From the People’s Parliament and Occupy Guyana [GT]
All photos by Shirlina Naager © Creative Commons
“The fact that we are here and that I speak these words is an attempt to break that silence and bridge some of those differences between us, for it is not difference which immobilizes us, but silence. Your silence will not protect you. Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid. I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde
“Eh eh, is who that anti-man shaking off?” She rolls her eyes and sucks her teeth.
This was an issue from night one. We’d successfully launched our action and from the initial handful of determined women, our numbers had more than quadrupled. We were ecstatic; Revolution was in the air and we were the righteous warriors, on the side of justice, freedom, equality, and all that was good and right. Though a migraine was forcing me to lie down in the tent with a rag over my eyes, my heart and soul were soaring among the stars. I could not rest; the excitement from the gathering was too palpable. I was also thinking ahead. I knew that many of those now with us would have to leave in the morning, and that the police were sure to appear.
Before police tho, the cross dressers showed up. Many live around the corner from our encampment and they had to pass us to get to their work. I had forgotten about this; we had other things on our mind when we were scouting out the location for our action- proximity to public thoroughfares, transportation, bathrooms, other facilities, security, etc. I’d forgotten all about Leopold St.
“Hello! What is that? Look! Is a man or a woman? These people, boy! Anti-man. Batty bwoy. Fyah!” Suck teeth. Laughter. Damn. The pounding in my head increased. I was pained. This is my community, see, and I felt the taunting personally, as if it were directed towards me. Forget the police harassment and confiscation of our tent, the rain and hot hot sun. Forget the name calling by passers by, the ignoring- all that I can deal with. Harder, is the homo/transphobia of the ‘comrades’.
Revolution brings together strange bedfellows. We who initiated this action knew that we’d have to reach out, grow our numbers in order to succeed. There were just four of us women, several with dependent children, ailing parents, and a multitude of other responsibilities. We knew we couldn’t do it alone. Still, compelled to act, we did, and allies appeared. Strangers at first, who we now spend more time with than our blood relatives and loved ones.
I said nothing that first night, hesitant and unsure how to talk about it. The movement is young still, fragile, and we are just now building community, trust, and understanding. Also, this is Guyana; homophobia/transphobia is just a part of life, right? Don’t tek them on, a friend advised. They don’t have to accept, just tolerate, said another.
There is no discrimination against gay people in Guyana, said the Minister. There is tolerance. Yes, hatemongering goes unchecked. In fact, there is overwhelming silence in the face of widespread injustice and abuse. Gay people simply walking down the street, minding their own business, are subject to daily/nightly harassment. “But is not as bad as Jamaica, they are not getting killed in the streets,” they say. Also- “Is just words; nothing to get so worked up over.” This from comrades in the struggle. “He’s really homophobic, you know. I just pretended not to hear.”
I have a hard time with police and politicians. I try to remember that they are somebody’s son/daughter, mother/father.. It’s not easy. But when we talk about human rights and demand justice and equality, that is for *all* Guyanese- not just the ones that look like us, act like us, think like us, and believe all the same things we do. We cannot have equal rights yet still perpetuate discrimination and intolerance against gay people. Everybody means everybody. Societal transformation begins with the individual- how we relate and deal with each other is at the core of it all. There is nothing more revolutionary than that.
I went home and brought my rainbow flag and pinned it onto the Guyana flag; no more quiet, safe living- it must be all out in the open now. We cannot continue to stay silent any longer, to simply endure. We must stand up and speak out. We exist. We are here, we are an integral part of this movement and this society, like it or not. It will be hard and uncomfortable, but we are going to have to deal with this- you with me, and me with you. Because we’re in this together and we need each other.
The cross dressers still pass all the time. Sometimes comments are thrown, some still taunting, although less than before. We are working though, on taking it from mere lip service to respect and more than tolerance. When a gay man is stabbed the block over, it’s the one among us with the big bible (who seems unable to stop himself from saying ‘fyah’ every time a cross dresser passes) who ends up taking the victim to the hospital. After the pageant, the queen stops by to show us photos and pose by our sign. Others from the community, gay but not necessarily cross dressers, also show their support, in ways both tangible and intangible. And one Friday night- revolution. Three young gay men come and sit down among us.
“My family is real Christian.”
“I got kicked out of the house when my father found out I was gay.”
“I feel really sad about that boy who got killed in Agricola.”
“Next time we come back we’ll bring some food and drink for y’all.”
We are all family. Revolutionary love.
“After Georgie seh officer, officer I get shot, de officer didn’t tek he on. So Georgie now go fah raise up holding he ribs and I hear another shot. When I look at Georgie, I see a bullet to Georgie forehead, which in, he head had a big hole and blood running down.”
Black skin against a yellow satin background. The marks of violence were still evident on his young face. Left eye bruised and bullet hole still clearly visible on his forehead, even though the undertaker had tried. Murdered by the police, a day before his 18th birthday. Shaquille Grant. Two months ago, it was Ron Somerset, also a teenager, Shemroy Bouyea, and Allan Lewis- all black men, all unarmed, all murdered by police.
There is a regular police roadblock in my neighborhood. Almost every night, right at the corner where I get off the bus, they are there, stopping vehicles and frisking people. Tonight was no exception. As I passed, I saw three men hunched in a circle on the ground, with several plastic bags of stuff in the center. Police- or men in dark blue uniforms with AK-47s- towered over them, menacing. Two of the men were hauled up and taken to the back of another vehicle while the last was ordered to drop his pants. He protested. They shouted, guns at the ready. Grudgingly, he complied, bare buttocks flashing in the streetlight. Jump, they ordered, and jump he did. They pawed through the bags on the ground but finding nothing, moved on to the interior of the car.
At the most, all those men had on them was a lil bit of ganja. And the only ones with the weapons were the boys in blue. In all the time that the police have been carrying out their nightly roadblocks on that street corner, there has been no news of the apprehension of any major criminal mastermind or any astounding drug bust. No, they’re just terrorizing the population, as normal. Wait, clarification- they’re terrorizing ‘ordinary’ Guyanese, of a specific racial group mostly.
I spent last evening visiting my relatives in Lusignan, gaffing into the night. It was dark when I left. The road was clear; there was no roadblock. No menacing men with guns to stop the music-blasting Hummer from speeding down the road. No naked young Indo-Guyanese men jumping on command in public. Lusignan has plenty drug and gun men though. I was astounded the first time I heard that. Lusignan? The lovely, peaceful village of my childhood? Say it aint so! But that is the truth now, sadly.
“Dem boys tell me how to make lots of money quick,” my NY-based uncle reports, two days into his visit. But he is a bad enough Muslim already, he says, and doesn’t need that on his conscience. There are two car dealerships in a village with two main cross streets. The ports where container ships dock to offload their cargo of Lamborginis and Hummers are the same ones where drugs are sent out, even though a million dollar container scanner was commissioned just last year (Skeldon sugar factory anyone?), and a new ‘container control programme’ MOU signed just last month. Packages at the Post Office are cut open and every item inside fingered before it can be uplifted, but millions of dollars worth of cocaine regularly leave Georgetown (in one notorious case last year, the MV Vega Azurit was busted ferrying cocaine from Guyana three times in as many months.)
They’re murdering black youth!”
The day after Shaquille Grant was murdered, a young Indo-Guyanese policeman was executed in Berbice. He had been working undercover, they said, on counter-narcotics operations. The newspapers today showed the President and First Lady paying their condolences to his grieving father. Meanwhile, in Linden, the families of Shemroy, Ron, and Allan wait in vain for justice, over two months after their murder.
Most of the members of the Guyana Police Farce are black men.
We must talk about race, yes, but we must also talk about class and $$.
They said the boys were planning a robbery and shot first (nevermind that eyewitnesses contradict that). And so they shot to kill. The protesters in Linden were blocking the road, preventing vehicles from reaching the gold mining camps and markets. And so they shot to kill. Lives taken to protect property. Money over justice. The 14yr old tortured by police several years ago, his genitals set ablaze, is nowhere to be found in Guyana anymore. There are rumors that he and his relatives are overseas, ‘compensation’ in pocket.
Overseas, to enjoy the land of milk and honey perks, or overseas to work like a dawg, struggling to make ends meet when the money runs out, just like here, but without home comforts. Dreaming of home always, working to build up the vacation days, not wanting to leave when the two weeks are up. But not willing to stay here, to stand up, to speak out, to look out for each other. Paralyzed by fear. Of being victimized, penalized, fired. Or made callous by easy money. This is what Guyana has become. A dog-eat-dog society where each man scrabbles to accumulate as much ‘stuff’ (wealth) as he possibly can, whether by legal or illegal means, just hoping, praying, and bribing his way out of any ‘sticky’ situation. Where every meal may be the young black man’s last, no matter how hard mothers work.
This is not my Guyana though. It may be the reality now, but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
I’ve been having foot troubles for a lil while now. Stumped my right big toe last year and it’s been bum ever since. And now recently, the left one has started tingling, a slight numbness. No pain and I can still walk fine though, so I’ve been mostly ignoring it. Musing about what’s going on and what it might mean, wondering what I can do about it, but mostly just leaving it alone, hoping that it will get better soon, without any major intervention on my part. Walking wounded. This may be how it is now, how we all are, but it doesn’t have to remain that way.
My nose is pointy and my hair is straight. Her nose was flat and her hair was curly. She looked curiously at me and I gazed back, grinning at her two-teeth mouth. She smiled wider, all gums.
“We also need the fires of love to thaw the frozen streams within. We need to look at one another afresh, with new eyes. We need to keep doing that. Every day. We need to tear down the barriers wisely, or else we won’t be able to get out and nothing will be able to come in.” (Ben Okri)
They’ve begun to put in the fence. They want to have more ‘control’ of the space, they say. There are too many ‘junkies’ passing by. They’re afraid that their nice nice park is going to get messed up.
Oh, the irony!
The PEOPLE’S Parliament. High St and Brickdam. Fence or not, we’ll be there. 24/7. Join us. Straight hairs and curly hairs all together as one. What is your vision for the future of Guyana? What are you doing to bring it to fruition?
“WOW, girl i cant tell u the transformation i have had through those continuous dialogues. The thing is though, if more people never come join us then it would be sad but i aint doing this for them. I doing it for me.”
These are the dark days, my love***. Business is at a standstill. Gold miners are not able to carry out their usual mad digging up and extraction of the precious metal (while protecting the rainforest btw. why don’t those white people understand that and give us the $$, damnit?!) Trucks of goods are blocked from going into the interior, and the Brazilians have hiked their prices. In some places, okra is selling for $400/lb.
Oh, and three innocent people were shot and killed by police for peacefully protesting with their community members. Shemroy Bouyea, Ron Somerset, and Allan Lewis. Shot in the heart, one from the back. Unarmed; only weapon their voice. Almost footnotes now, as the already dirty game of politricks gets even nastier.
Black man and Indian- niggers, coolies, and bucks- at each other’s throats again, by design, as usual. Of human rights and justice, nary a mention. Instead, trade fairs, emancipation song and dances, and the Olympics!
Gold, silver, and bronze; men and women celebrate. Even if you don’t win, just making it there is an achievement they say. It doesn’t work that way with everything though. The majority of the students who wrote the CSEC exams failed- 70% in mathematics and 63% in English. Still, “Guyana has a reason to celebrate,” Minister Manickchand
declared. A pilot study to improve scores apparently paid off. Or so they say. O lovely Guyana. The land of many waters and pilot projects. Stamp it Out, Pick it Up, Don’t Beat Up when you Heat Up. Gold medal strategies all. Uh huh.
We’re getting hydro next year, says Sam Blinds. And there is no trafficking of Amerindians, says the former chair of the National Tashaos Council (and a good friend of ex-President, he of the $3million/month pension, Bharrat Jagdeo). Sure, there may have been some cases of Amerindian girls being abused and prostituted in mining camps, in restaurants and clubs in Georgetown, in private homes of businessmen, and of Amerindian boys being kept captive in foreign embassies, etc, but “we have not had the complaints,” says Ms Pearson. Right, because the voices of the victims are always heard.
Where do you reach when for every step forward, there is one back? One laptop per family, but when families can’t afford electricity, what good is a computer? Decades ago, I did my homework by lamplight. Today, this is still the case in many many places. Guyanese pay more for less electricity than almost everybody else in the Caribbean (Jamaica takes the gold in this). We also pay more than Americans and Canadians. More for less.
Hypocrisy is king these days. Georgetown Public Hospital’s neo natal unit has been newly refurbished, they say. Triplets are born. Thankfully mother and all babies survive. Just the day before, 22yr old first time mother Omadara Anthony, healthy up to the day she went into Public, died of ‘cardiac arrest’ while giving birth. But “we refute the notion that unless you pay you do not receive quality health care,” says Minister Manickchand. Who did not go to Public Hospital to deliver her baby. But who likes to fat talk.
Long gone is the time when intelligence was a virtue. “The Private Sector Commission don’t run my office,” says the President. Forget critical thinking and fact checking as well. Now, big checks are paid for flimsy advice, the more rabid the better. Meanwhile the issues of poor people get glossed over.
Communities where unemployment is 70%. It’s not that we don’t want to pay- we aren’t able to. Where’s the money going to come from? We’re already struggling to put food in our children’s mouths. Life pon de dam- medicine or food? Food or light bill? School book or light bill?
Ron Somerset was only 17 when he was killed by the police. He had worked at an internet cafÃ© and had a bit role in a movie that was being shot in his community. Shemroy Bouyea, 24, who was mentally disabled, would run errands for people in exchange for “a small piece”. His mother was coming home from her job as a security guard when she heard that he had been shot dead. Allan Lewis, 46, took ‘whatever jobs came his way’, to help support his mother. Her pension is nowhere near $3million/month. As she mourns her son, this elderly woman worries about her future. Life pon de dam. At age 79.
Teenage girls sell their bodies for some phone credit. Mothers struggling to find money leave their babies home alone to starve and choke to death. To be raped and murdered. But “those lazy people need to pay their fair share,” the PPPites scream. But the ultimate payment has already been made- the blood of innocents.
Police and thieves in the streets. Paid instigators and rogues in in blue and khaki uniforms.
The children finally get a mention when a school is torched. But when the hospital compound was teargassed, there was no comment. We are teaching them well indeed.
These are the dark days, my love.
***From the poem “This is the dark time, my love” by Guyanese poet, Martin Carter
Tuesday 21st August
Last night was awesome. A friend who I’d been having some potentially friendship-damming differences with showed up at the Occupy GT camp for the 2nd night in a row and we talked. Another friend stopped by and promised to come back and give free massages to folks. Someone who had been aggravating me made me look into her eyes and I cried and laughed.
It had rained for hours the morning before, depriving us of any sleep, no matter how hastily snatched, and although I had enjoyed the closeness of the group as we (8 in number) huddled under the beach umbrella that had replaced our tent, I’d started the day in a grouchy mood. I shouted at the children who came for the literacy class, stewed when I saw that the pak choi seedlings I had set 2 weeks ago were now just dried out brown stalks, and swore at the wind for blowing out the candles as fast as I lit them. I was also still upset about a comrade’s bike that had gotten stolen from the site the day before. And the incident the night before when one of our supporters had suffered what appeared to be some kind of mental breakdown, freaking us out.
But then I got a call from another friend saying that she had gotten back our tent for us, without us even having to go face the police bastards in the first place, and my spirits lifted. And then we raised enough money to buy a new bike for Tall Man. Finally, Labba reappeared, seemingly back to normal.
Night time at Occupy GT is special. We set up camp during sundown initially, so there is a certain familiarity. It’s cooler and there are usually a lot more people around then compared to during the day. The safety concerns that we had initially, while still relevant, had been balanced out by the camaraderie building among those gathered (assault on Freddie Kissoon and appearance of special branch operatives and other unknown individuals nonwithstanding..).
I like the days too- starting with our collective group stretching/yoga/tai chi exercises on the grass, newspaper purchase from old man Saddam, and the greeting/gyaffing with people on their way to work. After several days at the same location, the faces are now growing familiar, and the conversations longer. Some who had previously passed us straight, now stopped for a chat. We were on our second dozen set of posterboards and several markers had already run dry. The people have a lot to say.
There are others of course. Those who shout and bellow more than they listen. Who boil over with anger and frustration, who are so eager and desperate for change, itching for action. The eye for an eye crowd. There are a fair number of these folks around; they’re loud and aggressive. I can listen for a while, but I’d rather be catching up on my sleep. Because these people are not usually there to help in the day time- when the real hard work of trying to get John and Joan Public to envision and articulate concrete solutions, to think about more than just partisan politics, heck, just to stop and listen for a few minutes. The heart and minds work.
The real revolution. Replacing one misleader with another who may be marginally better is not a long term solution. Of course, in the short run, Rohee must go, Ramotar must go, etc, but the lack of creative leaders is the real problem. Along with the fear, complacency, and unwillingness to attempt to change the society. The despair and defeatism, the belief that nothing will ever change, the system that forces people to work til they die, that says normal, business, and Jamzone are more important than lives and rights- this is what we’re really fighting.
Not everyone gets it, yet. But we’ve just begun. A luta continua. Join us- High St, between Brickdam and Hadfield Streets, Georgetown
I stink. We have been peeing in the street, behind trees and in dank corners. I’ve had less than 5 good hours of sleep in the last 2 days and am fighting to keep my eyes open. The sun is white hot and even though I’m under an umbrella, I can feel my skin parching. My tongue is dry and heavy in my mouth and my lips are cracked. It’s an effort to speak. I’m dying to drink some water, juice, beer, coconut water, peanut punch, swank, Guinness, but it’s still Ramadan, damn it. I just had a conversation with a woman who went on and on about how horrible it was that a school was burned but who said nary a word about the three men who were killed. You can build back a school (they’re starting tomorrow actually), but you can’t bring the dead back to life! Don’t tell us that Ramotar has to go, that you’re in support of us, that we’re doing a good job and then wave and go along your way. I need you to sit here with me. Yes, the sun is fucking hot. Yes, there is nowhere proper to relieve yourself. Yes, most people just pass us straight, on their way to and from work, shopping, or drinking/partying session. Yes, we have mad people within our midst and sometimes you will look around and wonder what the hell you’re doing, if you are not mad yourself. Yes, sometimes people will walk or drive past and tell you that you should go to hell, that you need a good choking, that you are wasting your time, that nothing will ever change. Yes, sometimes in talking to people, or in not talking- as they pass you straight, you will feel the tears pricking in your eyes and the howls gathering at the back of your throat. Yes, the same police who pulled your shelter down around you, making you now sleep on cardboard in the park, and huddle under insufficient umbrellas under the tropical weather will pass by again to snicker and harass you some more. Yes, the ‘politicians’ who say they care will come and sit and talk among themselves- they will not offer to help you light the diyas- a slippery, frustrating process that leaves you with ghee all over your hands and every other diya being blown out by the wind. Nor will they talk with the people passing by, asking them what they think. Instead, they will leave and go pick up the mic in the usual spot and tell people what they should do. A luta continua..
The park we are occupying is just around the corner from Leopold st- home of many trans Guyanese. I don’t know exactly how they ended up there, just that trans folks often get rejected and thrown out by their families, and that there are several (unofficial) ‘group homes’ in that area. The neighborhood is not a welcoming one at all- with a plethora of ‘junkies’, pimps, choke and robbers, hustlers, etc. But it’s not sleeping on a cardboard box on a piss and shit stink pavement in front of Parliament. Still, the ‘girls’ have to navigate this hostile terrain every day, on their way to and from work. “Eh! You is a man or a woman?” “Look, she walking on her hands. Ey- why you walking like that?” Even the more innocuous ones “Hey girl, how was work tonight?” or comments about clothes, hairstyle, etc, reveal a level of homophobia and transphobia that disturbs me. These are my comrades in the struggle after all, passionate revolutionaries for justice and freedom but here they are exhibiting intolerance and advocating hate. Can I really tie my bundle with these people? Will I ever find true community? Or will I have to add this to the list of battles I’m already fighting? “Hey, that’s my community you’re talking about. Those people are my friends. Hearing this kind of talk from you all bothers me. I am fighting for human rights and freedoms for all.” The newspaper article already outed me- LGBT activist. On this they were right, even if they got other key facts wrong- we were not evicted- the state tried but failed and our occupation continues. I vow to bring my rainbow flag the next time I go home to bathe and plant it next to the Guyana flag and Linden solidarity banner. PS- Eid Mubarak!
We are a motley crew. Aside from the Red Thread stalwarts, we are a horse cart man, an Ayotallah Khomeni admirer, an alarmingly thin woman and her pregnant 17 yr old daughter, one mad professor, one half cracked girl who daringly confronts hypocritical politicians, police, and pimps, but wails at the loss of her sister, mother’s love, and children, a sweetie vendor, several taxi men, a female bus driver, several bicyclists and former police/army men, a PhD or two, lawyer, a newspaper columnist in fear of his life, an unemployed youth man, a tall mechanic man, a recovering alcoholic counselor, an unrepentant sleepyguard with a love for rum and learning, several church women, several party people, and me. We are mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, fighters and dreamers. We are the 1%. We do yoga and stretches in the morning dew, tell jokes at midnight, and watch each other’s back. A woman donates a tray of eggs. A man drops off candles and stays to gaff til dayclean. Others come and go. We need you to stay. We need to work together to bring change to Guyana. We need revolutionary love. JOIN US. Together we can make this a reality.
There is an uprising of massive proportions taking place in Linden Guyana. In early July protestors from the Linden communities began daily protests over the lack of jobs [there is 70%
80%unemployment] and their abominable living conditions in a country rich in mineral resources such as bauxite and gold. On the 18th July three men were murdered and many more injured when the Guyanese police attacked the protestors with teargas, pellets and live ammunition.
Twenty three days after the killing of three unarmed protesters in Linden many Guyanese are still in shock. The only other time in our country’s history when peaceful protesters were shot occurred 64 years ago under British colonial rule.
The police massacre on July 18th, 2012 was unprecedented in its barbarity. They fired live ammunition into a crowd peacefully protesting against a 300% hike in their electricity rate. Sure this is the same police force that for many years was led by a rapist; lit an innocent 14 year old boy’s genitals on fire and regularly robs and terrorize the populace. But on July 18th, 2012 they crossed a line that triggered something altogether different in the people of Linden. Now, everything had changed but not everyone felt that way though as I was soon finding out.
Less than 48 hours after the massacre I attended a forum recognizing women’s unwaged work put on by the Women and Gender Equality Commission on. The welcoming remarks, the first, second, and then third speakers all delivered their messages on cue, with nary a word about Linden. I sat there transfixed unable to believe my ears. I had expected as a show of decency, at the very least, a moment of silence for the people killed and injured in Linden. I was immediately scolded when I raised the point.
This is not a women’s issue!
Mothers had lost their sons, but I was being told that this was not a women’s issue. Women had been shot for exercising their right to protest, to express themselves, to assemble in their community, but this was not a women’s issue.
In Linden unemployment is estimated to be about 70%. Most mothers do not know where their child’s next meal is going to come from. However, the Minister of Labor was there talking about husbands helping their wives make the bed and respecting them more.
For an hour and a half the program continued as if all were normal. Finally bursting with the insanity of it all, I approached one of the committee members.
Aren’t we at least going to have a moment of silence for the Linden martyrs?
She looked at me with mild surprise and asked me to wait until she spoke to the chairperson.
“Well it’s not really a women’s issue,” she said when she same back. “But we’ll see. She said she’ll think about it.”
Finally after the minister was finished and just before tea break there was a brief, grudging moment of silence. “There you got your moment” was immediately followed with a condescending pat on the back.
This is not a women’s issue?
I wanted to scream.
Days later standing outside the governing People’s Progressive Party headquarters scream was exactly what I did.
I must admit screaming in public isn’t something I usually do, unlike one of my friends who does this on a fairly regular basis. My rage is a nurturing belly heat held close. I rant and rave, sure, and have been told by a young friend that I can be ‘scary’ when riled up. I am also no stranger to rowing living as I do in a country with numerous opportunities for provocation.
When I was little and in one of my fiery moods, my mother would look at me in bewilderment and ask “Girl, is where you get that passion from, huh?”
She would also try to convince me that ‘you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar’ but I wasn’t interested in catching flies.
Still, even though I have all this passion, I usually don’t scream in public. I don’t count chanting on picket lines.
But that morning, nothing felt better than standing on the street corner and screaming “Murderers!” up at the faces peering out of the windows at us.
The shock and numbness that descended on me after news of the killing w
as lifting, and rage was fast replacing it.
The first set of people on the picket line the day after the shooting were the women from Red Thread.
When I stood alone outside of Police Headquarters with my placard a Staff Sergeant shouted at me to “MOVE OR BE MOVED!”
I was supremely relieved when a vehicle pulled up and Andaiye appeared.
Nevermind that she is a 69 year old woman, just barely recovered from cancer and a heart attack. The fact that she had come to join the picket filled me with fearless righteousness. More courage came from N, another Red Thread woman.
“Mommy, you going and picket?” N’s young son had asked her.
“Yes,” she’d replied.
“But what if they shoot you like they shot those men?” the child had asked anxiously.
N came anyway.
With Indian and Amerindian heritage, her and me, ‘straight hairs’ as Andaiye likes to say, were in the minority on the picket line.
Unfortunately like most things in Guyana the shooting had already been racialized. A protest grounded in economics had degenerated into the usual race politricks. Linden was a Black people town after all and an Indian-led government had imposed the rate hike and ordered police to the scene. Similar protests by Indian people in their villages were not met with a violent response. So it was absolutely correct to read a racial element into the events.
Race is never far from the scene anyway here in lovely Guyana. The picketers with signs that read “We are all Lindeners” were mostly Afro-Guyanese. Columnist Freddie Kissoon, a few opposition party members and a couple other straight hair women from Red Thread were the sum total of Indo-Guyanese on the picket line and at the candlelight vigils.
Picketing is something we are familiar with. We’ve been doing it for years. Mostly we protest issues related to woman and children rights. From pushing for passage of the Sexual Offences Act, to calling for justice for the tortured teen, an increase in the old-age pension, punishment for the unlicensed doctor killing and maiming women in bottom house abortions, and most recently justice for the rape victim of former Police Commissioner Henry Greene.
Some other protests like the middle finger one aimed at our former president, I instigated outside State House, had to do with freedom of speech.
Our pickets are always peaceful and while we may have been looked at as ‘fringe loonies’ by many, for us, taking a public stance in the streets is vital.
Dissent is discouraged here in Guyana, with fear and the threat of retribution causing many to bite their tongues and look the other way in the face of all kinds of outrages. So we are committed to taking back the streets, to making public statements and speaking out. Even if/when we are afraid.
The people of Linden were peacefully protesting as well when twenty three of them were shot, three in the heart. One a teenager, one mentally challenged and the other father of two and chief supporter of his 79 year old mother.
Ron Somerset the 17 year old lost his mother years ago, but his aunts stepped into the void and took care of him as their own.
Shemroy Boyea was mentally challenged and known to be kindhearted and helpful. His mother was on her way home from her job as a security guard when she heard the news of his death.
Daphne Lewis a pensioner isn’t just mourning her son, she is also worrying about how she is going to get by now without his help. There is no safety net for people like her in Guyana.
It is always women who bear the biggest brunt of poverty. As caregivers, women are responsible for finding food to put into hungry children’s mouths, money for school uniforms, medicine, shoes, small treats etc.
It is women who have to cook, clean, wash, as well as nurture, and too often, father as well as mother the children.
So even though the official unemployment in Linden is about 70%, the women of Linden are fully employed. They may not be earning any money, but they are laboring.
Even though no woman was killed in Linden on July 18th, this is absolutely a women’s issue!
Women were shot. Women are taking care of relatives and friends who were shot. Women are camping out in the streets. Women are lying down in front of bulldozers sent to clear the roads. Women are helping to move logs to re-block the road. Women are cooking and feeding their community members and fellow protesters. Women are reporting on the goings on. Women are part of the community’s leadership, negotiating and strategizing the next steps forward.
Women have been and continue to be at the forefront of the Linden uprising as well as beyond in the larger Guyana freedom movement.
Sherlina Nageer is a Guyanese human rights activist, feminist, teacher, and environmentalist.