Jan 14 2008

Survival stories: Challenges facing youth in Trinidad and Tobago

Gabrielle Jamela Hosein has written a thought provoking article that gathers together a feminist, racial and land based critique of Trinidad’s so called Vision 2020 development plan, which focuses on development through aluminium smelting and other heavy industries. Below is an extract, the full article can be found here

Survival stories: challenges facing youth in Trinidad and Tobago

Race & Class 2007; 49; 125.

Issues of citizenship are being powerfully propelled to national
attention by a widespread movement against the proposed establish-
ment of aluminum smelters in southern Trinidad. Young people, and
especially young women and mothers in their twenties, are at the fore-
front of this community-led mobilising. The movement pulls into its net
questions about the gendered impact of ‘development’ models, com-
munity rights and spaces, health, inflation and food prices, jobs in the
non-industrial and agricultural sectors, and governance. It has raised
discussions about party politics, patronage jobs and the ways in which
people are controlled and penalised for speaking out. This movement is
one of the few targeting people’s desires for economic and political
alternatives, and not simply individual or family-level coping mechan-
isms and strategies. It has galvanised a sense of citizenship that is more
centred around livelihoods, families and sustainability than typical
post-independence state symbols of nationalism. When people sing
the national anthem before a consultation meeting, it is to show soli-
darity both against the government and foreign multinationals and to
put people first. Hear young poet Ivory Haynes:

We need to stop striving to meet the rest of the world’s standards
And define our own ideas of what it means for us to move forward
Because when no citizen has to worry about how they will feed their little boy or girl
Then we can show them what it means to be first world
When we have no guns, drugs or crime because every citizen’s salary is ample
We don’t have to show them anything, we will define what is first world
When we become blind to race and colour and remove derogatory racial slurs
Then we can move past words like nigger, coolie and first world
And when we stop depending on them and survive because of our own people
. . . you still will never limit me
You be first world, I’ll go above and become first galaxy
It is time to show them that yes we know we could do better
But to achieve that we don’t need your aluminum smelter

The government has, as yet, responded with blame, silence and armed
police. An environmental impact assessment is forthcoming but there is
a great lack of trust in this process. Attillah Springer of the Rights
Action Group described this kind of land rights movement as the defin-
ing struggle of this generation of young people. It ties how we deal with
our natural resources to how the government deals with communities;
how races and classes interact with each other to how political parties
divide them; and localised struggles to how they impact on the rest of
the nation. It posits solidarity as central to how issues are conceived.
Rather than being issues of personal health, safety and decision-
making, young people’s issues are being framed as collective ones.
This movement also has the potential to flag the impact of masculinist
approaches to the environment on the care economy and communities.
As Ivory ends:

It is time to stand up Trinidad
This time yuh cant say yuh didn’t know
Don’t let them bring those plants there
Then we’ll never really grow

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