Getting Located: Three Weeks in Grenada

By Nicole Smythe-Johnson


As a Jamaican
one feels a priori entitled to Caribbean-ness. There’s a sense that “we are the Caribbean”. Even the other islands—their tourist shops filled with Bob Marley tote bags and “no problem mon” mugs—know it. When people think “Caribbean”, they think “Jamaica”. [1] I’m not trying to start a fight here. I’m just owning privilege, locating myself and being clear about my blind spots.

When I set out to travel the Caribbean then, I was a little too sure of myself. I knew I’d encounter new and surprising things, one always does in travel, but I thought I’d recognise more than I did. I thought I’d know more codes than I did. And I lost a little skin over it, because as I’ve told foreigners, so many times, “we are not all the same”. It’s hard to become the foreigner. It’s hard to accept the full weight of your un-knowing. Especially when you’re from a place that tourists routinely inundate, so that there’s a righteous edge to your claim of local-ness.

To my mind, I knew Grenada. I’d never been, but growing up on the University of the West Indies Mona campus, the tiny island state had become iconic of radical political activity in the English-speaking Caribbean. I knew about the revolution (1979-1983), the dashing Maurice Bishop. I’d been to the panel discussions, seen how even decades later they still devolved into finger-pointing indignation and charges of treachery. I had family that had lived in Grenada, friends from there. I’d eaten the exquisite chocolate, used the famous nutmeg pain-relieving spray. I knew Grenada.

What’s more, I’d often heard that Grenada was very similar to Jamaica. And it was, in some ways. In terms of landscape, Grenada is more like Jamaica than anywhere I’ve ever been, like my favourite parts of Jamaica anyway. The island is jewel green and mountainous with narrow roads that wind along contour lines. I felt “at home”—but not my everyday home in Kingston, stay-cation home, weekend-in-the-countryside home. So the familiarity was there, but not that of a local, that of a holiday-maker, what Jamaicans call a dry land tourist. [2]

“. . . its not Rasta, its the Grenadian flag. I felt foolish, tourist foolish.”

The red, green and gold only added to a growing sense of the uncanny. On my first day I went for a drive with my host, co-founder of Groundation, Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe. All along the road there were walls, rocks, curbs painted red, green and yellow. At first, that seemed natural. It would be in Jamaica, Rastas of course. It wasn’t until Malaika said, “It was just Independence day, so everything is decorated in Grenadian colours” that I realised its not Rasta, its the Grenadian flag. I felt foolish, tourist foolish.

I remember regular (often joking, sometimes very serious) charges of “Jamaican cultural imperialism” in my American college’s Caribbean Students’ Association meetings. It was part of my motivation for applying for the Tilting Axis Fellowship, exploring the way Jamaican (cultural) hegemony within the English-speaking Caribbean might blinder my breadth as a “Caribbean thinker” (whatever that might mean). I’d often rolled my eyes at visiting curators who seemed to confuse their work trip to the Caribbean with a vacation. Or the ones too busy looking for what they expected to find, to engage what they were in fact encountering. Yet here I was, foolish by my own standards, thinking all the foreign curator things.

There were also the kites. In much of the Caribbean it is customary to fly kites around Easter; it tends to be windier at that time of year, though some also argue for a symbolic connection between kites and Christ’s resurrection. In the Southern Caribbean there’s an additional element though, and I’d heard about this but I didn’t understand it until I spent two weeks living on a hill in St David’s (about half hour east of the capital, St George’s). In addition to your standard kite flying, which makes a gentle flapping noise if any at all, Grenadian fliers do not land their kites when they’re done for the day, instead they tie them to tree limbs and the kites continue to fly from that anchor for days. They add a little flap of paper to the nose of the kite (Grenadians call it the “mad-bull”) that flaps in the wind, making the strangest noise; a whirring sound that I’ve heard people from the Southern Caribbean liken to a mosquito flying right by your ear. I didn’t find it quite that annoying, but then I don’t have to live with it. I’ve never heard that sound in Jamaica; I don’t think we have that tradition. The first time I heard it, I thought it was chanting. That would be the likely explanation in the hills of Jamaica, just your run of the mill natural mystic blowing through the air. I kept asking, “what’s that noise?” To which everyone would reply, “what noise?” It took a few days to bridge the gap.

“In a way, Grenada looking like Jamaica was part of the difficulty. It looked so much like home that I couldn’t get used to the idea that it was as safe as I was assured it was.”

There were other more practical confusions. Transport was an ongoing trial. Public transport is good around St George’s and Grand Anse, but not outside that. Elsewhere, buses were unscheduled and infrequent, especially on weekends and at night. So that even if I did brave the quiet, largely bush-lined, tree-canopied dirt road, with the barking dogs that rush at you teeth-bared, I’d wait at the bus stop on the main road for an unknowable period. It was worse if you got home after sundown at around six, since the road was not lit for a good stretch. In a way, Grenada looking like Jamaica was part of the difficulty. It looked so much like home that I couldn’t get used to the idea that it was as safe as I was assured it was. “Lone woman walking on a dark country road” sounded like the opening line of a suspense thriller screenplay to me. Yet, no one seemed to share my anxiety about the dogs, or the possibility of being brutally murdered and buried in the bush somewhere.

On my hosts’ advice, I made a few attempts, but my body betrayed me. I could not keep my heart rate even, or stop my palms from sweating. My eyes seemed to dart over my shoulder of their own accord. It’s the point at which “street smarts” become an auto-immune disorder. It didn’t seem worth fighting to over-ride what Jamaicans euphemistically call “safety-consciousness” either, I would be headed back to Kingston soon enough. Grenadian taxis are London black cab expensive. And though many Grenadians hitchhike, my safety-conscious body would not be won over on that point either. So for my last week I migrated to Grand Anse. Accommodation in the touristy area just south of St George’s strained the budget, but I could get to and from town by bus within 15 to 20 minutes, even on a Sunday. The ease of movement, and the familiarity of (relatively) busy, well-lit streets made all the difference.

Navigating the “art scene” required similar adjustments. Before I arrived, I revisited a presentation I gave in Glasgow, thinking it might serve as a skeleton for a presentation in Grenada, but within days I could tell I would need to go back to the drawing board. I’d spent a month in Scotland thinking about whether that context could yield any insights relevant to the relatively under-resourced Caribbean contexts I’ve worked in (Kingston, Port-of-Spain, Nassau). My Grenada trip made me wonder how relevant a Jamaican or Trinidadian context could be for Grenada, or St. Vincent and the Grenadines, or St Kitts. I could not find a way in; no cafes frequented by “creative types”, few galleries (and those that existed seemed geared toward tourists and ex-pats). Grenada put my thesis to the test. Is there an artistic community without dedicated “spaces”, does a “scene” exist even if I cannot perceive its nodes? What is the architecture of that network-community and how might a curator engage its by-ways.

I was heartened to find that Groundation was asking the same questions. Founded in 2009 by yoga therapist and artist Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe and human rights lawyer Richie Maitland, the organisation describes itself as “a social action collective [that] focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth.” [3] Since then, they’ve established a board of collaborators- which includes Feminist Labour Advocate, Kimalee Phillip and Youth and Literacy Advocate, Ayisha John- and piloted several projects that straddle creative practice and social justice.

In 2013, they partnered with author Oonya Kempadoo and the Mt. Zion Full Gospel Revival Ministry to found the Mount Zion Community Library, a response to the closure of the Grenada National Library. The National Library was housed in an eighteenth century building on the Carenage waterfront in St George’s that deteriorated so badly it became unsafe for use and was closed in 2011. The library also houses the national archives, which remain in the building at considerable risk.

Groundation is known for their LGBTQ activism, so a “Gospel Revival Ministry” seemed an odd bedfellow. According to Groundation board member Ayisha John, it was Oonya Kempadoo who connected Groundation with Pastor Clifford John and Cessell Greenidge, founders of Mount Zion Full Gospel Revival Ministry. For the first few years, the church donated space in their building for use by the library. The project has since been handed over to it’s own dedicated board, moved to a larger space, and renamed The Grenada Community Library.

In 2014, Groundation also collaborated with ARC Magazine on Forgetting is not an Option, a “collaborative cultural memory project” aiming to develop and archive creative work about the Grenadian Revolution. The programme included a four-day programme of panels on art and activism, a film night, and art and creative writing workshops. In 2015 they launched their Discrimination is Discrimination project, a series of posters featuring homophobic dancehall and soca music lyrics adjusted to target another group- Rastas, Black or Indian people etc.

In October 2015 they worked with GRENCHAP (Grenada’s chapter of the Caribbean HIV/AIDS Partnership) to make a presentation on behalf of the islands’ LGBTI community at a hearing of the Inter American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC.

After the disappointing loss of a grant in 2016—due to the islands’ banks refusal to do business with the relatively controversial organisation, leaving them without a bank account and formal financial infrastructure—Groundation was pausing to re-assess their direction. In particular, they were trying to get a realistic picture of their context and their place within it. Who are they serving? Why? How?

I became a sounding board for that process. I indulged my amateurism, carefully noting my confusions and misconceptions, and sharing them with the Groundation team as a way to expand my knowledge while sharing my enthusiasm and sense of possibility: a luxury of the fresh-eyed and bushy-tailed. I also met with a number artists and writers to talk with them about their sense of the Grenadian arts landscape.

“. . . everyone lamented a lack of peers, a feeling of isolation in their practices.”

A recurring theme in all my discussions was the lack of an “artistic community”. Though Groundation provided me with a list of recommendations of people to meet, and many of those people referred me to other artists, writers, fashion designers and so on, everyone lamented a lack of peers, a feeling of isolation in their practices. Cultivating a sense of community was also among Groundation’s desired outcomes for their arts programming. Given their focus on arts and human rights activism (particularly LGBTQ rights), I had already been thinking about Groundation in parallel with Glasgow-based Arika, which I’d visited earlier in that year (see this earlier essay for details). The team and I began looking at Arika’s Episodes and thinking about their deployment of art as “aesthetic register of sociality”. It seemed that a register of sociality—that is, a manifestation of the social possibilities generated by people talking, eating, dancing, imagining together—might be just the thing to jumpstart a new phase of programming. Additionally, the Episodes were not art object focused, instead they integrated a whole range of collaborators—deejays, writers, activists, performers etc. This seemed in line with the Groundation team’s interdisciplinary background and approach.

In one of our conversations, Malaika came up with the idea of a town hall meeting. Over a few days, we massaged that into something less formal, more like a lime. [4] We did not want to impose a structure; we wanted to make existing structures visible. We wanted to shift the focus from what was not there, to what was; tilting the axis of the conversations we’d been having. A lime—that typically Caribbean form of open-ended sociality—seemed like as good a model as any.

Initially, I did not want to do the event in a gallery: I hoped for a bar or some other non-art specific space. To get conversation going, I planned to give a brief presentation about my work and what brought me to Grenada. I wanted to experiment with doing that outside of an institutional art context, in hopes that it would help me escape an institutional style—focused on demonstration of expertise—in favour of a genuine invitation to dialogue, in line with my research interests in counter-publics, usership and so on. [5] Malaika disagreed. We’d talked about how the few galleries in Grenada did not seem geared toward Grenadians so much as to ex-pats and tourists. She thought it was more important to take possession of the gallery, reframing it as a space that could have utility for Grenadians. The idea of a gallery as an artists’ town hall also appealed, particularly after hearing Collective’s Kate Gray talk about how a visual arts organisation could position itself as a “resource” or “tool” for a city/town/island. We decided to approach Meg Conlon. She had a gallery called Art Upstairs just off the Carenage in a beautiful old building that was once a courthouse.

To keep things playful (and overheads low), Malaika hand-drew the flyers and we photocopied them on coloured paper. We shared digital versions via Instagram, Facebook and the Groundation website. We provided a few refreshments, but put a request for people to bring snacks and drinks on the flyers. I recommended the BYOB (bring your own bottle) approach as a way to invite participants to own the proceedings and take liberties in shaping them.

The first half of the event was split between my presentation and more structured group discussions around specific questions. I talked about my research interest in art within the broadest possible frame, untethered by the white cube and even the exhibition. I pointed out interesting projects across the region like Beta Local’s La Ivan Illichand Walking Seminar programmes, highlighting their sensitivity to context. I also talked about Arika’s Episodes and explained the rationale behind the Lime, making reference to the various practices I’d encountered since my arrival in Grenada and the potential I saw for collaboration and programme development. The second half was more informal, with people chatting in groups, exchanging contacts, and sharing their work. Thankfully, people drank, ate and affably interrupted the facilitators (Malaika Brooks Smith Lowe and I) and each other all throughout the proceedings.

“How am I measuring success? People had a good time, they got heated and excited, they engaged each other, and came to consider themselves a part of a group, united by a shared interest in unleashing and celebrating creative activity in Grenada. I cannot say how that will evolve, what concrete initiatives will emerge from it. I can only say that practices that may have seemed isolated and irrelevant, found themselves connected and valued.”

There were just over 30 participants, ranging in age from teenagers to people in their sixties, and it was successful enough that Groundation held another Lime shortly after my departure, this time on the beach. How am I measuring success? People had a good time, they got heated and excited, they engaged each other, and came to consider themselves a part of a group, united by a shared interest in unleashing and celebrating creative activity in Grenada. I cannot say how that will evolve, what concrete initiatives will emerge from it. I can only say that practices that may have seemed isolated and irrelevant, found themselves connected and valued. New possibilities came into view, and the revelation of new possibilities is precisely the link between creative activity and social change that Groundation seeks to activate through their programming.

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We also decided to develop an online survey that would collect basic biographical and professional info on artists in Grenada. Things like the area they live in, their educational background, had they ever applied for or been granted funding? The idea came from research on the Jamaican art scenethat NLS Kingston, an experimental art space in Jamaica, first carried out in 2012. At the time, NLS was less than a year old and artist-director Deborah Anzinger had just moved back to Jamaica after living in the US for about a decade. She knew she wanted to start a space, but she wanted to be deliberate about developing programming that responded to local conditions. Sixty-four artists completed NLS’s survey, and the organisation was left with a bank of data that helped them determine their programming focus.

“In the absence of an accredited art school, a gallery system that supports regular exhibitions, or any other dedicated space for artistic experimentation and engagement; few practitioners consider themselves professional artists.”

The Groundation survey was not as successful. At time of writing only 12 artists have completed the survey and while Grenada’s population of just over 100,000 is substantially smaller than Jamaica’s approximately 2.8 million, 12 does not seem a large enough number from which to deduce anything. I think the survey could have been promoted more widely and for a longer period of time via Groundation’s social media and website, but the problem may also be with the approach. For one, the survey assumes that artists would be computer literate and have Internet access. Additionally, given the size of the population it may have been smarter to do a survey that targeted a broader category than “visual artists”, maybe “cultural producers” or “creatives”. In the absence of an accredited art school, a gallery system that supports regular exhibitions, or any other dedicated space for artistic experimentation and engagement; few practitioners consider themselves professional artists.

At the Lime for example, several people approached me to ask if their practices qualified them as “visual artists”. There were people like Jane Nurse, a textile designer with an MA in Environmental Science and a day job as a tour guide and translator, and Kenroy George who’d worked as a web developer in New York and coordinated an annual music festival in Morocco (Oasis Festival) before returning to Grenada to start an all-natural skincare line (Numad) and co-found an organisation to support entrepreneurship (GrenStart), all while sitting on the board of the Grenada National Trust. There was Neisha La Touche, a lifestyle blogger and carnival costume designer, and Vanel Cuffie, a figurative painter looking for ways to make a living from his work outside of a gallery context. Cuffie struck me as particularly enterprising, having developed an app that sells his work as smartphone wallpaper, and a line of attractive pocket tees featuring his work.

As Arika had suggested in my conversation with them, “community” could be just as confining as it was sustaining. The delineation of a discrete “artistic community” seemed inappropriate for the Grenadian context. And further, if we are working with a definition of art that is beyond the art object, should the definition of “artist” not expand as well?

All this is not to say that there aren’t artists working more conventionally, by Euro-American standards, in Grenada. Susan Mains and her son Asher for example, are both artists and they run the Art and Soul Gallery in Spiceland Mall in Grand Anse. Like Art UpstairsArt and Soul exhibits the work of Grenadian and Grenada-based artists but in a strictly commercial sense, with less focus on the discursive potential of the exhibition format. The gallery does host several exhibitions per year however, along with regular “pop-up” events that function as mini-art fairs with booths offered to artists, rather than galleries, free of charge.

Susan Mains is also a member of the Grenada Arts Council and commissioner of the Grenada National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Grenada has had an official pavilion at both the 2015 and 2017 Biennales. Though it is a laudable achievement, it is a bit disappointing that only two of the eight artists included in the 2017 exhibition, titled The Bridge in reference to “global dialogues,” are Grenadian: Asher Mains and Milton Williams. It is not unheard of for a national pavilion to feature artists from elsewhere, but it does attract criticism, particularly when the pavilion is that of an under-represented nation exhibiting the work of artists from nations that are well represented. A famous recent case is the 2013 and 2015 Kenyan Pavilions, which were dominated by Chinese artists. [6]

I have not seen The Bridge. I’ve seen a few images of Asher Mains’, Milton Williams’, British artist Jason deCaires Taylor’s and Brazilian Alexandre Murucci’s work, and a ten minute video on the Grenada Pavilion website provided me with some insight into Khaled Hafez (France), Rashid Al Kahlifa (Bahrain), Mahmoud Obaidi (Canada/Iraq), and Zena Assi’s (Lebanon) work. While deCaires Taylor’s installation references the underwater sculpture park he founded off the west coast of Grenada while living there, I could not detect the connection between the work of any of the other non-Grenadian artists and Grenada in particular. Curator Omar Donia’s statement describes the show as two conversations, one in “Nature and Preservation” and another in “War and Conflict”, but the link between those two conversations, and with Grenada remains obscure: “We are a tiny particle of sand in an endless sandy beach, ever changing with the vagaries of man and the environment.” [7] Reviews do not hint at those links either. Press coverage of The Bridge was dominated by the striking similarity between deCaires Taylor’s installation and British artist Damien Hirst’s blockbuster Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable. [8]

The approach taken by first time Venice participants Antigua and Barbuda on the other hand, guided by art historian and collector Barbara Paca, seems a more pertinent engagement with La Biennale and the narrative of global art history that it indexes. Where the Grenadian Pavilion rings a bit hollow, the Antiguan Pavilion went with a solo exhibition of the work of seminal Antiguan artist and polymathic eccentric Frank Walter (1926 – 2009). The exhibition, which includes paintings, sculpture, audio recordings and writing, highlights the expanse that has been over-written by global art history, gesturing towards the limitations of that narrative project, rather than attempting to integrate via a dilution of difference.

Grenadian artists like Canute Caliste (1914 – 2005) and Doliver Morain (b. 1959) would be excellent subjects for this kind of art historical research and curatorial treatment. Not because Walter, Caliste and Morain could all be described as folk or “outsider” artists, but because their practices illustrate the specificity of the Caribbean context. A context in which, as art historian Veerle Poupeye has written of Jamaican art history, artists who would elsewhere be defined as outsiders have become the “ultimate cultural insiders”. [9]

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There aren’t many exhibition opportunities in Grenada, and few creative producers maintain the kind of studio practice that could sustain a range of galleries, but popular art is everywhere. Projects in Trinidad like designers Kriston Chen, Agyei Archer and Debbie Estwick’s collaboration with sign painter Bruce Cayonne—using fete signs as inspiration for an indigenous Trinidadian typeface and material for a line of notebooks— are excellent models for developing projects that explore what contemporary art might mean in Grenada. Bahamian Blue Curry and Trinidadian Christopher Cozier’s curatorial project Out of Place (2016) is another model for thinking art beyond the art object and beyond the gallery. The two developed a series of “artistic actions” engaging the yard’s Port-of-Spain neighbourhood in collaboration with other artists. [10] The project sought to ask three questions:

How can we shift the encounter of visual objects or actions to more public spaces?

How can we alter or widen the way we understand the visual by dissolving received traditional boundaries between the object or action, its maker, and the viewer — untangling the idea of authorship?

How can we stage and engage the artistic process as a record of a creative or investigative action, as an experiential event available to everyone, rather than as a commodity, exclusively?

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To my mind, this kind of interrogation seems more relevant to contemporary art in Grenada than a Venice Pavilion. That is not to say that a pavilion is not a worthy project. It does put Grenada on the map, so to speak, but that’s only compelling if you submit to the idea that the map (of global art) is drawn in Venice. If however, you are interested in tilting the axis, you might prefer to question the ‘meta’ of that narrative, to tease out and challenge its epistemological underpinnings. Presenting a show that functions as a disruption of that epistemology, through some art historical intervention—as I would argue the Antiguan Pavilion does—is one way to approach that. The institutional and formal interrogation of a project like Out of Place is another way to undermine an epistemological approach to art that does not accommodate Grenada’s (and much of the world’s) realities. My practice is one of identifying and generating other possible interventions in the mapping of ‘global art’ (who does it, how, why) from the perspective of the othered space, the outpost, or in Caribbean parlance those “back of God’s ear” spots.

When I met with Susan Mains she told me about the Grenada Contemporary open call and exhibition—put on by the Grenada Arts Council in partnership with the Art and Soul Gallery—  from which the Grenadian artists included in The Bridge were selected. She expressed a desire for more artists to take advantage of the opportunity presented by the open call. I did not think of it then, but looking back now, I wonder if the open call does not suffer from the same problem as our survey. Perhaps the arts council should consider shaping opportunities like Venice to suit Grenada, rather than attempting to fit Grenada to Venice’s model. What might a broader call (beyond the narrow category of visual artist) leading to a presence at the Biennale—it might be interesting to think outside of the exhibition format in its strictest sense—yield? Or, an exhibition that reflects Grenada’s rich popular art traditions or engages its still contentious and unfolding political history—another indication of the significance of grassroots agency and popular activism within the Grenadian imaginary.

For my part, during my visit I could not stop imagining a grand public art-popular painting street festival. If the government donates paint to the communities every Independence, what would a semi-structured collaboration between the island’s sign-painters, muralists, designers etc etc and these neighbourhoods look like? It’s a simple idea; just a deliberate zeroing in on a practice that is already widespread. It could be an on-going programme, anchored with events that might evolve into a kind of street festival celebrating local creatives. Let me be clear, these imaginings are not to be understood as a prescription. They are merely imaginings, voiced (in this text, at the Lime and in multiple one-on-one conversations with Grenadian creative producers) more as a question, a kind of conversation prompt than anything. Because, like the sound of kites, I’m not terribly familiar and I don’t have to live with it.

My hope is that having initiated those conversations, with Groundation and the broader community, I will have supported my host organisation and other Grenadian creatives in developing a genuinely home-grown approach to arts organising.

Caribbean Unity in support of Tambourine Army activist Latoya Nugent

As concerned members of the Caribbean region and diaspora, we are outraged by the unreasonable and absurd charges of three counts of “malicious communication” under Section 9 (1) of the Cybercrimes Act of 2015 by the Jamaican state towards human rights defender and activist, Latoya Nugent. We are also outraged by the unfair treatment and hostility demonstrated during her arrest in which she was denied medical attention when needed. Further, we believe, as other activists across the region, that Latoya is being charged in direct response to her activism against sexual violence. Specifically, she is being targeted for calling out perpetrators of violence. We are relieved at the most recent news (22nd March) that Latoya’s bail has been extended, yet she still faces charges in court as the Jamaican state attempts to silence her work and the work of other human rights activists. We believe that Latoya is innocent of the charges, and we support her intention to fight them.

 

We stand with Latoya Nugent and the Tambourine Army. We hope that she will be vindicated by the court. The work of the Tambourine Army is critical to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and securing the rights and freedom of women and children in Jamaica. This work reflects the recent movement building across the region to end gender based violence. The focus in Jamaica led by the Tambourine Army is on survivor empowerment and breaking silence around sexual abuse and violence against women and girls. This is necessary work in creating change in our communities across the region. The Jamaican state ought to be supporting these efforts instead of targeting activists who dare to speak out against violence.

 

What happened to Latoya is not specific to Jamaica. Across the Caribbean region, we see an increasing attempt to enact cyber crime and repressive legislation that fails to protect the most vulnerable and the most marginalized in our communities; and instead attempts to silence and criminalize dissent and human rights organizing. When inappropriate images and videos of young girls, boys and children are widely distributed across the internet, the state’s commitment to its own legislation and to human rights remains silent. When lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer and intersex people are bullied and harassed online, where is the state’s commitment to human rights and to its people? The state should not be able to pick and choose whose rights are worth protecting and whose lives are not.

 

We recognize that the internet is often used as a space for human rights defenders to disseminate information, organize, advocate and mobilize. Accordingly, what we need are digital security frameworks that not only centre, but that protect, human rights. The Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) in its “Our Right to Safety Report”, noted the numbers of “[…] cases in which human rights defenders have been charged with defamation and, in some cases, blasphemy because they have published articles, blog entries or tweets or expressed opinions in public.” Death threats, online stalking, image manipulation and harassment continue to be directed towards human rights defenders through the use of text messages, emails and other digital media platforms. This underscores the need to decriminalize online dissent; we don’t need to be criminalized, we must be protected!

 

We are all impacted by Latoya’s arrest. As democratic spaces across the Caribbean region continue to shrink, in addition to being accompanied by increasing police and state surveillance and repression, we recognize the urgency and necessity of maintaining spaces for civil disobedience and organizing. We demand that our fundamental human right to resist and mobilize be respected. And we call upon the government of Jamaica, specifically the Director of Public Prosecutions Paula Llewellyn who has taken an interest in this case, to drop all charges against Latoya Nugent.

 

When the state becomes preoccupied with arresting human rights defenders instead of advocating for the welfare of its people, we the people, are no longer a priority. It is time that we all become a priority. We will not waiver in our support for Latoya. We will remain steadfast in our commitment to human rights and justice. Even when our voices break, we will not be silenced. As Assata Shakur reminds us:

 

“It is our duty to fight for our freedom.
It is our duty to win.
We must love each other and support each other.
We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

 

In solidarity and support,

 

Kimalee Phillip, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

Samantha Peters, advocate and educator

Malaika Brooks-Smith-Lowe, co-founder Groundation Grenada

Damarlie Antoine, educator and feminist

Ayisha John, Groundation Grenada

KizzyAnn Abraham, advocate for Key Populations

Maureen St.Clair, peace educator/activist/artist

Angelique V. Nixon, CAISO sex & gender justice; IGDS UWI Trinidad

Stephanie Leitch, Founder WOMANTRA

Beverly Bain, Lecturer, Feminist activist and educator, University of Toronto

Nicole Hendrickson, co-founder & lead organiser Firecircle

Attillah Springer, writer and activist; Say Something TT

Tonya Haynes, Code Red & Catchafyah Feminist Network; IGDS UWI Barbados

Peter Weller, Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) Jamaica

Amina Doherty, Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID)

Caroline Allen, Researcher on Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Alicia Wallace, Director, Equality Bahamas

Gabrielle Hosein, CAFRA; IGDS UWI Trinidad

Hazel Brown, Network of NGOs of Trinidad and Tobago for the Advancement of Women

Renuka Anandjit, IGDS UWI Trinidad

Sunity Maharaj, Side by Side, Trinidad and Tobago

Elysse Marcellin, independent activist

Tyrone Buckmire, Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) Grenada

Abbas Mancey, Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) Guyana/ Canada

Marlon Bascombe, Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) Trinidad and Tobago

Vidyaratha Kissoon, Caribbean Male Action Network (CariMAN) Guyana

Jamaican curator Nicole Smythe-Johnson visits Grenada

Nicole Smythe-Johnson, Inaugural Tilting Axis Fellow 2017

Jamaican writer and independent curator, Nicole Smythe-Johnson, is currently visiting Grenada as the inaugural Tilting Axis Fellow. Hosted locally by Groundation Grenada, Nicole’s research focuses on Caribbean curatorial practice, particularly as it occurs in artist-run and other non-traditional art spaces.

Groundation Grenada is collaborating with Nicole to host an Artist Town Hall Lime, at which she will talk about her work and invite local voices to discuss the needs, challenges and opportunities around creating art in Grenada.

This event will take place on Thursday March 23rd 2017 from 5 – 7:30pm at the Art Upstairs Gallery on the Carenage (near Courts). All artists and art interested folks are warmly invited to join this community gathering and bring drink or snack to share.

If you are a visual artist in Grenada please take a few minutes to complete Groundation Grenada’s brief online survey, which will help paint a picture of the needs of the local art community. As part of the fellowship, Nicole has offered to review local artists’ portfolios and provide critical feedback on their work.

Submit a request for your free portfolio review by midnight Thurs. March 23rd. First come, first serve. 

 

Things you find in the sea #grenada #tiltingaxisfellowship

A post shared by Nicole Smythe-Johnson (@wordsmythen) on

Nicole has written for ARC magazine, Miami Rail, Flash Art, Jamaica Journal and several other local and international publications. She is currently Assistant Curator on an exhibition of the work of Jamaican painter John Dunkley at the Perez Art Museum in Miami opening May 2017. Apart from Grenada, Nicole’s journey of exploring innovative art space will take her to Puerto Rico, Barbados and Suriname, as part of her Tilting Axis Fellowship. This fellowship is in partnership with CCA Glasgow, David Dale Gallery and Studios, Hospitalfield, Mother Tongue and Tilting Axis. Supported by British Council Scotland.

Get in touch with Nicole: www.nicolesmythejohnson.com

 


cropped-cropped-cropped-realgroundationlogo1.jpgGroundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Our mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. We pursue our mission online, through our website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.

Give us Barrabas: on the planned and unjustified crucifixion of Bill 6

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Dream Variations (Langston Hughes Series), Benny Andrews

Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to releasing to the multitude one prisoner whom they wished.  And at that time they had a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”….

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?”

They said, “Barabbas!”

 Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?”

They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

 
 

Were this not the year of impossibilities becoming possible, scarcely would I have believed that a bill that promises fundamental rights for Grenadian citizens, would be on the brink of crucifixion.

That this bill may die a swift death as a result of deliberate misinformation and untruths peddled by today’s ‘elders’ and ‘chief priests’ is a travesty. Even more troubling is the penchant for those who lead this charge in killing the bill, to be arrogant in their lack of reasoning and so obstinate in their belligerence that they cannot see the irony in claiming that a certain sector of the community is bullying the public into voting yes, when they have themselves been harrying and hounding the public into voting no, with no credible justification (at least none that I have seen).

The story of Barrabas is apposite in this regard. The Jews, having been given the opportunity to vote for Jesus, to have the benefit of a man who would continue to give sight given to the blind, to heal the lame, and to perform miracles, were convinced, at the instigation and persuasion of certain ‘elders’, to vote instead for a man who was a known rioter and criminal. 

The parallels are uncanny today. Grenadian citizens are being assaulted by daily virulent Facebook posts and intimidating social media messages over many weeks and months to vote for Barrabas- i.e. contrary to a bill that accords long overdue rights to them, on the premise that it is their Christian duty to do so.  Doubtless, in my view, voting no is possibly one of the most unchristian and uncharitable acts one can do.

What does a vote for No mean?

I say so because a vote for no means denying some of the most vulnerable and deserving in society, essential rights. Aren’t Christians called to minister to minister to the same?

Voting no is saying that discrimination against disabled people is not deserving of constitutional protection and neither should the principle that men and women should have equal rights and should be treated as such.

Voting no means that government can restrain the press and that discrimination can continue based on party lines such that jobs, scholarships and assistance can be denied to non-party supporters, without any recourse to a remedy. This happens frequently.

Voting no means saying no to basic constitutional rights (including the right to a lawyer) for individuals who are under arrest, when for years the public have been agitating for more police accountability, particularly in the light of the notorious killing of Oscar Bartholomew and the many accounts from members of the public who have been subject to abuses in the prison and judicial system. These are rights that have existed for decades in other countries and it is shameful that we are only just obtaining the benefit.

It is a vote to reject the government exercising financial and fiscal responsibility when so many have had complaints over alleged corruption and wastefulness.

Essentially, voting no means that we prefer to have constitutional rights as we saw them in 1974, and that the last forty years do not matter. This is a sad and disappointing given that another opportunity for constitutional reform is unlikely to come around for decades. If we vote no, we would have chosen to reside in our Janet-house of rights when the world around us has moved on to casting their houses in more sturdy brick.

Why is it important that these rights are protected by the constitution?

Many people are questioning whether the protected rights necessarily need to be protected by the constitution. Elevating these rights to constitutional rights means that these rights are the supreme law of the land, and that they represent our values.

The government would be obliged to legislate in accordance with those rights and any laws that are contrary to those rights would be vulnerable to being struck down. Voting yes therefore empowers Grenadian citizens to be able to take concrete action against discrimination; this can only be a good thing.

The so-called ‘gay agenda’, gender identity and gender equality

I chose to focus on what a ‘no’ vote would mean, because its significance has been overtaken by a number of disingenuous arguments relating to gender equality and a so-called ‘gay agenda’.

In a nutshell, fringe ‘church leaders’ have seized on the term gender equality in Bill 6, and have propagated the view that gender equality somehow provides a route to gay marriage and the accordance of rights to LGBTQ persons.

When asked to articulate their concerns, not one of these leaders appears to be able to explain how this is possible, particularly since (i) the bill does not contain any reference to gay rights at all and (ii) rights based on sexual orientation were expressly excluded in the wording of the bill (based on their rejection at the initial consultation stages).

The opponents have recently changed their tack, and concerns are now apparently expressed that persons may potentially use the bill to suggest that ‘third gender’ protections should be extended to persons who have gender identity issues. With respect, this latest suggestion smacks of desperation and rests on over-exaggeration and  three fallacies, without prejudice to my own personal beliefs.

The exaggeration is that such an extension is entirely hypothetical, and in a population of 100,000, extremely unlikely.  Only 1 in 30,000 people in the West experience gender dysmorphia. To strike down a bill on the basis that at best, approximately 3 persons in Grenada might choose to bring a speculative claim is ludicrous. And to take this argument to its natural conclusion, if this is our position, shouldn’t we deny all other rights such as rights to privacy and rights to sexual and reproductive health access to the entire population, on the off-chance that someone with a lifestyle or a belief with which we do not agree, may take advantage of those rights? The very suggestion of a no vote on this ground is obviously cruel, oppressive  and disproportionate.

On to the fallacies.

First, gender identity is not the same as gender equality and the two are disparate concepts.  A vote for gender equality is not a vote in favour of persons being able to choose or define gender.

Second, no evidence has been put forward that gender equality has been extended universally to person claiming third gender rights. I know of a single case in India where a third gender has been recognised, but this is in light of existing cultural and religious Hindu beliefs in a third gender as of right. Hindu philosophy has the concept of a third sex or third gender (tritiya-prakriti – literally, “third nature”) to encompass people with mixed female and masculine natures. We do not share this culture or religion so a fear of incorporation of this concept is largely unfounded.

Third and finally, although the constitution is interpreted as a living document, it has been completely ignored that the aim of including gender equality rights is to reflect the universal concept enshrined in the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights since 1948 to mean equal treatment and non-discrimination between women and men.

This has recently been re-articulated by the UN Sustainable Goals. Gender equality, as understood for many decades, is not a principle we ought to be afraid of; its aim is to empower our women and girls in our society so that laws are enacted for equal access to, inter alia, health care, work, pensions and representation in political and economic decision-making. Gender equality is in fact, one of the proud legacies of the Grenada Revolution and we should be proud that it has now made its way into our constitution.

Its constitutionalisation opens a route for, inter alia, improved maternity rights and the implementation of paternity rights, an end to indirect discrimination against women in relation to wages (i.e. jobs that require similar skill sets being paid differently,) and better access to reproductive rights to young women, some of whom may be victims of incest or sexual exploitation. These rights are invaluable.

Conclusion

It is my hope that, tomorrow, citizens of Grenada exercise their rights to vote in an informed manner and that they will realise that there is nothing to fear from the constitutionalisation of fundamental rights, contrary to the instigation of the ‘elders’.  I hope we do not choose Barrabas.

Written by Akima Paul Lambert

Bill 6: Hate and Intolerance Must Not Win

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Painting by William H. Johnson

In recent weeks I have followed with shock and dismay as the discourse concerning the Rights and Freedoms Bill (Bill 6) of the upcoming Grenada Constitution Reform referendum has sunk to depraved depths. There are two elements that have been particularly sad to witness. The first is the indiscriminate spreading of fallacies regarding the bill itself. The second is the intolerance and hate that has dominated the conversation. I will discuss each in turn.

The key trigger that has fermented this homophobic discourse to once again and allowed it to rear its ugly head in our beautiful land is the inclusion of gender equality in Bill 6. Here is where the fallacies and an uncritical public have allowed this discourse to degenerate into what is at best illogical and at worst harmful for everyone involved.

The Rights and Freedoms Bill, while a legislative instrument, is actually written in fairly plain language and should therefore be accessible to most people without expert interpretation. As such, anyone who has taken the time and effort to read the bill will note that the section on gender equality deals exclusively and, in very simplistic terms, with the fact that women should be granted the same rights as men in society. A notion that seems simple and at face value even trivial to some, however, the reason why women’s rights need to be enshrined constitutionally is precisely because on so many levels women are not seen or treated as equals in society.

It is important to note that, in its entirety, the bill does absolutely nothing to open the floodgates, as its critics would have it, to the rights of sexual minorities (e.g. gender neutral persons) and, much less so with any regards to or rights of would be same-sex couples. It therefore beggars belief how some would interpret this portion of the bill to mean anything other than is written in the bill’s plain language. Knowing the prevailing views on homosexuality in Grenadian society, it is even more unlikely that those drafting the bill would have even contemplated to embed such a possibility in the bill in the first place – knowing full well that it would be politically untenable.

This particular fallacy acts as a double-edged sword, and herein lays the true tragedy. Not only do the detractors of Bill 6 ignore, if not diminish, the real issues facing women in Grenadian society but they also ignore the numerous other fundamental rights and freedoms that would be granted to citizens with the passage of this bill. They somehow see the element gender equality as so terrible, so evil that it may on the off chance lead to rights for sexual minorities, which it clearly does not do. In following this perverted fallacy, some are willing rob the rest of society and future generations of even the most basic constitutionally protected rights.

It is here that the fallacies concerning Bill 6 and hate for sexual minorities have mixed to spread like wildfire on social media. Hate is a very strong, visceral word and some of the comments made simply cannot be interpreted otherwise. Any reasonable human being reading such comments should be appalled, those writing them should be ashamed.

It is most unfortunate that this hate and intolerance is being driven, quite vocally in some cases, by a portion of religious groups in our society. The result is utterly paradoxical and perverted: In order to defend the rights of women and the fundamental rights proposed in Bill 6, one is placed in a position that requires detraction from the very rights of the sexual minorities that are not included in the bill.

This is where the unreasonable nature of this discussion becomes downright harmful. We must ask ourselves, as individuals and as a society, what we value most. Are the rights of our mothers, daughters and sisters secondary to that of men in society, should their rights not be constitutionally protected? Do we not want the constitutionally protected right to speak to an attorney if arrested by the police? Should those who seek to rightfully challenge the people we vote into power not be constitutionally protected to speak freely without fear of retribution? Do we not desire to protect the vulnerable such as children and those with disabilities and ensure that the highest law in the land constitutionally protects them too? We are a small island nation with limited resources and we depend on our environment for virtually every part of our economy – tourism, fishing, agriculture, and construction. Should the protection of our environment not also be constitutionally protected so as to safeguard our future?

It is important to remind ourselves that these rights, on which as a society we are to vote, are not simply acts of parliament that can be altered or repealed by future administrations but rights that should become constitutionally protected for all. These are the very rights that are fundamental for a healthy democracy and socio-economic development. Yet, there are those who would gladly deny you, your wife, child or disabled relatives those rights on no other basis than fallacious arguments, intolerance and hate.

Written by Nicolas Winkler

No-Vote as Protest – In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part II

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Recently, persons have asked the public to vote no on the proposed constitutional changes in the upcoming referendum. Among these persons is Sen. Ray Roberts, labour representative, who takes issue with government’s failure to address pension related issues for public workers. In his view, a no vote will pressure the government to move on this obviously important issue.

Another ‘no-voter’ is former Attorney-General, Mr. Jimmy Bristol. In an MTV News video outlining his reasons, he draws a distinction between constitutional ‘reform’ and constitutional ‘amendment’ (I’m still scratching my head), says that the reform committee is ‘tampering’ with the constitution, and that the process is really a disguised attempt at replacing the Privy Council with the CCJ as the final court of appeal. On this last point, how ‘disguised’ can it be when that proposal features prominently in national discussions, in various consultations  and in the national Gazette? When – as with all the other proposals – it is open to a national democratic vote? He makes the point that there was no consensus at the Grenada Bar for the Privy Council’s replacement. But, why should a matter which potentially affects every single Grenadian, be hinged on a green light from a legal minority, the same minority which has a right to vote on it, along with every other qualified Grenadian?

Those objections aside, many people take issue with the lack of transparency in the constitutional reform process; I partially agree (lest I be called an NNP propagandist). To illustrate, cabinet has rejected at least one proposal submitted by the committee – a proposal that would allow a Member of Parliament to be removed from their parliamentary appointment by public vote (for bad-behaviour or under-performance in public office) , before the end of an election term. Cabinet did not provide reasons for why this proposal was rejected. Cabinet might say that the committee is an ‘advisory’ committee – that they advise but do not mandate – but this does not change the fact that rejecting proposals by the committee, without providing explanations, is not transparent.

The History of Constitutional Reform

Grenada received its current constitution as a parting gift from old mother Britain at independence; one which the people of soon to be independent Grenada had no say in. This fact reduces the legitimacy of the current constitution in the opinion of some persons, including the late prof. Simeon McIntosh, a Grenadian former Dean of law at the UWI and also a former constitutional commissioner.

Since our independence in 1974 this is the 4th attempt to birth a constitution that is truly ours. the previous attempts in 1984, 2002 and 2013 stalemated for various reasons, the last one (in 2013) died along with Prof. Simeon McIntosh who was spearheading it, may he Rest In Power.

The Current Reform Process

Part 2 of the Constitution lays the parliamentary procedure for changing the constitution. It mandates that there be a 2/3rds majority parliamentary support as well as a 2/3rds majority national support (hence the referendum). Importantly, the committee and parliament has organised the referendum such that the issues will be voted on more or less individually, eliminating the risk of throwing the baby out with the bath water, or having to drink the fly with the juice.

Parliament gets its power to make provisions for the referendum from section 39(5)(c) of the current constitution. However, the constitution does not prescribe what the general reform process should be. It does not prescribe who should establish a reform committee, who should be on the committee, or anything about a reform committee at all. In fact, beyond the current constitution giving parliament the power to manage the referendum, and the Referendum Act which sets the technical requirements (like timelines), there is nothing which establishes protocols for a constitutional reform process.

In fairness to the government, they have assembled a commission which diversely represents the major national sectors and interests. The government has a seat, the opposition HAD a seat (they pulled their representative from the committee last year), civil society has a seat, the Grenada Bar has a seat, the OECS Bar has a seat, the business sector has a seat, the Min. of Youth has a seat, the Min. of Legal Affairs has a seat, the Media Workers Association has a seat, Carriacou and Petite Martinique has a seat, the churches have two. Also in fairness to the government, despite the claims by some that the reform process carries an NNP agenda, at least 2 of the proposals specifically favour the current opposition. These are (1) the proposed term limits for the Prime Minister, and (2) the proposal that would ensure there is always an official leader of the opposition in the Lower House (usually occupied by persons winning constituency seats), even where the opposition has won no seats (as is currently the case). In other words, this proposal secures the place of the leader of the opposition in the House of Representatives as of right.

Some people, including leader of the Opposition, Sen. Nazim Burke say that there has not been enough discussions or consultations on constitutional reform. I also partially agree. However, I reject the attempts to heap all blame for this on the government or on the reform committee. In 2014 alone there were at least 50 public engagements by the committee islandwide. These have been advertised on TV, radio, newspaper and social media. Some of these have been call in TV and radio programs. There were also consultations with the Grenadian diaspora in the USA. Video clips from the majority of local town-hall consultations show poor attendance. Recently on my facebook feed, I have seen much more commentary from Grenadians about the US presidential elections, than about Grenadian constitutional reform. The sad truth is, many people don’t care about constitutional reform, neither do they care about understanding or engaging the process. Forget bringing the horse to the water, the water is being brought to the horse(s); the horses cutting style.


What’s in a Constitution?

A constitution, simply put, is the Supreme law of the land. It sets out the principles according to which the State of Grenada is governed. To illustrate, it establishes our geographic territory, the name of the state and the procedures for governance and making laws. It also establishes the high public offices and the rules around them. In short, it is the single most significant legal document in Grenada.

Importantly, the constitution also establishes the rights people in Grenada have, and provides a mechanism for getting justice when rights are violated. Some will re-call the recent pensions case in which the high court of Grenada ruled that the Pensions Act was unconstitutional because it fell below the constitutionally protected standard of pension (one might loosely say a constitutional ‘right to pension’). The Act disqualified public workers who began service after 1983 from pension. Some may re-call the Gairy case in which the daughter of Sir Eric Gairy, brought an action to recover compensation for the confiscation of some of Gairy’s land by the People’s Revolutionary Government. The Privy Council ordered compensation, holding that the confiscation violated property rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The Constitution also guarantees a right to work. It is this right to work which public workers rely upon to take the government to court when they feel they have been victimized by being fired or displaced. These are just a few of the rights, guaranteed by the constitution which people rely on to challenge the government.

It is also important to understand what a constitution is not. Sen. Ray Roberts, in explaining his no-vote says that the commissioners should have been instructed by the Prime Minister to deal with the issue of pensions. This exposes a misconception of what a constitution does. Nothing in the proposed amendments interferes with the ‘right to pension’ (loosely speaking) guaranteed by the current constitution. If anything, the issue of pensions needs to be addressed through ordinary legislation in the parliament – which the goodly senator is a part of. The non-payment of pensions and the lack of an effective pension scheme are essentially legislative matters, that isn’t the constitution’s or the committee’s responsibility to fix. Perhaps Sen. Roberts can sponsor a bill for an amendment of the Pensions Act and rally the support of his parliamentary colleagues. That is a much more practical way of getting the change he desires. A constitution is concerned with big principles of broad application. It does not seek to regulate the smaller details of public life. Ordinary legislation can be thought of as the hench-men sorting out these smaller details.


No-Vote as Protest

I believe that Senator Roberts is a decent men with good intentions. I distinguish him from the feisty rabble-rousers claiming that the proposals don’t offer “real change” – without suggesting what that would look like constitutionally. At the heart of Sen. Roberts’ no-vote, I get the sense that he is protesting, not any of the proposals per se, but governmental inefficiencies. He is encouraging No-vote as protest. This is not a new tactic.

In 2009, St. Vincent and the Grenadines underwent a similar constitution reform process. The opposition party – the NDP, led a heavy campaign asking people to vote no. None of the arguments had anything to do with the actual proposals themselves. In fact, part of their campaign was to produce video shorts with snippets of people explaining why they were voting no. None of the explanations critiqued the proposals. They ranged from “people suffering”, to “government corruption”, to how expensive the process was. On that last point, some said that the amount spent – 4.4 million dollars – was a waste of money. I can’t help but call out the circular irony here. The same people who complained that spending 4.4 million dollars on constitutional reform was a waste of money, made sure it was a waste of money by voting no. In a tragic waste of money, resources and more importantly, opportunity to reform the country’s founding principles – including its human rights, the no-vote succeeded 55.29% to 43.17 %.

Like the government of St. Vincent in 2009, the government of Grenada has also spent a ton of money in this constitutional reform process; at  least 1.5 million dollars. There has also been a ton of money and technical assistance provided by organisations like the United Nations Development Program (UNDP). Like St. Vincent, this constitutional reform is an expensive but excellent opportunity to update our archaic but supreme law.

I support people’s right to protest, especially when there are real grievances – like the pensions issue, which I agree needs to be addressed. However in the context, there are more useful ways to do so; ways that that do not frustrate a process which is very expensive, long overdue and which stands to bring tremendous benefits to the people of Grenada.

Any invitation to vote-no arbitrarily is an invitation to squander resources and opportunity. On October 27th, reject the no-vote naysayers. Let us not cut off the nose to spite the face.

Richie Maitland – Human Rights Lawyer & Grenadian

The Sky Isn’t Failling: In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part I


cropped-cropped-cropped-realgroundationlogo1.jpgGroundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Our mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. We pursue our mission online, through our website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.

 

The Sky Isn’t Falling: In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part I

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Who remembers the story of Henny-Penny and Turkey-Lurkey? The popular children’s story goes – Henny Penny was walking down the road when an acorn falls on his head. He concludes that the sky is falling and frantically starts spreading the news, creating panic and attracting an ever-growing string of animals in his chorus – Turkey-Lurkey being one of them. In the end, they all get eaten by a fox, who lures them away into a den under the promise of safety.

They say life imitates art. This is true; at least in the context of constitutional reform in Grenada and some of the stories that are being spun. Devon Rachae (I don’t know what hit him on his head) jumped up proclaiming skyfall. The Bill of Rights he says on Facebook, is a “sinister plan” to introduce gay marriage through a “loophole” – which he does not specify. He says that the full-gospel churches have unanimously agreed to vote no on the Rights and Freedoms Bill and that “we can’t all be wrong on this”. YES YOU CAN. Religious leaders are not immune to fallacy, neither does consensus make them right. “We can’t all be wrong” is known in philosophy as the ‘argumentum ad populum’ (argument from popularity), a fallacious argument that concludes that something is true because many or most people believe it. “We can’t all be wrong about the earth being at the center of the universe” (said religious leaders in the 17th century). So sure were they in their consensus, that Galileo Galilei, the father of modern physics who argued that it was the sun and not the earth at the center of the universe, was imprisoned for life. Today we accept Galileo’s proposition as absolute truth.

Like Turkey-Lurkey, Kem Jones, an NDC activist, hears the commotion and joins the chorus, even adding his 2 cents, pointing menacingly at the gender equality provisions, saying on his Facebook page that they “promote homosexuality” – he too doesn’t specify.

I suspect that Jones, an aspiring political commentator for the opposition, wishes to frustrate the reform process so that the NNP can’t claim it as part of their political legacy. I suspect that Rachae, an aspiring pastor-man, wishes to build pastor-man legitimacy; to whip up fervour in the same way DJ’s do at parties when the vibes is dry. The tactic is the same – condemn homosexuals; appeal to an ever receding pocket of ignorance about sexual minorities. It’s a self-serving and dangerous exercise of power.

The Big Bad Bill of Rights

So what exactly is the ‘Bill of Rights’ and what is being proposed ? The Bill of Rights is that part of the constitution which expressly sets out the rights we have, as well as the mechanisms for getting justice when those rights are violated. The proposed reforms seek to strengthen the human rights protections which people currently enjoy. Namely, they:-

  1. Include ‘disability’, ‘religion’, ‘gender’, ‘ethnicity’ and ‘social class’ into the prohibited categories of discrimination. As the amendment bill makes clear, the changes will bring our constitution in line with the CARICOM Charter of Social Rights, which Grenada, along with every other CARICOM country has already committed to.
  2. Expressly guarantee freedom of the press as part of the wider right to freedom of expression.
  3. Make limitations on human rights subject to due process of the law. I.e they say that people’s rights can only be interfered with in the public interest where that interference is non-arbitrary in substance and fair in process.
  4. Expressly protect people’s rights to their intellectual property – songs, drawings, rolly-polly dance,… I dunno, etc
  5. Expressly guarantee the right of a person who is arrested or detained to communicate with their lawyer
  6. Expressly guarantee equality before the law and equal protection of the law for all people
  7. Introduce a right to be treated ‘humanely’ as well as ‘equally’ by all government institutions
  8. Expressly guarantee the equality of all children, including those born out of wedlock
  9. Expressly guarantee special entitlements to disabled children
  10. Expressly guarantee a right of all children to a publicly funded education

Rachae, Jones and others promoting a No Vote would rather see ALL of these benefits down the gutter; would rather see disabled people, children, women, ethnic minorities, artistes, poor people and religious people, stay without the benefit of these protections, than in their view, admit any possibility that homosexuals could get rights. A friend in a facebook post calls this “the most unchristian thing [she has] ever seen”.

Big Bad Gender Equality

The proposed amendments (Chapter 1B), introduce measures to recognize and protect the equality of women with men. The first thing to note is that the amendment is careful to define the key terms in ways which prevent the provisions from being used to extend rights to homosexuals. ‘Gender’ is defined as “the range of characteristics pertaining to, and differentiating between, male and female” and ‘gender equality’ “reflects the view that men and women should receive equal treatment and should not be discriminated against based on gender”. In other words Gender does not refer to gender identity or sexual orientation and gender equality does not mean anything other than equality between men and women. The drafters of the bill were keen to ensure that the sections can’t be used to win rights for LGBT people. Perhaps they anticipated and tried to preempt the kind of self-righteous panic that still came, despite their efforts.

Definitions aside, let’s look at what the gender equality proposals actually say. They guarantee, as between men and women:-

  1. Equal rights and status in all aspects of life, but especially in economic, educational, political, civic and social activities
  2. Equal access to academic, vocational and professional training; and equal opportunities in employment and promotion
  3. Equal pay
  4. Equal access to justice
  5. Equal opportunities to be elected or appointed to public office and to be eligible for appointment to positions of decision-making bodies at all levels of the society
  6. Equal legal protection; including just and effective remedies, against domestic violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment.
    They Also:-
  7. Protect women from being discriminated against by reason of pregnancy or marital status
  8. Encourage the state to domesticate treaties promoting gender equality
  9. Encourage parliament to pass laws to correct inequalities between men and women
  10. Encourage political parties to promote gender equality; including by appointing more women to key positions like the House of Representatives, Senate, etc.

Maybe the importance of constitutional gender equality provisions isn’t obvious. A 2015 Global Study by the World Economic Forum places the Caribbean behind most other regions in gender equality. We only surpass 2 regions – Asia and the Pacific and the Middle East and North Africa – nothing to boast about. Grenada does not feature individually in this study. Grenada does however feature individually in another study conducted by the Royal Commonwealth Society in 2011. Here, Grenada ranks 23rd (in the Commonwealth – not the world). Compared to other CARICOM countries, we fall behind Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Dominica, St. Lucia, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, The Bahamas, St. Vincent & the Grenadines and Belize (in order of ranking). In other words, for gender equality,  Grenada is one of the worst performing CARICOM countries and the 2nd to last worst performing OECS country. Given this reality, one would think that people would jump, clap and catch the spirit for the gender equality proposals; instead of encouraging people to reject them, but alas.

Let Henny-Penny and Turkey-Lurkey beat their bells and bawl. Please, PLEASE, don’t join their bacchanal. Don’t be lured into the den of foolishness, under the promise of safety. The sky isn’t falling.

Get the information for yourself at www.grenadaconstitutionreform.com. Vote yes on Referendum Day 27th October 2016 and strengthen human rights protections in Grenada. Vote yes and affirm the equal rights of women.

Richie Maitland – Human Rights Lawyer & Grenadian

 

Read Next: No-Vote as Protest: In Defence of Constitutional Reform Part II


cropped-cropped-cropped-realgroundationlogo1.jpgGroundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Our mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. We pursue our mission online, through our website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change.

Cassie Quarless, a London-based Grenadian featured in upcoming Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival

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Generation Revolution is a feature-length documentary film, which follows an exciting new breed of activist organisations as well as the young Londoners that are part of them. It is an official selection of the inaugural Third Horizon Film Festival in Miami, FL. It will be screened at 4:00pm Oct 1st 2016 at the O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St, Miami, FL 33127.

Co-directed by London-based Grenadian Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis, Generation Revolution brings to screen the powerful story of a new generation of black and brown activists who are changing the social and political landscape in the capital and beyond. It vividly chronicles the evolution of its characters as they experience personal and political awakenings, breakthroughs and, at times, disillusionment. The film offers a unique and original glimpse into the rewarding but difficult path that must be trodden in the struggle for personal, social and political liberation.

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Jason Fitzroy Jeffers a Miami-based writer and filmmaker from Barbados is the founder of Third Horizon, a collective of Caribbean filmmakers, musicians and artists. This fall, the inaugural Third Horizon Film Festival will be held in Miami, bringing the best in film from the Caribbean and its diaspora to South Florida. It is being coordinated in partnership with the Caribbean Film Academy, a Brooklyn-based not-for-profit organizationis focused on promoting and sharing the art of storytelling through film from the unique perspective of the Caribbean. The Third Horizon Film festival will take place from September 29 to October 2.

 


cropped-cropped-cropped-realgroundationlogo1.jpgGroundation Grenada is a social action collective which focuses on the use of creative media to assess the needs of our communities, raise consciousness and act to create positive radical growth. Our mission is to provide active safe spaces to incubate new modes of resistance, building from the local to affect regional and international solidarity and change. We pursue our mission online, through our website and social media, and also through live events and special projects in collaboration with local, regional and international artists, activists and institutions. Groundation Grenada’s website supports both local and diasporic voices, acting as an interface to connect people who are hungry for innovative change. We are a co-founder of Grenada Community Library & Resource Centre.

Roopa Kaushik-Brown’s Artist Residency – Week 4 Blog Post

Visiting artist & healer Roopa Kaushik-Brown’s reflection at the end of her month long residency in Grenada. 

Every place I’ve travelled in the world, Indians and Africans live together, but don’t co-exist strategically.  Usually, the Indians and Arabs own the small businesses where everyone has to shop, but outside of that economic wedge, will live side by side with black folks.  We have so many reasons to not be so convinced by divide and conquer, and yet, everywhere we are, divide and conquer rules the day.  I have always believed in black and brown solidarity.  I will continue to work towards black and brown solidarity being more of a thing.  Being in Grenada affirmed this soul directive.  It was a blessing to spend a month in a strong, proud black country, especially while the U.S. is imploding with denial and anti-black and brown violence.  My black and brown family grew so much, right down to the breath, to breathing better, and being better to self.  I believe in the expansiveness of the breath, and of our abilities to subvert divide and conquer mechanisms in place, somehow, someway.

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I walked into the Carenage Cafe, and fell in love with the old school wall map that adorns one side of the venue.  What really stole my heart?  It uses our true name, Bharat, and it depicts a time before partition.  I rarely see maps that use our real name.  It was moving.  I inquired about the map, and the kind manager furrowed her brow as she tried to recall.  She said it came with the building, which was built by Italians around the late 19th century/early 20th century.  Italians, so that is why all the city and country names are spelled so well, with so much fidelity to true pronunciation.  There is none of the awkward lack of lyricism that plagues most, for example, British maps of India.  How sweet it is to be called by your true name.  How important it is to remember, and resurrect. 

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Yoga is often translated as union, or yoke.  But it is also a disunion, from all patterns of suffering.  Yoga is liberation, and liberation means it is both personal and political.  Prison yoga sessions have become oddly popular yoga service offerings in the States.  Oddly, only because these offerings overwhelmingly feature white folks at the helm; leading the classes, running the prison yoga teacher trainings.  There is essentially a total white out at every step of the way in prison yoga, except for the incarcerated folks themselves, who are almost exclusively black and brown.  This is a strange phenomenon but unsurprising, given how deep white saviorism tropes run.  The prison yoga teacher in the hit Netflix show Orange is the New Black, is a new-agey white woman, but this is just one example of a truly imbalanced on the ground phenomenon.  Liberation means yoga, and yoga means liberation, and all of this means that prison yoga is a particularly ripe ground for the practice.  All of the white out in prison yoga in the states made it such a valued experience to attend and lead a prison yoga session with Uncle Ferron Lowe and the Spice Harmony Yoga Prison Outreach Program in Grenada.  So special to see a prison yoga teacher in whom the incarcerated people can see themselves reflected.  So moving to be present alongside those who strive for liberation in ways I never have, such as from the reality of physical cages.  I learned deeply about the practice, and for that I am always and ever in gratitude. 

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1422617_10152066697306663_1790595049_nRoopa Kaushik-Brown
Groundation Grenada Artist-in-Residence

Roopa works at the intersection of art, healing and social justice. She is a visual artist, certified pre-natal yoga instructor, doula and a new mom. She is also a licensed attorney and PhD student in Justice and Social Inquiry PhD at the School of Social Transformation (ASU). Her research areas include critical race theory and racial mobilities in law, hip-hop, and the contemplative practices. She holds a B.A. in Politics, Philosophy and Economics, with a certificate in South Asian Studies, from the University of Pittsburgh, a JD from Boalt School of Law, and an MA in Cinema Studies from NYU. In 2003, Roopa launched SAAPYA (South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America) via an ongoing series of groundbreaking panels and arts residencies elevating the voices of South Asian diasporic artists, activists, and academics talking yoga, race, cosmopolitanisms and cultural wars. www.roopakb.com