If some of us are free; we know it— because we are still running. The world today is one where we find everywhere that people are continually being pushed to pick one part of themselves to belong. Their every action crinkled into self-doubt and met by incomprehension, mistrust and outright hostility. Forced to face one plane of their identity over all the parts that collectively compose the bricolage of their daily being. But it is only when some people die, we are able to find any worth in their living. Regardless of where we live — the dead stand in real, not purely imaginary, relationships to the living. We seem, all of us, to have an unending love for the dead. We love them undyingly. Eternally. The Grenadian-born T.U.B. Butler imprisoned on Nelson Island, his friend A. T. P. James from Tobago, Krishna Deonarine (Cola Rienzi) and Elma François are such loved lives. Elma was the first person—and woman—in Trinidad and Tobago to be tried for sedition. The rock star Jimi Hendrix, said “Once you are dead – you are made for life”.
Others pave a path to power. They don’t live to fulfil the book. They edit it. Their points of leverage are sly positions of powerlessness. And out of the blue we endow them with iconic status far above what is human. High above us, like Joan of Arc. Aung San Suu Kyi did not change. She is consistent. The fault is with us to have not noticed her layered thick complexity. At the International Court of Justice at The Hague, she refused to even utter the word—Rohingya—while denying the atrocities and even the existence of the Rohingya. Even at the UN’s highest court, she defended the actions of the Myanmar military. In August 2018, she described the generals in her cabinet as “rather sweet”.
She remains popular. While her image had suffered internationally due to her response to the crisis that befell Myanmar’s mostly Muslim Rohingya minority, she remains hugely popular with the country’s Buddhist majority. But rather than uniting Burma, now called Myanmar, she stencilled a fine dividing line between support for herself and support for human rights. With an angelic face that could launch a thousand ships like Helen of Troy, she was a beacon of hope for human rights — a principled activist who gave up her own freedom and an outstanding example of the power of the powerless.
Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San was her father. He was assassinated when she was two years old, just before Myanmar gained independence from British colonial rule in 1948. In 1960, she went to India with her mother Daw Khin Kyi, who had been appointed Myanmar’s ambassador in Delhi. Four years later, she went to Oxford to study politics. In 1988, she arrived in Yangon, Myanmar in the midst of political upheaval involving monks. On 26 August 1988, she said, “I could not as my father’s daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on,” Inspired by India’s Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies calling for peaceful democratic reform. She was the face of the revolt against General Ne Win. Once in power, she prosecuted journalists and activists using colonial-era laws. Legislative violence is an old tool. With the news of a planned visit by Marcus Garvey to Trinidad and Tobago, The Expulsion of Undesirables (Amendment) Ordinance was passed.
In Trinidad and Tobago, the Sedition Act was passed in 1920, one year after the labour riots. It followed a string of colonial legislation that included the Shouter Prohibition Ordinance (1917), the Habitual Idlers Ordinance (1918), Vagrant, Rogues and Vagabonds Ordinance amendments (1838), Masters and Servants Ordinance (1846), Summary Convictions Ordinance (1868), and the Peace Preservation Ordinance (1884). In 1932, the Cinematographic Ordinance was introduced in conjunction with the Board of Censors. In 1934, the Theatre and Dance Halls Ordinance was passed. This law required calypsonians to submit their calypsos for approval before they were performed. In the words of the banned calypso ‘Sedition Law’ by King Radio: “They want to license we mouth, they don’t want we talk, they mean to license we foot, they don’t want we walk”. The Public Order Bill pioneered by Karl Hudson Phillips in 1970 was a draconian law that made Chalkdust sing “Ah Fraid Karl”. The Bill met widespread opposition before it was withdrawn. Hamid Ghany noticed however that elements of the Public Order Bill were reworked into other pieces of legislation, including the Firearms Act 1970, the Sedition (Amendment) Act 1971, and the Summary Offences Act 1972.
Laws were weaponized against anyone who expressed views that challenged the colonial and post-independence authorities. In the end, they added to underdevelopment. They denied the public access to a wide range of views and alternate outlooks. Despite the rhetoric of ‘massa day done’, nothing was done to change internal inequalities and colonial hierarchies. C. L. R. James predicted that the post-independence leaders would disappoint, deceive and betray. Jimi Hendrix, captures it best — it is only, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”