Derwayne

YOUTH, ACTIVISM, AND THE INSANITY OF GUYANA’S ‘TALKSHOP’ CULTURE

THE other night I sat in an event hosted by the Guyana National Youth Council at the ‘elitist’ Georgetown Club. I witnessed something that made me proud; young people coming together to talk. Talk about issues that worry them, about race, about unfair treatment, about political misfortunes, about the Guyana they live in and even the Guyana they want. This warmed my soul to the point I felt a spirit of resistance consume me, but at the same time, I cringed in disgust at something I was tired of seeing- young people coming together to “talk”.

I’m not sure where I heard this before but there’s a saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If that is so, then by that definition, the majority of us who sat in that event were flippin’ insane. One participant related his experience where he was asked: what does it take for young people in Guyana to get angry? My answer to the question is this: so much is happening around us that ought to get young people boiling mad but for some reason they … just… won’t.

It’s almost as though they’d been conditioned into a functionalist mental state where they accept everything as it is. So Professor Danny Shaw who happened to be in Guyana at the time, was approached by the GNYC to have conversation with young people on activism, advocacy, movements and some other things. The response? The youths flocked like moths to a flame.

One participant made a point, which I agreed with, that the only reason a lot of them were there was because the gentleman, who was supposed to be the main item, was a white professor from the United States. Me ain’ know if nuff ah dem come from wuk, but plenty ah dem dress sharp sharp sharp. It was probably deemed appropriate by them because first they heard it was at the elitist membership-only Georgetown Club, and second they saw it was gonna be a white Professor from the US.

I for one am not ashamed of my biases and prejudices, when I got to the event and saw the gentleman, he wasn’t as I expected. He seemed younger than I imagined, he seemed relaxed in his appearance and he spoke not in a soft yet assertive tone like most of our caucasian facilitators, but with a certain broken boldness that if you closed your eyes and listened to him, you would picture someone african-american. Basically he sounded like an informed black man. Even the way he spoke about oppression seemed to be from an informed ‘minority’ perspective. I appreciated that.

But back to the point about nuff a dem not showing up if it wasn’t for de white man pon de poster.  Lemme paint a relationship between the saviour complex and the apathy of Guyanese youth. It looks like the only time they can pull themselves together is when some external force, divorced from Guyana in any long term way, swoops down and tells us to get up and get moving. Even Shaw admitted that the point about people not supporting locals was something he could see happening. He said if he had that conversation in the Bronx, the response wouldn’t be as overwhelming as it was in Guyana. It’s the facts. We feel comfortable waiting on that messiah to come and tell us when we’ve had enough. Of course, my Christian brothers and sisters shouldn’t be offended because I speak of the “messiah” in a proverbial sense.

While there was agreement that the man was excellent at what he did, another participant pointed out that the participants seemed not to be interested in what he had to say, and so they would steer the conversation all over the place to the point where things turned into a facebook venting session. But Shaw always tried to make our situation relevant to his experience in the US and even gave some excellent pointers. Shaw came with his experience of resistance in the United States but sadly enough,could never understand the “nuances” of the Guyanese resistance. Not unless, like he said, he lived here for about a year or so.

After all of that, the question is… whose fight is this?

And don’t get me started on de other white man who represents our former colonial master that tell we ’bout de prorogation. Before my blog is judged to be pro-government, I want to say that problem is a Guyanese problem and like Shaw not being able to understand the nuances, neither should the other white man who represents our former colonial master. Dis problem is we own and we gotta solve it. Why aren’t we trying?

While watching WRHM Capitol News, I found out that since Parliament went on recess in mid-2014 and there was the Prorogation in November 2014, Parliamentarians altogether have been paid  $136M (One hundred and thirty six million Guyana dollars) since the last sitting of the National Assembly, while folks at the bottom continue to scrape the bottom for a minimum wage with a $5000 (US$25) increase at the end of 2014. I don’t know about anyone else but 65 people in this country getting all that money? And they also have their professions aside from being MPs? That angers me.

I didn’t say much at this forum but I supported a lot of things. Allow me to steer my own blog away a little bit to remember and honour that lovely young lady who said “beware of the person who says they don’t see race!” That was some powerful stuff especially since there is currently a series of lectures happening at this other elitist place opposite Guyana Times where the regular “choir of the revolution” does always meet. The lectures are based on seeing race as socially-constructed and nonexistent. Wrong. I believe our country is too broken, and for us to sweep the dust under the rug is to operate in naïveté. What I propose instead is that we embrace our deep, dark history through education. We accept it. And we reconcile our differences. Because the only way we can know Guyana is if we understand the history of Guiana.

Another point on how we have to make the conversation and the resistance our own, the man Shaw asked how many of the people in the room had read the autobiography of Malcolm X. Besides him and another lady who lived in Canada most of her life, the rest of the room (close to 50 or so at the time) had not read that autobiography. And rightly so. It’s not our story. We should be asking if anyone in the room had read the autobiography and speeches of LFS Burnham, of Cheddi Jagan, of Eusi Kwayana, of Dr. Walter Rodney… if the answer was the same as that of Malcolm X readers (just two), then we really have a problem. We could never understand the Guyanese struggle if we don’t understand those young people who first dedicated their life to understanding and resisting that struggle.

But is what we really resisting against in this country? If it’s against one political party then no wonder it’s so easy for civil society to be labelled as opposition. What civil society should do is resist against all politicians. Resist against the media. And please, for God sake, the answer to one bad politician is not to replace them with another politician. But I feel that we put too much of our faith in politics, elections and the media.

Now I move on to what I contributed to the forum. And I hope someone was listening. At first I was intimidated by the presence of obvious “spies” from all ‘three’ sides of Guyana’s political sphere. Some with their agendas in hand as plain as day, others with their agendas only reflected in the glare of their cellphones as they sent messages to heaven knows who.

But then I reminded myself that when we crafted the conversation for young people, we never intended to exclude the presence of young people who are either comfortable with the current situation, or those who are moulded into knowing how to tap into it for their own benefit. And trust me, there were young people with known alliances to both sides of the National Assembly in that forum.

I does babble nuff. But anyway back to my point about my lil’ two cents that I gave. I think the biggest problem with this country is the media and the politicians. Evidently, those two forces are also what encourages the division in this country. If we feel comfortable waking up and somebody decides what information we ought to know on any particular day and we accept that, then we have a problem. Similarly, like I said previously, if we think that the answer to one group of politicians is another group of politicians, then we have an even bigger problem.

I don’t mean to bash the GNYC, Shaw or the event, but I just think more can be done to get our country back on the right track. Rome wasn’t built in a day and surely wasn’t built in five or ten years.

In closing, I’m happy young people were able to get together and have that conversation with a small session on the way forward.  Three and a half hours discussing the problem and two minutes discussing the solution and the way forward. Let’s not forget that it was conversation alone that got us here in the first place. And what was the solution that was proposed at that event? More talks and ‘talkshops’ for a later date. Just remember what I said about insanity at the beginning.

But in all things and more, I could be wrong.

11 thoughts on “YOUTH, ACTIVISM, AND THE INSANITY OF GUYANA’S ‘TALKSHOP’ CULTURE

  1. I see we share similar views on the media and politicians. I thought about going to the event but decided not to when I projected on the possible outcome; as you put it, another talk shop. Plus I’m not sure I’m still a youth.

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    1. Ha. You’re as young as you want to be. Not to worry though, the conversation on youth still includes the “young at heart” …

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    2. Hey Kwesi. As the point of the event was to have “Conversations”, it was necessary for us to talk. a lot of young people present were not the usual “faces/activists” and for some of them, venting/talking was necessary to get people’s feelings out of the way before clearing the path towards action. The point of an open space is to have no agenda, but yes, to come out with clear action. It was the first in the series of events and more thought will be put into how much time is spent on venting, and how much is action-oriented. But it was clear that the space was a safe one, and that people wanted to just talk. Talking is a stress-reliever, and not enough young people have avenues to release their stress and hear other people’s opinions (as is evidenced through our increased suicide/drug use stats). ‘Low the people to talk, after talk we gonna talk more ’bout action. Kwesi, there were older young people there to add personal experience and perspective – you should have come. All in all, I think this is an excellent and balanced perspective, Derwayne. As much as as you think doing the same thing is insanity, some people think that hoping for change in the current Guyana is also insanity. Each to his/her own.

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  2. Derwayne, you are also a part of the GNYC, and one of the most active members at that so some of your commentary surprises me in that you seem to absolve yourself of this insanity. The greatest issue concerning change is wishing it would happen faster.and believing our own individual responsibility to act will be taken on by the collective, by ‘somebody else’. The other part of the savior complex issue I brought up at the forum but hadn’t time to expand on is the someone elses’ responsibility complex we all suffer from. I see evidence of it in this article. You yourself have been part of grassroots action with the GNYC in the North Rupununi, meet and talk with youth from the region last month and have been at the helm of actions resulting from those talks in our effort to deliver past exam papers to students in the region. Action must follow talk if it is not to be senseless action. Senseless action can ruin a social movement, any social movement and examples aren’t hard to come by. The approach of the GNYC has been to start with the very thing you mentioned, informative dialogue and education. The youth of Guyana though 60% of the population are disjointed and united in their struggle to secure basic rights set out for us in the constitution. Time and again social movements call people out into the streets and hardly anyone turns up. This is where I applied my own definition of insanity for the same thing happens again and again. The GNYC is in a better position now doing just what it’s doing in my opinion. Looking for ways to start open dialogue in an oft repressive society where it comes to talking about hard truths, engaging youth wherever they are, changing the frame though which we see activism and advocacy in addition to instilling a sense of purpose and unity. There are many talk shops in Guyana, yes, but I don’t think it was without purpose.
    Professor Shaw was in Guyana on research and only encountered a single member of the team during his stay. Based on that initial interaction a pitch was made to have him appear at our first open forum to share his own experiences. We didn’t meet with Professor Shaw as a white man, and a black and indian…we met as humans. As a human being he came and shared his own experiences with us. You rightly said at the forum we should be critical when assessing media presented to us. One problem I personally have with media in Guyana is the insistence on viewing everything through the jaded lens of race. Racism is prevalent in our society and so is a lack of objectivity. I think it is the fact he came from somewhere else in all honesty, not that he was white, that brought so many people there. That said, we’ve had even more people show up to past events with no foreigners presenting so I don’t fully understand your point. In a society such as this the harsh reality is many are suspicious of ‘the other side’ as fictitious as that other side may be. Every other person seems to have an agenda and even if they don’t the media want you to believe they do. We met a guy with tremendous passion for activism and action, with 20 years of history in active human rights movements, able to give perspective on many different countries and an author at that. It didn’t matter what colour he was and we wanted to share that experience with the wider audience. The ultimate question facing any social movement concerns the way forward. How does one initiate action if those involved don’t understand the ‘why’ of that action? As brought up many times in the discussion, one of the biggest obstacles to mobilizing youth is the fact many of them are not informed about what is going on. There is no solution to our problem without a great deal more talking. Action on the scale you dream happens when there is a critical mass of consensus that we’ve had enough. If we don’t talk about and agree on problems and solutions most will never be informed enough to know what they should be angry about. They…just….wont.
    As an informed journalist and fully fledged Council member your voice matters too. If you honestly think you’re part of the problem know that every moment is an opportunity to be part of the solution. Don’t absolve yourself of responsibility when it suits you. There is always tons to do on the council and I don’t think we’re ashamed to say we need all hands on deck, as many as possible to make it work. If you’d like to see more action on part of the GNYC, you’re in one of the best possible positions to be a part of that action.

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      1. We meet and engage with youth wherever we can. Last month we were in the North Rupununi and had another team on the streets in Berbice. It’s not fair to say we’re elitist based on choice of one venue. We’ve even had events at the Yumana Yana in the past but tragically we all know what happened to that.

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      2. in addition to your comment Francis, we did make it clear from the get-go (on the flyer and the event page) that the venue was “nicer” because it is the first of a series and we want to go grassroots for the future ones. we’ve also sent a poll out to those who attended and one of the questions related to venue selection – let’s see what the actual attendees had to say – no one actually complained and some even commented that it “was a good strategy to get some folks out”. Always open to suggestions for venue alternatives.

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  3. Peace Derwayne and the rest of the family. Great blog. Great critiques. Spot-on. I’m just proud to have been part of it all. Try to follow our actions tomorrow on Martin Luther King Day against police violence in New York City and across the U.S. important times to be in the streets organizing the sleeping giant.

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    1. Hey Danny, peace to you too man. Now that I have you on both my wordpress and facebook, I can’t see why not. Looking forward to great things.

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