote to the Jamaica Gleaner (via Francis Wade’s blog):

During my studies overseas, I also encouraged my fellow Jamaicans, who were in various graduate fields all over the United States, to return home after completing their studies, as their skills would be very beneficial to Jamaica’s development.

This was done in an effort to help secure Jamaica’s future, as I am very passionate about my country and its success, and I am hoping to become intimately involved in the future of Jamaica.

They, however, expressed that they had no desire to return home with the escalation of crime and violence and economic turmoil. They also strongly believe that with their educational background, Jamaica would not be able to offer them suitable jobs and compensation.

So, when are we going to do something about this increasing epidemic of our educated Jamaican people who have no desire to return home because of this lack of jobs and compensation? When are statements such as, “You are overqualified for the position”, going to be obsolete? Are we forever to remain in the shadows of developed countries and continuously lose our educated and skilled people to them?

I have very high hopes and dreams for Jamaica, but how can I be of assistance if I am not given the opportunity to do so? How can I effectively convince my fellow educated and qualified Jamaicans to return home and help to develop our home if I cannot even get job interviews?

Yes. Yes. Exactly.

But I’m going back, and taking it one baby step at a time.

We’ll see how it goes.