T&T must free collective imagination beyond ‘lower-level basic needs’

Originally published on wired868 Tuesday 23 February 2021.

Crime and the lack of personal security have featured in calypso through the years.  For example Caruso’s ‘Gun Slingers’ (1959) celebrates ‘beating them [criminals] with the cat’ while Sparrow’s ‘Royal Jail’ (1961) is about revenge as captured in the line ‘licks for them criminals’.

If calypso is the people’s commentator, the quality has evolved as has the nature of our problems. Unfortunately, the recurrent themes of crime and personal security are still present in today’s media headlines with the following added: water scarcity, a poor economy, rising food prices and inadequate transportation. 

Photo: Sparrow (right) looks to be in trouble in a memorable Guardian Life ad, inspired by his hit calypso ‘Ten to One is Murder’.

It’s almost as if nothing has changed in decades regarding these important facets of life. Interestingly these facets are almost exactly listed as the those described in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

His theory is that for us to thrive our basic needs must be met and having satisfied them we are able to set goals and move on to other higher level needs and ultimately to self actualisation. Our continued focus on these lower-level basic needs prevents us individually and as a collective from striving to look upwards or outwards.

The mother who is struggling to make ends meet is focused on the next dollar and unable to be her best self and sometimes not even able to think beyond the next hour. The small business person is worried about which predator is waiting as he opens his business and there are several other scenarios outlining our focus on our basic needs.

As a collective, the more we focus on safety, security, our poor economic outlook and all the negatives of our society, the less time and energy we direct towards our growth needs.  

In our separate corners, some try to look away from these deficiency needs and look towards growth but it is difficult in this chaotic and uninspiring environment; and more importantly, we feel that nobody is listening or cares.

Image: Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Think of how our collective imagination would work if we did not have to worry about a possible home invasion, whether there will be water when the tap is turned on or what the traffic will be like as we traverse the streets and highways.  

Once we are able to free ourselves from focusing on these basic things, we’ll have the mind space to be more productive and imaginative. The trouble is that these small things are not simple, they are the little things which make a big difference to our quality of life. They are also the issues which require collaborative efforts to solve; and that concept of collaboration is extremely challenging for us.

The seismic event of the 2020 Covid-19 pandemic should have brought home the reality that, as island people, we need to develop the systems and structures to ensure our collective survival.  

It should have brought to the forefront conversations about sustainability, climate change and our psychological health. We should be having conversations about how to collaborate to thrive; how we should share our scarce resources for our collective benefit.  

We should be having conversations which take us to another level of existence and thinking.  

Photo: A resident speaks during a town meeting in Arima.
(Courtesy News.Gov.TT)

Maybe it is happening on small scales in individual bubbles, but if the space is to change we need big conversations about our future and how we plan to get there.  

I am reminded of the African proverb: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’  

It is now urgent that Trinidad and Tobago focuses on going far and therefore going together.

No nine-day wonder; Andrea Bharatt’s death must lead to action

Originally published on Friday 12 February 2021 Guest Columns Wired868.

February 21 will mark nine days after the burial of Andrea Bharatt, and it is likely that the marching, candlelight vigils and accusations of ‘shedding crocodile tears’ will no longer be at the forefront of our minds. We will retreat to the burglar-proofed boxes we call homes and cautiously peer out, waiting for the next uproar.

Just as we forgot Akeil Chambers and the hundreds of persons who have been brutally murdered since his murder, Andrea Bharatt will recede to the dark spaces of our memories, forgotten forever. That is what our politicians expect and that is a reasonable expectation based on our past behaviour.

Photo: Mourners at a candlelight vigil.

However, something about this spate of protests feels different to me. It does not feel as if we will get bored with it after nine days and move on. I sincerely hope that my instincts are right.

My instinct is fuelled by the mix of people with whom I rubbed shoulders (from the prescribed socially distanced two metres, of course) at the peaceful protest around the Savannah on 7 February. It comprised mainly young women, and while many were of Indian descent, there were sufficient black, ‘red’ and white Trinidadians to neutralise any thoughts about it being racially motivated.

It was a similar mix of people who turned up in June 2020 for the #ttblm protest in the Queen’s Park Savannah. At that protest, the sea of young people took a knee for nine minutes and communicated a message of solidarity with their American brothers and sisters. That effort has gone quiet except for attempts to jail some of the leaders.

In the lead up to Sunday’s peaceful Bharatt protest, many of us had to decide on which protest we would support because of the range of options available. The norm is for a protest to be held in one particular place where interested persons turn up.

But since the discovery of Andrea’s remains, protests have been organised all over the country including Tobago.  Just the availability of different options makes me feel that the population has reached a tipping point in our tolerance of crime in general, and gender-based violence in particular.

Photo: A woman marches to highlight gender-based violence.
(via Amnesty International)

My sense that people will not easily walk away from this one is also fuelled by the quality and quantity of recommendations being made to bring an end to violence in our communities. For example, Nikoli Edwards has publicised his party’s 10-point plan and the Joint Trade Union Movement has expressed their dismay and anger at the many deaths of women and girls in our country.

Since 4 February, more than 25,000 people have signed a petition calling for the death penalty for the murderers of Andrea Bharatt and more than 40 candlelight vigils have been organised in memory of Andrea Bharatt.

On Facebook, there is a post on the Trinidad Declassified timeline saying that over 400 businesses will close on Friday 12 February in protest. The post also lists the names of the businesses. These are just a few examples of actions that people are taking to protest against gender-based violence.

I hope that my instincts are right and that this issue will not fade to the background but will continue to place the government under pressure to take action that will make our women feel safer. But more importantly, the time has come for us to take a whole of society approach to reducing crime and placing our society on a trajectory towards peace and civility.

Discussing Digital transformation and Creativity with Maria Daniel and John Michael Thomas

Maria Daniel – Digital Transformation Strategist at EY. She comments that Trinidad and Tobago is about 10-12 years behind the curve in terms of digital development particularly towards becoming a cashless society. For Maria Covid has acted as an accelerant on our digitization journey. For example, the acceptance of electronic signatures has been advanced but Trinidad and Tobago needs to leap frog to get on the same page with the rest of the world with regard to digitization. She commented that it may not always be beneficial to rely on the western world for digital solutions but with enough research similar solutions from Eastern countries can be available. John Thomas – Teacher/Vocalist/Impresario. John sees art as life and wishes that we could focus greater effort on education including story telling and art appreciation which goes beyond drawing and painting. His discussion has an underlying theme of appreciation and the need for our society to move away from the culture of competition to an approach which focusses on sharing our experiences and stories. His Covid story is that because singing requires the expulsion of breath, he has had to re-imagine the possibilities of using technology to collaborate and change the way voices are brought to the world. John is heavily reliant on the spirit of community to bring us through what he described as this “failed state that we live in”.

What is our comprehensive Covid-19 immunisation plan?

I may be late to the party, but MX Prime has nailed it with his recent release Torture. He has demonstrated how our music has told our stories and records key moments in our history. When the history is written, this will be the defining story of early 21st century Trinidad and Tobago and how we dealt with Covid-19.

In one song he has captured the strong emotions of many of us who feel locked in jail since March 2020. His song comments on the deep inequalities which exist in our society. Almost every bar is analogous to real experiences we encounter daily.

Photo: A vendor wears her mask at the Penal Market on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

From the ‘who know whom’ contact to receive an exemption to return home, to the allegedly ‘normal’ application process to bring in workers to provide labour for your business. When he sings about ‘justice and liberty’, he is singing about our inability to earn a living as the economy slowly grinds to a halt and we continue to pin our hopes on fossil fuel.

We are not seeing the plan about how to live with Covid-19 but how to run away from it.

He sings about locking the ‘carnival in a cell while all the criminals are doing well’.  Isn’t that how we feel when we return to our burglar-proofed homes or clutch our purses closer when we have to walk through certain streets or see certain stereotypes approaching?

I certainly feel that the wrongdoers have an advantage over me. It sometimes feels like I am a sitting target waiting for an assault.

The commissioner of police continues to reference the downward trend in our crime statistics, but do we feel any safer? The North West Regional Health Authority boasts in their print advertising campaigns about no maternal deaths, while we read daily about the massive backlog in surgeries in all our health institutions.

Photo: A family wears masks on a visit to the Penal market for fresh fruits and vegetables on 23 April 2020.
(Copyright Ghansham Mohammed/GhanShyam Photography/Wired868)

We keep focusing on the optics and the pretty wins and not on what is required for us to collectively thrive as a people. Until we are Covid-immunised and we have systems and processes in place to ensure our collective safety, we are all at risk.

Columnist medical doctor David Bratt, president of the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago Patricia Ghany and several other influencers have all had one question: what is our comprehensive plan for immunisation against Covid-19? How are we purchasing the two million doses we need and where are we purchasing it from?

The population is awaiting a clear, comprehensive response to the primary question about the immunisation plan. We are awaiting the press advertisements advising of the details. We are hoping that it will not be a situation similar to the testing in which you can pay for your tests.

The prime minister’s uncertainty about the number of Covax vaccines does not inspire confidence in the population. Indeed, our notoriety for designing ineffective systems is likely to play out once again and those with the means will have access to a vaccine while others languish.

This will be disastrous because herd immunity requires that the majority of the population be immunised, and that will only happen under leadership that is forward-thinking and collaborative.

Governance and Technology will ensure a Positive Future

Jamaican Governance expert Dr. Vindel Kerr shares his views about governance in the region and the operations of State Owned Enterprises. He brings to the discussion the possibility of establishing a Common Caricom Corporate Governance Code which would articulate a model for the appointment and operations of State Owned Enterprises. He makes the case for public sector reform in Trinidad and Tobago and suggests that board members should be appointed political activists in preference for young, agile, competent persons. Media Insite’s leader Allison Demas is the second guest. She focusses on regional media monitoring and makes the case for digital media monitoring which can aid strategic decision making. Her research indicates that advertising is moving rapidly away from traditional media to the digital sphere where messages are being consumed. An interesting statistic which came out of the discussion is that 95% of the employees at Media Insite are millennials.