courtney crum-ewing: a true guyanese hero
i’ve just decided to vote. i’ve never voted in any national election before, not once in my whole life. i will be voting this may 11th though, for the first time. up to an hour ago, i was still undecided about this whole voting thing. then i heard about courtney getting murdered. immediately, the decision was made.
nobody knew anything, or nobody was willing to talk (on the phone) about what they knew/had heard. that was how this whole thing had gotten started after all, nandlall spewing curses, threats, and racist ignorance over the phone. listening to that recording was nauseating. here was the holder of the highest position in the judiciary, the individual sworn to uphold the law of the land and ensure justice to the citizens of the nation, brazenly admitting to using funds from the public coffers without permission, for his own private purposes (aka stealing), soliciting female journalists for sexual favours for other persons (aka trafficking), issuing threats of violence to journalists, crowing about his connections to the criminal underworld, and last but not least, engaging in racial superiority fantasies of the lowest order. nandlall was unashamed and unrepentant when confronted openly, and backed by his friends in government. there was no apology and no sanction; just another day on the dam, in beautiful guyana, when pppites abuse their power and the guyanese people and get away with it scott free.
until one person- courtney crum ewing- decided enough was enough. is he mad, they asked? because in guyana these days, to stand up against the abuses of the ruling powers is seen by many as an act of insanity. they don’t (want to) acknowledge the madness in their inaction, in the meek tolerance of abuse after abuse; of remaining silent and quiet as the country is run into the ground by a cabal of crooks, despoiling the children and future, both literally and figuratively. no- silence and inaction is understandable to many, even many of those who say they want change. the flourishing of corruption in guyana today is incredible. how did it get this bad, some ask, especially outsiders. years of inaction. oh, it’s never going to change, bemoan locals, most of whom say yes, we want change, but bai, how is dat going to happen? magical ideation is the order of the day- hope and pray that one day when you wake up it’ll all be different. or that the saviour will come down from the sky or wherever he’s hiding and with the snap of a finger, presto chango! yea, is sheer madness all round in guyana today.
speaking of magic- is so dis man crum-ewing appeared on the scene. most had never heard of him before. he stood for weeks, by himself, outside nandlall’s office, for hours every day, with his signs. i had been outraged by the nandlall recording yes, had been sickened by his blatant racism and overweening sense of entitlement and the show of support he received from his ppp cronies. but like many other guyanese, i had gotten tired of protesting. i know the ppp cannot maintain their stranglehold on power forever and that change is inevitable, and i still believe wholeheartedly in the power of the people to effect the necessary changes in their lives, environments, and the larger society, but i’m not a patient person and it’s disheartening to see the slow pace and the grasp that ignorance still maintains on so many, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. and so i pulled back from big P Politics and began to focus on engaging and improving the hearts and minds of the youth. as a not very patient person, i continue to be challenged, but knowing that this is the surest way to make real, sustainable change keeps me motivated. i have given up faith in the current system, with the current players, to deliver any justice to the populace, especially without a strong, consistent demand from the people themselves.
but courtney re-invigorated me. the man was an inspiration. the hours he spent, in the sun, by himself, day after day- i knew how tough that could be. the curses, belittlement, and harassment from the passersby and the police; the people who call you mad as you try to assert your rights and principles in the midst of insanity- yes, it can wear down even the strongest soul. there is something powerful beyond measure in standing up for your rights though; a strength that comes from taking action instead of just passively accepting the shit, even if the necessary transformation seems far far away. every journey, as they say, begins with a single step and every fire with a single spark. courtney was a cauldron of fire.
we eyed each other a bit warily when we first met. he had had to go to court that morning to answer the charge of trespassing after he ventured into nandlall’s office compound to use the toilet (built with taxpayer dollars, btw). outraged at the further attack on citizens’ rights, a solidarity action was hastily organized. with a few notable exceptions (2), none of the people who ‘liked’ the idea on facebook showed up that morning on the street in front of nandlall’s office. the women of red thread came through tho. they had lagged they said, in not picketing nandlall before, even though something had been written and sent to the papers. this man crum-ewing got it though- nandlall’s utter disrespect for women as a sign of the structural violence of the state. we joked about doing a ‘shit-in’, or a ‘shit and shy’, on the point of the toilet use, but ultimately decided not to stoop to such levels. (the stray animals and street people made that happen in good time anyway). crum-ewing was a serious man though; he wasn’t interested in ‘shit-in’ jokes. and so we eyed each other warily at first. i didn’t blame him for wondering who these people were who’d showed up, weeks later. introductions were made, credibility established, and solidarity expressed. those who could (again, just 2 of us), started joining courtney on his daily vigil outside nandlall’s office. i committed myself to 8-10am every monday, wednesday, and Friday and did that for several weeks.
as someone who some may call a ‘coolie’ woman (not an identity or term i personally claim however), i felt it was important for me to stand visibly against nandlall. as a feminist his attitude toward the female journalist infuriated me. it’s not just him with that attitude tho- many many other Guyanese men, of a variety of ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds, believe that women are to be ‘used’ by men, however they please, regardless of what the women themselves may want. as someone of indian heritage, nandlall’s assertion of caste further enraged me. our foreparents crossed the kali pani to escape that shit- let’s not get the facts twisted- most of our foreparents were not high caste brahmins or whatever but poor as fuck dalits and other untouchables forced out of a system that had no care for them. sure there were some businesspeople and other opportunists journeying, but the data and facts clearly show that indentured service was mostly for those Indians with few/no better choices. the recent tendency of many Indo-Guyanese to uncritically embrace that society from which our foreparents fled, and which is still the source of pain, suffering, and massive inequality for many Indians today, saddens and aggravates me. last but not least- as an ordinary Guyanese, i am outraged at the steady stealing from the public coffers, the misuse of public funds for private purposes, and the total lack of accountability of public officials like nandlall. Also, if this is how the head of the judiciary behaves, utter lawlessly, it is clear that the system is rotten to its core and therefore will not serve to provide any justice to us ordinary Guyanese. it’s for these multiple reasons that i joined courtney’s picket outside nandlall’s office.
as we gyaffed, i found out he was a qc old student as well- that he had been there the same time as nandlall actually. like me, he was a comebackee also, still stuggling at times to make sense of this guyana and guyanese people. he loved his daughters greatly and took much pride in them. another thing was crystal clear- he loved this country and he wasn’t afraid to stand up and speak out when he saw abuses. he was committed to the cause, willing to sacrifice his own time and resources in the quest for justice and accountability. i admired him and told him and others so. we had different styles tho. he paced and boomed to the passing cars and people. sometimes i felt like engaging with people but sometimes i wasn’t able. sometimes i focused on talking with indo-Guyanese folks specifically, trying to gauge how far we’ve come from the bottomhouse apanjaat ignorance. other times i talked to women specifically, especially the ones working in nandlall’s office- the other lawyers, as well as the cleaning women, secretaries, etc. one or two of them gave me surreptitious signs of agreement- a quick thumbs up or head nod on their way past. but just as often, i got passed straight, with the zombie stare. one one times, they’d say how they couldn’t talk, that they had work to do. another common response, from both men and women, of all ethnicities, to my query about what they thought about nandlall was that god was in charge and would handle things. “ok, but what can *we* DO, in the meantime??” i would follow up with.
even if you believe that god is magically going to appear one day and solve all the problems in the world, or that prayer can cause miracles, or whatever, there are still actions that can and must be taken in order to make our society better. afterall, one does not just throw seeds on the ground and pray for them to bear fruit- the soil must be tilled, the plants watered, etc. the same goes for children, for society, for a country- all people have an active role to play in order to create a better reality. voting is just one of many things that can be done. i am not a huge fan of partisan politics, of the way that political systems perpetuate divisiveness and inequity, or of the entrenchment of power outside individuals, in corporate and other entities. i think too many resources (intellectual, economic, etc) get put into partisan politics and not enough energy or money in the other, non partisan, non big P political avenues of changemaking. i hate the fact that so many people are most active around election time, that they seem to go silent and back to sleep seemingly after elections, that they give up so much of their innate power to the ‘big’ men and women, that they need to be ‘led’, that the same amount of energy and focus is not put into holding politicians accountable to the people as in getting individuals to hand over their votes, that elections seem to bring out the worst in people, that money can buy votes, that business/corporate interests often take precedence over the rights of people, animals and the environment- yes, i am not a fan of partisan politics, elections, or voting. but i’m going to do it this time, because it’s one way of getting change, and because courtney was killed as he was on the street encouraging people to vote. his death must not be in vain. the stranglehold of the ppp needs to be removed from the necks of the guyanese people.
i wish i were enthused about the opposition. i’m not. but they will be better than the ppp (it cannot get much worse), and if they’re not, well then you can be sure that i will fight them too when that time comes. there is a reason courtney was killed. the criminals in the ppp are not going to give up the reigns of power and the cashbox without a fight; they are facing, after all, jail time as well as the loss of their ability to act with impunity and a total realignment of their lifestyles. courtney, with his commitment to accountability and change, was a real threat. people like him who do not need to be told what to do, who take initiative and bold action, whose internal compass is strong and clear- people like this are powerful beyond measure. and so, because they are inspirational, because they show the way forward, because they promise to overturn the status quo, they are deemed threats by the powers that be. courtney’s voice was a clarion call for justice. and so, they silenced that voice. but while courtney’s physical presence will no longer be among us, none of us who ever met or interacted with him will ever forget him, and his words and deeds will continue to inspire ever more, even after his passing. let courtney’s death not have been for naught. we must all continue to and encourage others to speak out against violence and repression. we must rid ourselves and our nation of the scourge of nandlall and the rest of the pppites. and so, this may 11th, for the 1st time in my life, i will be voting. for courtney, for myself, and for a better guyana. for justice and accountability. against the ppp.
but before and beyond election day, we must continue to take action- in our homes, families, communities, workplaces, and all other possible spheres, to build a better society. we must not only wait for the politicians to do for us- we must organize and empower ourselves to become change agents in our environment as well. remember the children- they are the foundation of all society; teach them well. increasing dialogue and understanding, across all differences- race, gender, class, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, religious belief etc- is key. for there is more than unites us than divides and this we must always remember. do not be afraid, or, even if/when you are afraid, do not let it paralyze you- still act. to paraphrase audre lorde- your silence will not protect you. we will all die one day and when we do not speak our truths and when we do not speak truth to power, that is akin to a living death. even if it’s just you alone at first, take heart. others will show up. it may not be dozens or hundreds, but wan wan dutty build dam. remember courtney- nobody was directing him or telling him what to do, he simply knew what was right and needed and he did it. courtney’s fearlessness, his commitment, and his determination make him a role model for all guyanese. he never appeared afraid. even though they killed him, i am sure he wouldn’t want us to cower and hide now. into the void that they created when they murdered him, our voices must now sound clearly and boldly. rise in power, courtney crum-ewing, a true guyanese hero!