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Protesting the protest

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Former Port-of-Spain Mayor Raymond Tim Kee stoned a jep nest at a briefing on Carnival. He blundered into a query about the murder of Japanese national Asami Nagakiya. Without the benefit of an autopsy, Mr Tim Kee’s rambling comments suggested that women’s lewd behaviour during the Carnival season could have played a role in this terrible tragedy. As it turns out, for the most part people were willing to forgive and forget…forget that he was ever mayor. 

The obvious inference was, if the victim was demure of character she might have been spared the prurient attentions of male predators. Several high profile people came to his defence, including Pt Fortin Mayor Clyde Paul, whose comments were actually more incendiary than the remarks which inspired them. 

At the heart of the debacle was a tangle of issues with no obvious relation among them. It is almost comical to see Trinis conflate the long running, bible-brandishing debate of “vulgarity in carnival” with the tragic killing of Asami Nagakiya. The two are completely unrelated. 

Some of Tim Kee’s supporters cited Brazil’s “hyper-sexualised Carnival” which is apparently rife with sexual assaults. So people who don’t get it won’t get it. But as we are here, how does Brazil’s problem contrast with say, India, where the only requirement a teenage girl swaddled in clothing needs to meet in order to be gang raped (with a lead pipe no less) and murdered is that she be out after sundown?

Citizens took to the streets to let the Mayor know he isn’t fit for public office. What emerged as a parallel movement was the anti-protester protester. Some of their remarks on Facebook were saddening, but not surprising. “I wonder whey dem was for the last five years”, “Why they didn’t protest when the Laventille boys were killed?”, “Why don’t they go protest by the Commissioner of Police?”, and so it went.

Well, where were the anti-protesters then? Why didn’t they protest the executions of the Laventille schoolboys or the appalling performance of the police? Those least inclined to stand up for anything (with the exception of higher wages) are the ones most vocal about what causes civil society groups should be targetting. Additionally, there are those who believe all protest is politically motivated. It’s the old, “you’re either with us or against us” myopia that serves only unapologetically corrupt and laughably incompetent politicians. 

“Protestors” who subsequently converged on City Hall in support of the embattled Mayor did so, as their leader put it “because if we don’t stand up against dis, people in dis country goh do all kinda ting with de PNM government”

This variety of blind political loyalty means the concept of morality in public office is open to interpretation as long as “your leaders” are at the helm. The standards by which the PP government were judged seem inapplicable here. 

Wayne Kublalsingh became a force of activism during the Manning administration and persisted throughout the life of the People’s Partnership. Whatever your views on his causes, Kublalsingh appears to be motivated by principle, not politics. While many disagree with the Highway Reroute Movement, their right to protest is sacrosanct. 

Similarly, Kirk Waithe of Fixin’ T&T is a polarising figure, taking cuss from UNC supporters and then PNM supporters with just five months in between. Standing outside of parliament on Fridays in defence of good governance takes extraordinary commitment. The average Trini doesn’t even have commitment enough to collect their mas costumes on time. 

Protest is an indispensable expression of any society aspiring to better circumstances. Some issues resonate deeply in certain people so they focus on what stokes their passions most. My area of interest has always been the environment and heritage conservation. A few years ago, when illegal quarrying strayed dangerously close to the Asa Wright Nature Centre in the Northern Range, I dropped everything and went up there to do a video designed to pressure the government to act, which they did. I can’t protest everything, so I choose the cause most important to me. 

Ideally, there should have been simultaneous protests at both City Hall and Police HQ. But those so determined to direct Womantra’s vitriol did not themselves throng the Police Commissioner’s office, instead they rubbished the group from the comfort of their ignorance. 

It is difficult for both PNM and UNC political disciples to accept society has changed even though they haven’t. Former prime ministers Patrick Manning and Kamla Persad-Bissessar were buffeted by the changing winds of citizen activism. People are no longer willing to wait for five years to elapse before their voices can be heard. They are demanding real-time responses to pressing crises. In the wake of Tim Kee’s utterances, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley got it, albeit belatedly. But the process of political evolution is painfully slow and political diehards, even slower. 

Through this incident, the Government has been shown that it only holds power in trust, and this trust can be revoked at any time.


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