I got invited to this gyaff by the Guyana National Youth Council the other day. I didn’t go to their launch last year because well, I’m not a youth anymore and I don’t have the patience for many things anymore, especially gyaff sessions; I prefer to put my remaining energy and resources into action. Also I remember being a young person and feeling vexed at all the big people telling me what to do, how to think etc. I don’t want to become one of those disgusting people in my old age. I prefer to let people sort themselves out and then show me what they’re about- the adage about action speaking louder than words rings truer to me than any empty promise. But then I was reminded that I didn’t magically reach where I am today, that I learned from a lot of others, and that maybe I had a duty to share back some of the things that I’ve picked up along the way. Sure sure, I try to do that, but the real reason I decided to go to this event was because I was curious. I wanted to hear what was going on in the heads and hearts of these Guyanese youth. I’m around young people on a regular basis in Guyana (they are, after all, the majority in this country), but it’s a big, diverse group and I wanted to hear from this set. So I went, even though I’m mostly fed up of gyaffing, especially when it’s indoors at fancy smancy places like the Georgetown Club. I prefer to do my gyaffing outside, on the street corner, with random passersby, not in a building with a guard at the gate, air conditioning freezing your skin, and a self-selecting group of people. But anyway, there I was.
I didn’t see the 72 people who had RSVP’d on facebook, but it was a good turnout anyway, for an event that most folks only had a few days notice about. A good sign, I thought, that people were eager and willing to engage, to spend the time. But I also wondered how many just came because the white Amerikkkan professor man was the headliner. He was cool, nice eye candy, said a lot of revolutionary things etc, but I couldn’t help feeling sad/vexed that we’re still on this path. Runoko Rashidi- a renown African-American historian, anthropologist, writer, and activist was in Guyana last year, for several weeks, also holding free public events and I didn’t see any of these young people at any of those events (except for maybe Norwell). I don’t know if that’s because of a lack of interest or if it just means that more savvy marketing is needed.. Whichever it is, it’s clear evidence of something amiss, imo.
How many of these young people in the room, I wondered, talking bout revolution, speak out and take action when they witness violence- man beating woman, woman beating child, child beating child or animal, or any variation thereof? How many speak out and take action when they hear slurs against gay people, against the mentally ill, the physically disabled, or other marginalized groups in society? How many of them speak out and take action when they witness corruption and abuse of power? How many of them challenge the authorities and power that be and put themselves on the line to stop these wrongdoings? Again, I’ve never seen most of them at any picket or protest action that I’ve been involved with, and that’s been quite a few..
One of the first pickets that I was involved in, after re-migrating to Guyana in 2009, was at the Leonora Police Station, after they burnt the genitals of a 15yr old boy. It was a rainy day and there were only about half a dozen of us women from Red Thread out there on the street. We and our placards got wet up and most people just passed us straight- whether from fear or ignorance, I didn’t know. I remember being appalled that more people weren’t out on the streets picketing at the torture of this teenager, wondering what kind of country and people I had come back to, who could remain silent in the face of such abuse (something that I still wonder to this day). Of course, that was 5 yrs ago and some of these young people would still have been in high school etc. But there have been numerous other police abuses since then- the killing of the peaceful protesters in Linden, two of who were youth, the murder of 17yr old Shaquille Grant, the sodomizing of Colywn Harding and the shooting of Alex Griffith- both young men, the burning of the other young man in Plaisance, the indiscriminate murder of numerous ‘so called’ bandits- mostly all young men. When it’s open season on young men in Guyana, how come I’ve never seen most of the young people in that room at the Georgetown Club at any picket against police brutality?
I am reminded then, of the young woman who, her first time at a picket, told me she thought picketing was dotish, a waste of time. I know this is a common sentiment. But I wonder how much difference all the pontificating I see in virtual spheres, like Facebook, for example, has on things in the real world. It seems to me like many of the same people who say holding a picket sign on a street corner for an hour is a waste of time spend way more time than that ‘discoursing’ on FB, with much less impact. Yes, it gets frustrating to picket about the same issues over and over, to people who seem blind and deaf, who ignore, ridicule, or abuse you, to stand in the hot sun, or the pouring rain, but standing up publicly to the powers that be is critical and must be done. It sends a strong message to the powers that be that not all are cowed, that some eyes are still open, some brains still functioning, and some voices still free and fearless. Against fascism, tyranny and dictatorship, simple things like these become powerful weapons. There are numerous other strategies to employ, yes, but public protest and ‘real life’ dialogue- not just virtual, armchair discussions- cannot be underestimated. Also, nothing has ever been gained without some effort being put forth; sacrifices will have to be made. Spending an hour during your lunch break in the sun, possibly enduring taunts or jibes by passersby is actually one of the lesser actions and sacrifices that can be made; if this relatively minor action cannot be taken, then how can we ever hope to achieve greater things?
I know many are wary of public action because it might affect their jobs, or because their family members might disapprove, etc. I know many youth are just focused on themselves, on improving their personal circumstances, or that of their narrow sphere of family and friends. I remember the UG chemistry students who I chatted with in November, at the Groundings right after Parliament was prorogued. They were all planning on beating out as soon as they got their degrees, with zero qualms. I think of all the young people I know personally, who’ve left Guyana in the short time I’ve been back, and the numerous others who are just biding their time until. I used to rage and get vex with them, but I quickly learned that accomplished nothing, they were going to leave anyway. So now, I just encourage them to come back sometime and contribute somehow, even if they no longer live here permanently. It still tears me up to see them line up outside the Passport Office and embassies though. And I can’t really celebrate their achievements ‘outside’ wholeheartedly. After all, when the best and the brightest continue to leave these shores, it just increases the shit that those of us still here have to deal with. I wonder about these young people’s definition of success, about their understanding and value of freedom..
How many are contributing to their communities? How many give back, freely and voluntarily, to others outside of their circles, to those who look differently from them, who worship differently, etc? And I don’t mean photo ops with beauty queens handing out food to the homeless or picking up trash, or other just charity events, though that can be temporarily helpful too- I mean sharing of skills, knowledge, quality time- things both tangible and intangible that can transform lives. How many regularly interact meaningfully with people younger and older than them, just to mention one difference? How many realize, as audre said, that revolution is not a one-time event, that there are numerous revolutionary opportunities to seize each and every day, from large to small.
How many think critically about where they’re spending their money, who they’re supporting economically, when they want to relax and sport, or just every day when they’re buying their daily necessities? There are a lot of cocaine-related ‘businesspeople’ around, with a lot of business that are just fronts for money laundering and other skullduggery- how many take the time to ask questions and find out before they hand over their money, before they go to Jamzone, the Wine Bar, Palm Court, Buddy’s, etc? Why were plastic bottles of Coca cola and Sprite part of the refreshments at this youth gyaff? Why were local juices not being offered? What initiatives are there to support young entrepreneurs, trying to jump start their businesses in Guyana. Are people thinking about this, or just about who to vote for in the next election?
One young man talked about moral education that he did with younger children and another about environmental cleanup. An older man talked about baseball and a youth-run government. I left soon thereafter. It’s not too safe to walk in my neighborhood after dark, so I had to be heading home. As I passed city hall, I passed a gang of men with wooden planks beating on a minibus. Someone cowered inside. I went to the Stabroek police outpost to see if they could send some police. Of course, they’re never around when you need then. Inside the outpost, was a young policeman, and a 13yr old boy shacked to the rail on the side. You see is me alone hay, the cop said dolefully.