37 COMMUNITY BUILDING EXERCISES FOR MILLENNIALS

Online activism is a hot mess to me these days, and I've largely lost interest in 99% of the activities that I was once interested in. This is just a reality of increasing responsibilities and a shifting of my energy to activities I believe serve me better.

If it isn’t local feminist groups sharing videos suggesting that “I am Chris Brown” is a “movement” for black men to join, it’s homophobia, classism, or something else. Frankly, it’s exhausting and I no longer have the energy or proclivity to have “discussions” with people who are unwilling to educate themselves on the basics before assuming they’re correct.

There are a number of contemporary resources for educating yourself about feminism in the Caribbean, my blog included, and of course, scores of books, many of which I’ve already listed previously on my blog, or I’ve linked throughout my previous posts.

(Quick aside: When it comes to reading and educating myself about history, my most recent read has been “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States” by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz. This is a great read if you’re interested in learning more about the real history of the United States from the perspective of those who are indigenous to the country. I made it a point in the past to learn about the land I was occupying during university when I took a class called “Native People’s of Northern New England”. I learned about the different Algonquian ethnic groups, specifically the Abenaki, whose land we occupied up in cold Vermont.)

Still, in 2018, I don’t think it’s unfair to give this blog the ax. I toyed with the idea, but I think there’s still room for the occasional reflection on West Indian Critic. If you want to see more of me online, there are plenty of other places to do so which will have little explicit to do with politics.

If you too are seeing disillusionment with social media activism and you’re curious about what you can fill your time with, let me suggest offline community building, which has been my current focus.

For me, this means dedicating time to my immediate and extended family, dedicating time to the land via National Trust membership, and more. Here are 3 of the ways I’ve redirected my focus in ways that directly impact poor black women in Saint Lucia:

1. Attending National Trust Meetings, paying dues & educating friends/family about the trust’s activities

This is as straightforward as it sounds. I’ve paid my dues to the Trust and I spend time on many of their sites, most popular for me are Pigeon Island, the women’s battery in Vigie, as well as Sandy Beach. In a country where the media is constantly battling against the welfare of our citizens, you will find politicians spreading negative propaganda about the National Trust.

It helps when trusted members of the community cut through the noise and explain the truth in a clear manner. To cut through political propaganda, you have to make the person listening feel heard. This is difficult and to do this I practice a method called Non-Violent Communication, created by psychologist Marshall Rosenburg.

During this method of discussion you can empathize effectively and it is both harder to dismiss others than to be dismissed. Offline, it can be easier to explain what you mean and to reach a respectful understanding of the truth. The National Trust’s protection of natural sites around Saint Lucia and their interest in the people of Saint Lucia make them a wonderful group to stand behind and support. Their goals and views are consistent, if not amongst individual members, at least among the organization.

They do good work for the larger community and are active in protecting the land which is a cause I 100% support.

2. Shopping from the Castries Market

The majority of the vendors are poor black women who rely on agriculture to make a living. Many women I shop from have explicitly told me that without the French Caribbean tourists who come through the market, they wouldn’t be able to make ends meet.

I care about who I am enriching and I prefer to make a big impact in one person’s life than to be complicit in someone’s excessive accumulation of wealth. This doesn't mean I no longer shop at the grocery store or that I judge people who do, but I am making the conscious choice here about who I support.

I also believe that having a personal connection to my food has enabled me to appreciate it more, to eat healthier without buying into “diet culture” or even more consumerism.

Additionally, I have transitioned to partial-veganism and shopping at the Castries market makes this more sustainable as there is a wider variety of fruits and vegetables to choose from as well as other specialty ingredients I love like homegrown coffee, extra virgin coconut oil, and locally produced honey.

3. Building positive online spaces with better boundaries

I am focusing on spaces that are focused more on positivity than anything else. While there can be positive communities of activists, I have not found this to be true online for me. People might be nice enough to each other, but it’s telling that overall the tone of many groups of people is largely negative. There is a lot of competition, distrust, excessive disagreement and too much focus on garnering an audience. I find a lot of it performative and narcissistic, which may have been appealing when I was a bit younger, but it's not interesting to me now.

I believe I myself have fallen into this trap online, of focusing on all the wrong ideas, and it’s no longer serving me. At all. It took me a long time to realize that, but I need to be working towards something positive and to have a positive mindset towards my community.

Let’s not act as well like multiple people who seek social media popularity for social issues have quite narcissistic reasons for doing so. I don’t enjoy the uncertainty in who I'm approaching or talking to. There are a few specific incidents that have led to this that I don't want to discuss but let's just say that most are not out there walking the walk.

If spaces are built in such a way that they attract more positive discussions, I think that is psychologically better for me as a black woman in the long run.

Despite some negativity I get on my YouTube channel, which doesn’t bother me much, it’s a largely positive space where I enjoy sharing bits and pieces of my life in Saint Lucia and highlighting the realities of living here… whether you like what I have to say or not. I find Instagram to be the best platform I use outside of my regular job, so I’m really working on building that online community.

I love visual platforms and while I struggle with imposter syndrome sometimes, I largely enjoy using them. Maybe that shift has to do with writing becoming my full-time job. Regardless of the reasons, I welcome the shift.

Here are 37 other community building ideas to inspire you to take action:

- Consider a small monthly donation to someone in your family who lives in poverty (obviously this assumes you have money to spare)

- Enjoy a yoga/meditation/prayer practice that nourishes you spiritually

- Mentor someone in your community

- Teach someone in your community to swim (this assumes that you can swim and have the skills to teach someone to swim. Don’t drown your neighbor.)

- Learn CPR/First Aid

- Pay for a child’s meals/schoolbooks in your community

- Work with your friends to meet savings goals together. If they’re trusted friends, consider sous sous to save money.

- Work on something cultural: mas camp, putting on one of Derek Walcott’s plays, creating a YouTube channel of local herbal remedies, creating a blog documenting your family’s oral history, sew national dress, make farine etc.

- Encourage your friends to get their annual STD blood tests (and get yours too…)

- Educate older relatives about homophobia, sexism, transphobia and ableism in a respectful manner if the situation presents itself

- Support your favorite online creator on Patreon

- Listen to someone whose opinions you disagree with and try to find some common ground (***USE WITH CAUTION. Don’t go arguing with people who will just get you vex. Pick people you can have civil discussions with. Be the civil one in the discussion.)

- Share your favorite “social justice” book with someone

- Share your favorite underrepresented rapper/singer without guilt-tripping people into listening to them. Write a passionate reason why we should get into their music rather than "you don't like her because of [x identity]". (NOTE: Yes, a lot of people are prejudiced but I'm aiming here to promote reaching out to people who WON'T be attracted to negativity.)

- Look into organizing a community dinner/soup kitchen for the homeless with your church. (Or on your own.)

- If you’re in a Christian community, have discussions with people who espouse oppressive beliefs in the name of the church. Research ways you can use scripture to back up why empathy is more important than dogma.

- Research the beliefs/traditions of an underrepresented religious minority in your area. Educating yourself about someone different can do a world of difference for your ability to empathize.

- Consider starting a community garden in your area. If this isn’t feasible, consider starting an herbal garden or an “urban garden” for yourself.

- Educate someone younger than you about our island/environment and why nature is so important. (Don’t make this a boring or scary lecture.)

- Ask your vegan friends for good recipes. Even if you aren’t vegan, it’s kind to take an interest in other people’s interests. You may learn something too.

- Buy something from a local farmer or artisan. Even better, buy something for your mom from a local artisan.

- Learn how to make something cultural: farine, coconut oil, cassava, Jamaican patties, oxtail, pemi, tamarind balls

- Work on your mental health/sleep hygiene. You are an important part of the community. Take care of your mind and your body. Make sure you’re resting. If you can’t afford to do anything else, at least you should rest.

- Learn Creole. If you know Creole, speak it or teach someone younger than you who wants to learn.

- Go visit your grandmother or a lonely elderly person in the community. Ask about their lives and see if there’s something you can help them out with. At least bring them a “raise” if nothing else.

- Attend a national trust meeting or an analogous meeting in your area. If you can’t do that? Go for a hike. Can’t do that? A walk. Can’t do that? See if your local national trust (or any environmental org) needs help with managing their social media. Offer a couple hours a week if possible.

- Donate food/clothes/toys to someone in need.

- Donate to someones “gofundme” who needs help with medical expenses.

- Offer explicit support to someone you know who is going through a difficult time. Let them know that they can rely on you. That being said, if you are in need of support, ask someone trusted for a little extra support.

- Learn about “non violent communication” and “positive discipline” so we can be kinder to the children in our community

- Learn about your island/country’s history. Share what you’ve learned in a neutral way with the people around you. Allow them to draw their own conclusions.

- Support a local artist (emotionally). Let them know how meaningful their work is to you and/or how much you respect them. This can be casually. Or by carrier pigeon. The choice is yours.

- Know someone in government? Pen a letter/email to them about an issue where they have the power to make a change. This works best if there’s a personal connection and the letter is respectful and informative rather than pushy.

- Stop using plastic bags at the grocery store — try reusable bags. This isn't going to save the entire planet, but on an island, less plastic usage has a big impact on our surrounding oceans. (Look into the Castries Harbor if you think individuals can't make an impact here...)

- Visit the beach. Better yet make it a BBQ and invite people.

- Relax. Seriously, take a break. Delete all your social media if you have to. It’s okay not to be hooked to your phone’s buzz all day long. (I say this as someone who works online. I’m a responsible entrepreneur, what can I say.)

- Do you have a special skill? See if you can arrange to teach a free class on your skill once a week. Yes, this includes artists, coders, cooks, seamstresses.

I hope some of these ideas inspired you to get out into your community today and make a difference. Of course, feel free to tweet about it too, or connect with friends online over what you’re doing out there to make a difference.

See ya on February 28th. COMMENT your own community building ideas down below and check me out on social media once you’re done reading this post.

Mobility Issues Reduce Women's Accessibility To A Secure Future

When I went with my boyfriend to renew his Saint Lucian passport in downtown Castries, we climbed five flights of stairs to get to the top. Taking the elevator would have still left us with one or two flights of stairs to get to the office where passports are issued. Public buildings in Saint Lucia still leave a lot to be desired when it comes to accessibility. If it isn't ramps positioned at 75 degree angles, it's a lack of elevators or proper accommodations for physically disabled people.If you suffer from mobility issues in the Caribbean, expect to be excluded from many aspects of functioning independently. While community and family support does exist in the Caribbean, the dependence on others created by the inaccessibility of many public services (as well as proper health care) means that those who have issues with mobility are left in a vulnerable position.

We know that many disabled women face abuse because of their disabilities. Men prey on women they believe to be weaker, more vulnerable and less likely to fight back. When our society refuses to accommodate women with mobility issues, they may be forced to depend on abusers in order to make ends meet. Younger women may be unable to attend school, especially with illnesses like fibromyalgia. Our society puts women with mobility issues at a disadvantage, while scapegoating responsibility by half-assing ramps and elevators around the country.

(Note: Some elevators are hardly big enough for two people, far less wheelchairs)The cost of medical care for women with decreased mobility is another factor that oppresses the disabled in our society by denying them equal access to services that would improve the quality of life. Those who do not share the same needs as able-bodied folks are left behind. If we aim to create an equal society, we need to examine the impact that ableism has on a structural level. In this case, I mean this literally. The way we build our communities and the way we construct physical structures should not be done in such a way that excludes disabled people from our communities.

We need to break free from the capitalist notion that people's "utilitarianism" is what determines their value. We need to value everyone in our society equally and work on a structural change that increases accessibility for all.

Women's Wednesdays: Carnival Is Not A "Feminist" Space

Carnival is not a feminist space simply because there is nothing that materially or theoretically differentiates carnival from what it is like living as a woman in the Caribbean on a daily basis. While carnival can be a positive space for some women on an individual basis, we cannot too liberally apply the label of "feminist" to any space where women feel happy.

Yes, Caribbean women deserve to feel happy, positive about their bodies and to enjoy their lives. I would never debate this! However, Caribbean feminists need to recognize that feminism isn't the accidental result of large groups of women gathered together. It is intentional activism that requires challenging the patriarchal system of oppression in the Caribbean daily. We cannot assume that feminism will manifest without work.

There are many angles to approach change in our culture since issues affecting women and feminists appear on every level. But it's of utmost importance that we do something and avoid falling into the trap of neoliberal white feminism like what's popular on social media. We need to be cautious and more importantly, we need to invest our time in constructive community building activities that can ensure a safer country for our women.

LGBT Tuesdays: Anti-buggery laws

Striking anti-buggery laws are not a big priority for West Indian politicians, despite the fact that these homophobic laws are relics of a hateful past. We are willing to hang onto harmful colonial ideology as long as it's homophobic. Politicians do not even see it as a priority to protect LGBT citizens from violence.Government officials use their "Christianity" as an excuse for this, apparently missing the hundreds of passages in the Bible about being loving, just and non-violent. Their egos and their addiction to hatred impact policy that affects hundreds of thousands of people in the region.

We will never have a society that is committed to any kind of positive ideals as long as we have anti-buggery laws. We should not take any moral high ground or presume ourselves to be "good people" as long as these laws are still on the record. West Indians should feel ashamed of the fact that in 2017, we are barely committed to providing equal rights to life for all of our citizens. Of course, there are many other areas where we fall disturbingly short.

Our culture should not be wholly dependent on our laws -- and it isn't. Here, it's clear we need a legal shift as well as a cultural shift. But let's be real. We know West Indian politicians don't give a rat's...behind... about equality for all. Our laws and their behavior reflect this. So what can communities do? In Saint Lucia, we can work towards supporting United & Strong, an LGBT activist group that works for LGBT rights within our country. (Supporting = give money, in case that wasn't clear.) We can support individual LGBT citizens and campaign against homophobia in our families and groups of friends.

If we ever want an equal society, we won't let this slide. LGBT issues are not "minor" issues to be dismissed. We're talking about people's lives here. If your beliefs exclude viewing these people as human, you need to toss out the whole belief system and start again.

Race, Class & Caribbean Feminism

Discussing race and class with regards to Caribbean feminism can be tricky. The mythology of our islands being a racial "melting pot" has led to many people wrongly believing that we have no issues of race and class or that these issues are irrelevant to feminism. The fact that there are many wealthy black people in the Caribbean has confused people.

Despite the fact that there are wealthy black people and despite the fact that there are many black women, issues of race and class are still of utmost importance to women's issues. When thinking about race and class, we need to focus on systems of oppression, not our individual, anecdotal beliefs (many of which are informed by misinformation by international mainstream media).

Race and class have an impact on women's lives and I've discussed this before on this blog. When thinking about race and class, we need to avoid the belief that whiteness and multi-racial identities are "neutral" and therefore not worth examining. Blackness isn't the only identity that requires dissection as white people, non-black people and multiracial individuals all have different identities that affect their experience in the Caribbean.I happen to live in Saint Lucia, a country that has never had a social class of poor white people unlike islands like Barbados or Jamaica. This has affected the current socio-economic landscape of Saint Lucia and presents Saint Lucians with differing topics for discussion when it comes to race and class.

However, the existence of poor white people in other islands doesn't negate their racism. When reading the History of St Lucia (Devaux), there was a discussion about the virulent racism amongst poor white populations in other islands. Clearly, a lack of wealth amongst white people in the Caribbean does nothing to negate racism.Of course, there is far more depth to this subject, but this introduction is to highlight some of the complexity behind discussing race and class in the Caribbean. We should approach the subject with caution and we should not assume that the same dynamics of race and class in the United States exist here. However, this doesn't mean that the dynamics of race and class in the U.S. are irrelevant to the Caribbean, merely different. Or expressed in a different way.

A Proper understanding of race and class is especially important for those of us who believe that such matters do not affect our experiences or who do not see how these issues affect the experiences of others. When oppression is allowed to become invisible, it doesn't lose power -- it gains power.