Citizen activists

Oxford Dictionary defines “activism” as “the policy or action of using vigorous campaigning to bring about political or social change”. Now there are all kinds of people labelled activists.

There are nameless people who toil in communities for decades without whom those communities would collapse within seconds. There are NGOs who draw down massive grants year after year and you are hard-pressed to see the work they do.

There are activists who appear whenever a cause is popular—and as soon as the cameras disappear they melt into the shadows.

There are “activists” who appear only when certain governments are in power— and go silent when others are there. There are some who are in activism to “eat ah food”.

And then there are activists who are passionate for change because they are possessed by an idea of a better way. They “see” the vision of the transformed community in a way others can’t…

They’re relentless because they dream the alternative reality like how some people dream a “mark”! If only our leaders would change destructive courses.

Whatever their stripe or pedigree, the thing to understand is that activists are citizens and the best are citizens who sacrifice the prizes in their personal life to fight for the prize for the people. They pay the price for that fighting.

The reason I bring this up is because “citizenship” is about to kick into a higher gear.

The Artists’ Coalition of Trinidad and Tobago (ACTT)—the group I lead —represents a sector and a coalition of groups, some who never come to meetings—until they have a problem with the government.

Then they show up. They know we’ll fight on their behalf—and they’ll win. Then they disappear again. Why? Because they know by liming with us they might get victimised.

Many know the price for standing up in this town. This is the reason all kinds of people keep quiet during our nation’s darkest periods of corruption and mismanagement. Big leaders.

Elders and pundits all kept quiet whilst insanity took place that pushed our nation to the abyss.

They kept quiet, knowing the punishment if they opened their mouth. Ask Wayne Kublalsingh.

Ask the anti-smelter protesters. Ask Gary Aboud. Ask Shiraz Khan of the Sheep and Goat Farmers Association. If you could, ask the late Julian Kenny. Norris Deonarine paid with his life.

They all know the price—the price that others will not pay. Why do we do it? Why did Lloyd Best or Pat Bishop fight for ideas without seeing transformation? Why did they die still insisting? Because these are acts of faith.

Faith in the power of our agency, our words, our stubbornness. Faith in the new country that lies on the other side of the manifested word.

No member of ACTT is in this to be protesters. We are not professional complainers. We create solutions. I’m an artist, but have not been for 15 years!

Fifteen years ago, staring into the face of two generations of dying artists—and looking at the wreck of my sector—I had to confront the limits of “Art”.

I realised that sometimes you have to put down the paint brush and fight. I also know that we’re in this crisis because elders before me did not stand up to power in certain ways.

We must now make the sacrifice to transform the ruin into a house.

For activists who are in this to get real lasting change, this is our strategy with all governments: we consult with stakeholders and lay out demands.

We try to get dialogue with government, to whom we present the needs of the sector. We exhaust every single diplomatic channel to get the government to listen. We did this from 2001-2005 with the PNM. Five years of polite diplomacy. When the government refuses to budge we get arbitration from outside.

When these strategies fail we take it to the press—to let the public know they’re being betrayed. We normally hope embarrassment forces a government to the bargaining table.

However, most politicians have no shame. Failing these actions we take the struggle to the streets. Where things get interesting—and nasty. That’s the final battleground for change.

PNMites who only heard about ACTT when NAPA finally made papers (because they did not see the six years of diplomacy) say we should be protesting the current Government’s failings.

We however are following our script. It took us six years before we took to the streets with PNM. This Government may not be so lucky!

I’ve now committed 15 years to activism—because I knew there was a deadline. A national endgame. The death of a generation. I swore I would fight to save things that needed saving.

This year is the last chance we have to save the Golden Age Legacy contained within our elders. Next year this fight will not matter.

If promises made these last two years are not immediately fulfilled our nation will lose hundreds of traditions and the sacred responsibilities located in them. Billions of dollars of intellectual property. I not grinning and skinning. This might get bloody.

Posted on June 14, 2012, in President's Blog and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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