400 Days

Just over four years ago I became actively involved in advocacy, specifically LGBT rights advocacy.

Just over two years ago I became actively involved in gender equality advocacy.

Just under a year ago I aggressively took on the issue of sexual violence.

I am now on my way out of activism, and I’ve learned that being a part of a movement that is focused on addressing the issue of sexual violence is not easy; it is probably the most difficult kind of activism there is.

For some people, I get a lot of things wrong, some days I wonder if I got anything right.

I continue to disappoint myself (and I suppose others) because I don’t see the change happening, and because this problem of sexual violence sometimes seems insurmountable.

The work is also emotionally draining, and I understand why many people don’t actively do it.

In hindsight, I perhaps should not have taken on this problem. So I’ve decided to give myself 400 more days in this fight, in this movement. I will be criticised for my decision; I’m certain of it.

People will say I don’t care anymore.

People will say I don’t have the stamina and emotional fortitude for the work – this, this would be true.

But I do hope that those who will criticize my decision to give up, and those who will say I don’t care anymore, and those who do have the stamina and emotional fortitude needed to do this much needed work, will step up and do much of what I couldn’t do, and much of what needs to be done.

There is a certain kind of perfection that is expected of you as an activist.

You are often not allowed to be human.

You are not allowed to have personal distance from the survivors who need you, even if it’s to keep your sanity.

You are not allowed to care for self if it means you can’t be there enough for all the survivors who may need you.

You are not allowed to say no because you’ve said yes so many times that you are now almost at the proverbial ‘burn out’.

You are not allowed to slow down because you’ve always been known to go hard, sleep less, and do more.

You are not allowed.

Because for some, once you say you are doing this work to end sexual violence against women and children, once you say you are a part of this movement, you are expected to be a saviour for all survivors who may cross your path.

So I have learned to accept the criticisms and live with the narrative that many may now have of me because I am going soft, sleeping more, and doing less.

My 400 more days will be spent doing the best I can with the little experience, wisdom and expertise I have. And if I can inspire hope and be there, be really present for 10 survivors over these 400 days, I will retire alright; I will retire happy and healthy and grateful.

And for everything I may have gotten wrong, it is my hope that I can get it right for 10 survivors.

Before I go, I ask of you, all of you, to never forget the humanity in activists. Don’t place the burden of change on their shoulders only. Please. Activism is not easy. And activists want to be healthy and happy too. Allow them to breathe. More often than not, they are doing the best they can do in their bid to make life even just a little better for the lives they touch.

 

 

Let’s be kind to our children

Since the widely circulated video of a mother repeatedly hitting her child with a machete, the conversation about the abuse of children has intensified. More recently, UNICEF reports show that Jamaica is a violent place for children. Just last week, State Minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information – Floyd Green announced that the Government of Jamaica intends to ban beating in all schools – principals and teachers will no longer be ‘allowed’ to hit children. Yesterday (November 7, 2017), Prime Minister Andrew Holness asserted in Parliament that it was time for Jamaica to have a full ban on beating children, not just in schools, but in homes. In his assertion, he noted that there was no consensus on the issue across, and within party lines. I find that to be rather unfortunate.

It is unfortunate that all our political leaders do not recognize that adults hitting children is not something to be tolerated in homes, in schools, in communities and in the society.

I often tell people that when an adult hits a child, it is simply about that adult lacking the capacity to control their rage only in respect of children. Many adults (including teachers) who hit children would never dare raise a hand or belt or whip or machete at their employer if the employer disappointed them, or treated them unfairly. It means therefore that these same adults know fully well how to control and manage their rage if they deem it important and self serving to do so.

But with children, they perhaps believe they are the power holders, so they disregard the full humanity of our children and sometimes forget that children are citizens with rights.  After all, Jamaica is a very unkind place for some our children to live.  Between 2011 and 2015 thousands of children have been raped and otherwise sexually assaulted. This year alone (up to October) 47 children were murdered. And the brutal crimes being committed against our children are perpetrated largely by adults.  It is clear that some of us have little regard for our children; we don’t engage our children as if they have a right to a life with dignity.

In the great debate about the ‘right’ of adults to hit children, one of the first questions folks like to ask is, how do you discipline a child who has done something ‘wrong’? It is almost as if the default thinking is: hitting children is the only and primary method of creating an environment where children avoid doing ‘wrong’ or misbehaving or disappointing adults. And in that debate, when some people propose ‘alternatives’ to hitting children as a form of ‘discipline’, it often sounds like emotional and psychological abuse – the isolation, denying them access to the things they enjoy, temporarily banning all play, preventing them from engaging their peers, etc.

But all we need to do is have conversations with our children.

We have to do a better job at conflict resolution.

When we get in an angry fit because a child disappoint us, and we feel the (disappointing) urge to hit them, have a conversation with them instead. You do not need to hit them. And if you are so angered that you can’t have that conversation, I am suggesting that you take a time out – go outside, look to the Lord in the heavens and scream as loud as you can, for as many times as you need. If after that you still feel like you want to hit the child, whatever instrument you would have used to hit that child, find that same instrument and hit yourself repeatedly until you are tired, absolutely tired. In your tired state, you should then drink some water; that should cool you down too. After the rage has passed or at least subsided, you can then attempt to have a conversation with the child.

We do not need to hit children for them to know that we are disappointed in an action they took or an utterance they made. We do not need to hit children for them to know that they have done or said something ‘wrong’, which should not be repeated. Many of our children are smarter than we were when we were at their age; we can reason wid dem.

I have a 7-year-old nephew. If he does something I find to be disappointing, I have what usually turns out to be long conversations with him about a better course of action he could take or a better way to voice his discontent so that it doesn’t cause physical or emotional harm to his peers, teachers, parents and other family members.

I often use many analogies and ask questions about what would be the outcome of applying his behaviour to the circumstances I present in each analogy. Sometimes it’s time consuming, but I stay the course because I want him to learn the importance of dialogue in conflict resolution and behaviour change. After our long conversations, he usually recognizes the error/s he made and the harm he caused. He would then sincerely apologise and commit to doing something kind to make up for the harm he may have caused and the disappointment I felt. Outside of him talking excessively in class (because in my opinion he’s not being cognitively stimulated at school) he has never repeatedly committed the same ‘offence’.

Our children are citizens of this country. We need to be more considerate of their welfare. I do hope that we will have that national ban on hitting children. I also hope that a part of that process will be the (re)socialization and conscientization of our people, to ensure that we all have the tools we need to be better caregivers and duty bearers for our children.

The Myth of Homogeneity in Political Parties

I ‘ve come to realize that while Jamaica has a first past the post electoral system that has long favoured the People’s National Party and the Jamaica Labour Party, we continue to make the mistake that each party is homogeneous.

We also continue to pretend that if someone supports one party over the other, it means such a person supports everyone in the party and all the philosophies, actions and utterances of everyone in the party.

But that’s not how it works in real life.

If we think about the parties as families, I think maybe we can understand and appreciate that diversity exists within our political parties.

Think about your own family. Do you support all the philosophies, actions and utterances of every first, second, or third cousin? What about the philosophies and actions of all your aunts, brothers, sisters, uncles, granduncles, or even your parents? But they are still your family. And you still call them family without supporting everything they do or aligning yourself with everything they believe.

And yes, I know we are born into our families, but in a lot of ways we choose to remain in them. We choose to identify with the people in our family, and we don’t hide our relations with our family members (well, most of us don’t). That is why they have the power to disappoint us and the power to make us proud.

And what about our inner circle of friends (for those who have such a thing)? Do we support all the philosophies and actions and utterances of all our friends and all the people who are close to us?

If not, why then can’t we extend that to people who are members of, or supporters of one political party over another? Why can’t Ricardo Brooks, for example be ‘allowed’ to support the JLP even as he is critical of some of the party’s philosophies, or the actions and utterances of some of its members and supporters? Why can’t Jaevion Nelson do the same as a supporter of the PNP?

The political parties have human beings in them. And they all have their diverse views. There is no real homogeneity in any of them. And that is perfectly okay. Plus we need to be realistic, sometimes when people support a political party, they’re probably just supporting one group in the party or a few people in the party whose philosophies, ideas, utterances a and actions are more often than not closely aligned with their own.

So when someone says they are a labourite or a comrade, that doesn’t mean they blindly support all labourites and all comrades. It may mean they have a preference for the JLP or the PNP for some very specific reasons.

Some people may blindly support one party or the other, and that’s their prerogative; they are the ones who will defend their parties ad nauseuam and even to personal detriment. But I would be surprised if those are the types supporters who make up the majority of party supporters on both sides. I’d be very surprised. Not even the leadership corps in the parties blindly support everything that is done or uttered by party stalwarts.

It is my hope that as a society (who loves political commentary) we give people room to identify with a political party without maligning them because of the disagreeable actions or utterances of others in the party.

We say we want people to think critically and independently. We say we want ‘better’ leaders in politics. Let us give people that room, and perhaps we will, after all, have ‘better’ leaders in politics.

Let us not be slaves to collective responsibility.

‘Waging War’

Goal-8

Sustainable Development Goal 8. Photo credit: Corporate Citizenship

There is a ‘waging war’ on Twitter about employees who seem to have a ‘bad’ attitude towards their work and the cause possibly being an unkind work environment and not being paid well. I tweeted the following in response:

If you are an employer, create an environment that allows your employees to work with dignity and live with dignity.
If you are an employee, create a consciousness that allows you to work with dignity and live with dignity.

After sharing the tweets I began to think a bit more about this ‘waging war’ and why it seems we have a problem on our hands that may exist for a painstakingly long time. I proceeded to thread some #wagenwar tweets later on, ahead of a planned Twitter chat about the issue to be moderated (or refereed) by WE-Change at 6:00PM today (October 21, 207).

See thread below.

When we ask employers to pay well, we have to recognise that there is no one standard for being paid well. Even if we look at the ‘going rate’ for renumeration for a post, we will always notice a scale – and sometimes it’s a wide scale.

We also have to be careful how we broadbrush employers. We often don’t think about poor employers. Poor employers sometimes have to struggle to make ends meet. Poor employers sometimes can’t pay well, and that’s part of the reason I support things like a Guaranteed Minimum Income to be paid by the state.

We also need to recognize that we have to do a better job at educating our people about their rights and responsibilities as employees. And we have to do a better job at educating people about their rights and responsibilities as employers.

We cannot expect that businesses will thrive in 2017 and beyond if employers don’t treat employees with dignity. We cannot expect that businesses will thrive in 2017 and beyond if employees don’t work with dignity and live with dignity.

The world is different. Very different. And millenials and those older than them have more informed expectations at work. I’m not talking about millenials who are lazy. I am not talking about other generations of lazy people. I am talking about people who work and work well.

If you hire someone and discover they are lazy, you run interventions with them and if they are still underperforming, let them go. When people work and work well, we need to ensure we sustain a healthy work environment for them, and that also includes paying them as well as we can.

I find that because we romanticize struggle as older people, we like to think that struggle must be a part of people’s lived realities. Struggle does not need to be a part of our realities. It just happens to be a part of many of our realities.

But we shouldn’t romanticize struggle.

We equally shouldn’t romanticize luxury. We need to learn to live within our means and practice frugality.

If you are not paid well, why would you buy a Samsung Note 8, when you can only afford a Samsung Note 4, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you attend Sunrise Breakfast Party instead of I Love Soca, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you play Mas with Frenchmen and not FameFM, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you have lunch at Burger King and not at Juici Patties, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you by a Meal Deal at KFC and not a Chicken Box, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you buy a Honda and not a Toyota, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you buy Grace food products and not Lasco food products, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you rent a J$30,000 apartment and not a J$15,000 apartment, then complain?

If you are not paid well, why would you buy new clothes monthly and not quarterly or annually, then complain?

If the job you currently have, does not afford certain luxuries, don’t attempt to live in luxury. Attempting to live in luxury on a small cheque will serve to frustrate you and negatively affect your job performance.

If you believe you are worth more than what you are being paid, talk with your employer. If your employer is not willing or able to pay more, talk about some benefits, and talk about lessening your work hours – you can get a part time job elsewhere.

And if you work in an environment where you feel powerless as an employee, and you can’t talk with your employer, consider additional employment. You can also be creative and make the work environment one that enables you and your colleagues to work with dignity until you can leave.

Employees and employers have a role to play.

Employers cannot continue to think that it is okay to milk every last effort out of employees, yet they are not willing to milk every last dollar to pay said employees well.

Employers must recognize that while profit is their aim, it can’t just be monetary profit to line their pockets.

Employers must be creative and considerate and ensure that all their employees feel valued and worthy.

Employers must ensure that the work environment they create fosters growth and considers employees’ welfare.

Employers must recognize that an unhealthy employee cannot function at their best. And that if employees don’t feel valued and appreciated it may affect their brand and bottomline.

Employers must recognize that employees spend about 1/3 of their entire day in the work environment, so it needs to feel like an extended family.

Employers need to recognize that their best ambassadors are satisfied and appreciated employees, who will speak highly of them if they treat their workers with dignity.

Sometimes employees just want to know that their employer cares.

And before I wrap up this thread, I will say to employees who work for businesses that are listed on the stock market – buy shares into the company. Sometimes, as a poorly paid employee at a listed company you would be surprised at how much you can earn by buying into the same company that doesn’t pay you well.

I think employees and employers can, and must do better. And I hope I live to see the day when we all will.

We need to create a culture and consciousness of dignity in the workplace.

Children: Whose Responsibility?

A couple days ago the official Twitter handle of Prime Minister Andrew Holness tweeted that ‘Social responsibility means you should have the children you can afford to give the best life.’

I saw it this afternoon thanks to a colleague who retweeted it. The tweet reminded me of a conversation I had with a few people some time ago regarding my views on child bearing, child caring and this business of responsibility.

Yes, having and caring for children is in fact a social responsibility, but not just the social responsibility of parents; I believe extended families, the community and the state all have roles to play. It is for this reason that I believe, for example, that children should have free access to education – tuition, books, etc; healthcare should be free for all children and pregnant folks; communities should have fully functional entertainment and social development centres; and safe, green and play spaces should be available and accessible to children. It is also the responsibility of the community, the state and parents to ensure that children are protected from harm, including the nasty and disgusting abusive people dem outta road.

Once someone decides that they want to give birth to a child, caring for, supporting that child, and giving that child the best life possible cannot be their responsibility alone. After all, having children benefits the whole society. Therefore, raising skilled, educated, healthy, productive children who respect the dignity in humanity ought to be the social responsibility of parents/family, community and state. We cannot reasonably expect that parents alone should bear this ‘burden’.

Affordability of children is not something prospective parents alone should consider. The state and the community have roles too. We have a responsibility to ensure that if someone decides to have a child, we are creating the best possible environment for that child to thrive. It is our children who will manage families, communities and the state later on in life. How can they just be the responsibility of parents? Come on now!

And this habit we have of beating down on people who are affected by poverty every time we raise the issue of childcare needs to stop. Minimum wage already a beat down pon dem.

We need to be careful that we don’t suggest that people affected by poverty should avoid having children.

Sometimes pregnancies are unplanned, all when family planning and contraceptive use ‘up like 7’. We cannot continue to pretend that we live in a world where anything but abstaining from sex or tubectomy or vasectomy is foolproof where contraceptive use is concerned. So if someone affected by poverty should use the free condoms made available by the government and NGOs and ‘get ketch’ say on two or three occasions, what should we say to them? Are we going to insist they have a vasectomy or a tubectomy?

And even when abortion becomes legal, are we going to insist that they get an abortion?

The state needs to do a better job at ensuring that every child born into this country has a good chance of contributing to our development. Prospective parents also have that responsibility. And so does the community. Children are the responsibility of parents, the community and the state. And if you disagree, that’s fine. But consider who will be making decisions about families, communities and the state in a decade or two.