Stabroek News

Notes on Violence: Sharing the Words of Andaiye

With an editor’s note by Alissa Trotz


Alissa Trotz is Professor of Caribbean Studies and Director of Women and Gender Studies at the University of Toronto. For the last 15 years, she has edited the In the Diaspora column.

(This is one of a series of weekly columns from Guyanese in the diaspora and others with an interest in issues related to Guyana and the Caribbean)

Editor’s note: March 1, 2003, marked the 20th anniversar­y of the execution of University of Guyana student Yohance Douglas. In an article I wrote, and from which I draw here, I noted that earlier that year a small group of Guyanese women called on all women to gather in Georgetown to unite against all forms of violence – state violence, race violence, gender-based violence and more. In a press release the organizers drew on a quotation from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to explain the purpose of the group: “It is no longer a choice . . . between violence and non-violence. It is either non-violence or non-existence.” A few days before Yohance was gunned down, over 100 women of all races, classes and ages convened at the Tower Hotel and decided to work to build a non-party movement of Guyanese women. The press release they issued on January 29, 2003, welcomed “the support of men who are in solidarity with our determinat­ion to organize autonomous­ly against violence,” and went on to say “We are organizing against all violence—and in this spirit, we have named ourselves simply Women Against Violence Everywhere (WAVE). The media reported that about four hundred women showed up for the first vigil held in Georgetown on 24 January, and a petition that called on all parties to stop the violence garnered 600 signatures, including members of the internatio­nal community. WAVE does not seem to have gone any further but – especially to those involved then - this serves as a hopeful reminder of what can be possible: Women coming together, not leaving their community or their political party or their family behind, but finding ways to work with love towards a language of relation and reciprocit­y. Where we have each other’s backs. Where we learn and model languages of respect, not cuss down or cuss out, where we don’t hold people up to standards we cannot ourselves practice, where we walk with humility, where we recognize that the moral high ground is no ground at all, just sucksand. Where mistakes can be made and embraced, especially where there is sincerity to learn. Where we learn to listen to each other, holding space for the fears and misrecogni­tions, in order to find our way to each other. Where compromise is possible – defined here as it was explained to me by an Indigenous woman on the lands where I now live as coming to a decision that you can live with in a principled way. What would make this possible?

Towards this end, this week we offer the words of Red Thread co-founder Andaiye, who spoke in Georgetown at the end of a march to mark Internatio­nal Women’s Day, held after Yohance Douglas’ killing. Her powerful words resonate today across a troubled land – how to respond to the anger and frustratio­n at the police killing of Yohance, a young Black man, at a time when Indian communitie­s were also being targeted by deadly violence? How do we address all of this, so that we do not have to ask and keep asking, where are the Indian folks speaking up publicly and in outrage when Black people are hurting? Where are the Black folks speaking up publicly and in outrage when Indian people are hurting? Where are the concerns of Indigenous peoples in this exclusive quarrel? And where are the hurts, dreams, fears of women, children, poor people in all this? As Audre Lorde, who was Andaiye’s sister friend, notes, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.” This is the spirit in which we invoke Andaiye’s spirit, and her words reach out to us from two decades ago:

Andaiye’s speech, Internatio­nal Women’s Day, March 2003.

This is what we are saying. It is not okay to accept that any mother’s son be murdered by police because he is African-Guyanese or looks so. It is not okay to accept that any mother’s 18 year old son be murdered because he is a policeman. Where else was he to work? It is not okay that any mother’s daughter or son be abused or raped or robbed or killed because she or he is Indian Guyanese. It is not okay. And it is not okay to continue this war, and to use this war, to continue ignoring the needs and demands of the Amerindian people.

Karen (de Souza) said, and you began to chant, that people asking is where we been all the time. Well they can’t ask me that, that would be rudeness. But they asking some of us where we been all the time. And you chanted back, what was it? We deh here now.

The point is that the criticism that we weren’t here all the time is a stupid criticism. Every single person in the world begins from himself or herself, their own family and their friends. That’s not anything peculiar. The thing that you feel most about is what is closest to you. So the question is not where you begin. The question is where we are going. And this is what I want to suggest about where we are going.

If you’re a student, and last week when Yohance was killed and the other students from the university were hurt, if you’re a student and that’s the first time it really entered your consciousn­ess that something is wrong with the relationsh­ip between the police and the civilians, the citizens, then what should happen now, is that you never forget it again. So the next time somebody is killed, let me tell you what we should not do. What we usually do. When somebody is killed, if they tell us that those are bandits, we just accept it. We don’t even think about whether they are or they’re not. What is just as bad is, suppose they are bandits. Since when we stop using the police and the courts and so on to find people who are guilty and to punish them instead of the police being judge and jury and executione­r on the streets. So we have lived for what, several years now, because these killings have been taking place for several years, but they have grown worse over the last year and we have lived all that time simply ignoring each one of these killings and saying well, they must be did doing something. And now that it’s our friend, our fellow student, we say, but he wasn’t doing anything. And so we must remember the next time, perhaps he wasn’t doing anything. And perhaps, if he was doing something, then where we want him is locked up in jail until he can be tried and found guilty.

So in the first place, I’m trying to raise something about class, because that’s what they are saying. They’re saying the students are middle-class. I don’t know how they know that. They’re certainly saying that WAVE is middle class so they’re writing all kinds of things about designer hats and so on. What I think we have to do is not only to cross those class lines, so that if you are middle class, and you came out in the first place because you felt affected as a woman in the middle class, then the job is from here on in, to look more carefully at the hurt and the pain of women of the working class.

But now let me talk about the biggest one of all, which is the question of race. We cannot go on forever

killing each other and saying that is what liberation means. We cannot go on forever with a situation in which Indian-Guyanese say, if African-Guyanese are gunned down, that Indian-Guyanese would say well you all are killing us in any case, so it serves you right. Nor can we go on forever saying that because AfricanGuy­anese feel oppressed or whatever the various words we use, because we feel or for that matter are, that is not my interest, but the answer to that cannot be that we think it is okay to harass and to hurt and to abuse Indian people and the worst thing of all for us as women is that we are also saying it is okay for Indian women to be raped. You cannot rape an Indian woman in the name of my liberation. It is not possible. And we cannot go on accepting it. So it seems to me that the job from today is for us to make a change. This thing that we did today was a strike. We put down – well of course most of us, those of you who have a gentleman waiting at home, you struck but when you reach back home, the sweeping and the cooking and so on are waiting and the pot is waiting for you to stir, but at least you took off three and a half hours. So we took off this time, as part of what Karen (de Souza) told you is the Global Women’s Strike, which is in 70 countries of the world, including Africa, including India, including indigenous communitie­s. And we are part of that whole thing which this year has as its theme, Women Say No to War. Invest in Caring, Not Killing. And what we did in Guyana was to add to that our local demand: Women say no race violence. No race wars. Invest in Caring Not in Killing.

Could we try from today, whether we’re working inside WAVE, or whether we’re coming together across our different organisati­ons, could we try today to be there, present and ready to be counted, in solidarity with each other, instead of simply each being imprisoned in her own little class and her own little race. Could we try from today, the next time we hear, if we are AfricanGuy­anese, the next time we hear that something happened to people in Annandale, could we try next time to show some solidarity, especially with the women of Annandale, instead of behaving as if it serve them right. Could we try from today, if we are Indian Guyanese, the next time African-Guyanese are hurt, not simply to say, it serve them right. It may serve a few people of either race right. It could never serve all Guyanese.

We deh here now. We forward together. Invest in Caring, Not in Killing.

Adrian Hetmyer

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