In Trinidad, 2009, two books were written regarding a nascent activist movement against the plan of the government for smelter in southern lands, untouched forest since the time of Columbus. Both books were written by men, activists in this Anti-Smelter movement. One book was written by humanities lecturer Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh. The other was written by an Orisha, indigenous African religion from Nigeria, Yoruba State, adherent, Burton Sankerali.
Wayne’s book spoke about his philosophy on national development. For Wayne did not just oppose what the government was doing in its approach to almost every endeavor and action as pinnacled by the smelter plan, but pronounced what should be happening for a developing emerging economy instead. He borrowed the Rastafarian, another indigenously created religion of the African people in Jamaica, moniker ITAL, titling his book ITAL Revolution where ITAL is akin to the Jewish Kosher, or Muslim Halal idea, meaning, fit and proper.
Burton Sankerali’s book, titled The Rag File is a journal type manifesto of the Aluminum Smelter Wars in Trinidad and Tobago, as he defines it. The books are a wonderful accompaniment to each other. Burton gives the creation of the Anti-Smelter Movement from the people’s point of view, while Wayne’s book gives its philosophical underpinnings if one were to be assigned, according to his ideas and aligned with a people of a region’s way of life. Even non-Rastafarians agree with ITAL living and advancement. It hurts none and benefits all.
ITAL Revolution is a compilation of Wayne’s articles as appeared in the Trinidad and Tobago dailies of 2008. He states in the preface, “The articles make a simple argument, that the heavy gas-based aluminum and steel agenda, embarked on by a few government executives in 2001 is uneconomic. The costs to the lands, people and communities of Trinidad and Tobago are more than the benefits. This agenda must be deconstructed.”
The RAG File’s preface reads, “How it began- The Cap-de-Vile/Chatham Environmental Protection Group. In January 21, 2004 we were informed by mail and mike of a presentation in the Chatham government school. So I went along with a set of villagers to see what the meeting was about. Wayne Hughes of ALCOA was there. The meeting was about a proposed smelter coming to the Chatham area. They said 90% of the people of the area would get jobs. They opened the floor for questions. Miss Yvonne Ashby asked [a question] pertaining to health and ALCOA in Carenage [a village in the North West peninsula of Trinidad where ALCOA has an installation]. Most of the questions asked of Wayne Hughes, he refused to answer saying this had to be studied. Miss Ashby was asking so many questions they told her to move along and have somebody else speak. I was next to ask questions but everybody sat down so that Miss Ashby could speak.”
And thus, I read of Miss Yvonne Ashby. The Famed Miss Ashby that both Wayne and Burton referred to, described and wrote about. In Burton’s book, right after the preface and before the Introduction, there is a chapter written by a fellow activist, journalist, Attillah Springer, the one female voice of the movement as documented by her weekly columns in Trinidad and Tobago Guardian newspaper. She has since given up that role. Attillah begins her chapter Reflection on a Struggle: “A stupid man is bad enough, but a stupid woman must dead” colloquial Caribbean linguistics. “Yvonne Ashby uttered these words in the first meeting I attended under Handsome’s house in Chatham village. She had been silent for most of the meeting. Rarely interjecting in the long meandering conversation. The truth is she scared me. She put the fear of a host of gods in my heart. She made my spirit buck and my entire rebel blood boil. I was sweating.”
From reading these three references of Miss Ashby, my sense of her has been cemented. Truth be told, I too was a small part of this movement. I once traveled down to Chatham with Wayne and a motley crew of men unknown. Wayne wanted to introduce the village to me, and while there he stopped at Miss Ashby’s house; he wanted me to meet her. But alas, she was not home; it was then not the timing for me to meet her. I am still waiting. But she has captured my imagination. Once again, a storied fame of a woman unknown, unheralded, but yet, giving leadership, name, cause and purpose in the creation of a thing. By these two book accounts and Attillah’s words, the anti smelter movement of Trinidad and Tobago began and was given force by Miss Yvonne Ashby. In reading Burton and Wayne’s book sequentially, and seeing both reference her, with Attillah’s commentary, I was smashed and given great pause as to why none of these three people saw fit to write Miss Ashby’s story. Floored actually. I aim to correct that, God Willing, InchAllah. But in the meantime, let me recount for you how I believe it is women who are giving life, force and form to the grassroots uprising fomenting in various places across the globe.
In Trinidad and Tobago, this small spec of a place, with nary a history of protest and activism, this small movement was given force by a woman in a South village. She is the one who gave voice to concerns. Who spurred her neighbors and those in hearing that something was amiss to be interrogated. Attillah says, “It was purely on her steam that we were all there.” A whole movement from one person, and a woman: How common is this story, I want to know. And how can this reality spur a larger movement around the globe? How can I/we create the spaces for women to verbalize their own intention, collect their own following and spur action by those in their hearing? “In the movement lore, the story goes that it was Mrs. Ashby who first stood up to the Alcoa people and their maps. It was she who first realized that they were coming to build a smelter on her land. Mrs. Ashby was not having it.”
Who are the other women around the globe who are not having it? Who are they, unknown, unstated who are not giving way to the neo-colonialists, the globalized agents, the rampant railroaders, nature, heritage, culture and environmental destroyers, the multi -national corporation cooperators ? Who are they? I want us to know them. They are the voice and the future to frame our leadership, for us, who are searching for direction in a time when we see, learn and burn from the previous and current leadership. They who once held sway can no longer serve us. They never did. They were serving themselves, their families and cabal, to be enriched at our expense and destruction. It is a time for a new dispensation. And I am banking on people like me, women, old and young, seasoned and yet to be born, to lead the way. I will call myself the Midwife as with so many others, making a way. I want to give them the platform from which all quarters and faraway places coalesce one story line; for our true freedom, our true liberation, Finally.
If Miss/Mrs Yvonne Ashby is the face and name of an unknown woman to create a movement, turn a national page, and give fire to people seething with resistance and anger, we need to know the names of the women in the places where you live. As Attillah says, “Regular women. Women with children and husbands and church/temple/mosque duties and a kitchen garden; Indian and African women who call themselves neither feminist nor activist” Women of no labels, no restriction, or confinement. Women who are models of multi-tasking. Who know how to stretch the little they have to feed many. Mrs. Ashby needed no label for me to understand that she meant business. That she was going to defend the land her father had left to her.”
Who are the other women defending what was left to them, either by legal, paternal, maternal, natural or living means; whatever women take to name their own? I hope this article begins a blog where women can name themselves or readers can share and write the story of women they know, in their corners. We have a Women’s Army to amass. We have a Women’s Movement to create. This here is the gathering of those women. And further proof we have to clear the spaces to declare these women: numerous references to Ms. Yvonne Ashby and nary one photograph of her in public domain to share.
Melise D. Huggins
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