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How to start a revolution; rule number one: challenge everything!

I spent barely four days in Manama in 2005, in the lead up to and immediate aftermath of Trinidad and Tobago’s historic second leg Fifa 2006 World Cup qualifying play off encounter with Bahrain on 15 November.

Apart from an unforgettable football match and the searing heat, what I remember most about Bahrain is that life there seemed to be a non-stop negotiation. There did not seem to be a set price for much at all.

On my first trip downtown, I asked the taxi driver parked in front of the hotel for his fare. The driver said US$8 (actually, I don’t remember the price but let’s go with this for the sake of my point). He saw my reluctance and offered a concession. We eventually agreed on US$5.

Photo: A taxi driver in Manama, Bahrain.

On my second excursion, I asked the fare—just in case. The driver said US$10. It was the same driver who took me there the last time!

I laughed, reminded him of our last agreement and we were off: for US$5. Then, on my third trip, another driver gave me a third arbitrary price that again exceeded what I was accustomed to paying. I no longer found this ‘rite of passage’ for leaving the hotel to be cute or funny.

It was the same in every shop I visited there, whether for jewellery, souvenirs or refreshments. They’d give a price, you’d counter and then the two of you haggled for a middle ground. From the moment you left the hotel, you braced yourself to spend your day fighting for a ‘fair price’.

By the time I boarded a flight back to Port of Spain, I was relieved to have left that hassle behind.

I was reminded of those four days in Manama when Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley spoke about the struggle for human rights; and, more specifically, the dignity of ‘black’ lives.

“These rights have to be fought for on a continuous basis,” said Rowley yesterday. “Like a garden with weeds with deep roots, even as you mow the weeds ever so often there is a regroup and new shoots can reappear.

“[…] The fear that we have today is we seem to have a new normal that is developing, where the higher values that we thought we were ascribing to and the gains we thought we were making could be so easily lost.”

Photo: A young man confronts police officers during protests in Minnesota over the killing of George Floyd.

In his column today, Martin Daly SC spoke about the importance of changing Trinidad and Tobago’s ‘underlying system’. Brian Harry pointed to our ‘archaic and irrelevant’ education system in his letter to the editor.

Jabal Hassanali pointed to the ‘stigmatisation of the disenfranchised’, David Abdulah referenced ‘institutional racism’, Shaka Hislop noted ‘a political issue to be confronted’ and Corey Gilkes described a ‘legacy of police and state-sponsored violence against subjected people and capitalist exploitation’.

I suspect they are all right; and that is an indication of the complexity of the problem faced today by those with the short end of the stick. The fightback may start with placards, raised voices and boycotts. But it won’t end that way.

The ‘shit-stem’ won’t go easily.

Pierre Cambronne, general of the first French Empire, once said: “La Garde meurt mais ne se rend pas!” It means: “The Guard dies but does not surrender!”

The enemy is not just the brutality of Derek Chauvin and other law enforcement officers, you see, or the ignorance and disregard of Gerald Aboud. They are only the foot soldiers. The battle is against a centuries old system of exploitation—principalities and powers and wickedness, to paraphrase, in high and low places.

Photo: A depiction of slaves serving their masters in Trinidad.
(Courtesy Netssa.com)

We have inherited a method of governance, policing, justice, welfare, education, trade, culture, agriculture and health that was never constructed for our benefit in the first place. Now, we must replace them with something that puts our people—all of them!—at its heart.

Rowley’s economic recovery team could help. But this is bigger than his top-heavy panel. Platitudes and compromise come from the top; lasting, meaningful change comes from below.

Over the past three months, Trinidad and Tobago citizens of all class, race and background were told their lives depended on following similar guidelines. The fear of Covid-19 created a temporary unity of sorts in which we understood the mutual benefit of our neighbour’s wellbeing.

Perhaps the story of millionaire businessman Derek Chin stopping to pick up a young mother from Arima on his chartered jet, so as to be allowed to return home, was the best example of that. There is almost no other scenario under which Chin and Krissa Bissoon would have shared a private plane ride.

Our future as a peaceful, productive nation lies in our understanding of the mutual benefit in: a safety net for the disenfranchised who may otherwise find harmful ways to channel their frustration, a relevant education system that helps us to contextualise our wins and losses and leads to self-worth, true love that pushes us to feed and lift up each other rather than be slaves to a rigged game of global trade.

And, of course, there must be an understanding that our resources belong to us all and not just a privileged few.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago football fans enjoy the show during 2018 World Cup qualifying action at the Hasely Crawford Stadium on 24 March 2017.
(Courtesy Chevaughn Christopher/Wired868)

“For a colonised people the most essential value, because [it is] the most concrete, is first and foremost the land: the land which will bring them bread and, above all, dignity.” (Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth)

All illegal pacts for state land and our natural resources must be torn up. A government that prioritises its well-heeled few over the wellbeing of the wider populace is to be resisted, not supported.

We must understand that there are powerful, influential people who do just fine in the current system. And they will not yield.

First, they will say the fault lies with you the people, then they will say ‘sorry’ but that’s the way it is, next they will ask for more time to create change, then they will offer a crumb more and hope you don’t check the fine-print…

How long does it take to fix a centuries old problem?

Revolutionary rule number one: remember it is ‘their’ rules that kept us on our knees in the first place; so challenge everything. Only a fool will follow a law that his oppressor made yet does not keep himself.

Are we not tired yet of being lectured about morality and sacrifice by people who plunder the treasury and the state’s resources while giving almost nothing back?

Photo: John Aboud was one of a dozen or so wealthy businessmen who were given state lands in Chaguaramas, under then CDA chairman Daniel Solomon in 2015, for as low as TT$100 per month.

The fight for lasting change will be tiresome and vexatious—enough to make four days in Manama feel like a stroll through the park. But there is no other way.

Are you ready?

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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  1. All this pontification on the US and racism against africans in the US, but Trinidad bullies & Muzzles African people into tolerating and not pushing back against racism from Indians in particular. Kumar Mahabir’s Brahmin-ist inspired narratives about african people is lauded as almost noble. Noble Philip cuddled Brahmin-ist Nalini Ramai as if SHE was the victim after her publiciszed hateful, TYPICAL Brahmin-ism inspired rant about Africans. If Africans could have the self respect to speak out and not give a platform to Anti-African ,Hateful, dishonest narratives, this would be more powerful than bandwagoning african americans dis-ingenuously. Talk & allow talk about Brahmin-ism’s racism and how it shapes racists like Sat Maharaj.

  2. I am ready. In particular I am ready for land reform. For rural land to belong to rural people instead of to those of us who live in town. I am also ready for educational dismantling. For the crap holes we call schools to be reformed to be places of self-directed learning and innovation. The list is long but I was born ready.

  3. The final question is merely rhetorical, no? The thing about righteous indignation, it seems to me, is that it often catapults you into the thick of things, ready or not. As a would-be commentator, has that not been your experience over the last week or two?

  4. Great commentary.
    Hard work but I am ready