~ By Amina Doherty
I am inspired to share my learning with those who could not be there physically. This is my attempt to put pen to paper and share my experiences and thoughts of the first EVER Caribbean young feminist grounding held in Barbados last week. From Port Au Prince to Castries, Trinidad to Belize, St. Vincent to Jamaica to Guyana to Antigua we were there to ‘Catch A Fyah’ .
As I sat there with these womyn I realized that there is something deeply powerful, deeply transformative, and deeply beautiful about sitting together in community with groups of womyn in order to learn, grow and “become” together. In what previously I have simply understood to be an un-nameable feminist energy, I now term siSTAR fyHER powHER! And it was in this intimate gathering of sisters that I experienced this fyHER powHER, this deep feeling that marked the shifting sands of an emotional tide. Recognizing that in spite of our many differences we came together to this space searching, dreaming, desiring to be ‘held’ – physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. We came searching for a space to be honest with ourselves about who we were and what we stood for, and found that in the company of strangers we saw reflections of the best parts of who we were. We came searching for politics and solidarity in our feminist struggles and found political sisterhood drenched in love.
We learned big words like “intersectionality” “optional protocols” and “accountability”. We learned small acronyms like CPD, SRHR, MDG, Cairo+20 and more. We grappled with what these “big words” and “little words” meant for our lives, our struggles our communities. For the woman waking up at 5am to sell newspapers on the street corner and the sistren who can’t go to the police because of her “profession” and the dawta who say she cyah access condoms cuz she aint married, and the even likkler sistren figuring out this ting dem seh call “identity” cuz all she hearing is “gay” and “straight” positioned neatly next to words like “right and wrong”. And yes there were moments of sheer exhaustion…I will never forget Tracey-Ann holding her head in despair saying: “mi nuh understand what dis ah go do fi me in my life…How we ah go make dem tings mek sense?”
But somehow we did. Somehow we sat there and talked and shared and reasoned and dialogued and debated and disagreed and agreed and got distracted and stayed focused…and somehow we worked together to “Catch A Fire” that would leave each one of us changed; each one of us different; and each one of us glowing with a revolutionary flame that no one could ever out!
What does it mean to “Catch a Fire”?
Many may be familiar with the Bob Marley song that goes by the same name. (No? Check it here). So what was Bob trying to tell us in “Catch a Fire”? In the track, Bob melodiously and generously offers up his thoughts on themes of political injustice, poverty and what he understood to be the importance of connecting current injustices to past experiences. This idea of looking to our past as a means of understanding the struggles we are faced with today has always been really important for me. And so in my interpretation of the song, “catching fire” is literally about going back to get it. It is about past learning guiding future directions in ways that spark action; that spark change, and that fuel consciousness and self-awareness and fyah.
CatchAFyah’s Sankofa Moment: Getting the Balance Right
Sankofa is an Akan word that means, “We must go back and reclaim our past so we can move forward; so we understand why and how we came to be who we are today.” Following this definition of “Sankofa” and my understanding of what it means to “Catch Fire” we were led to what I’m calling our “Sankofa moment.” we, young feminists from across the Caribbean region were blessed to share our space with Dr Peggy Antrobus of Barbados and Andaiye of Guyana. I cannot express how much I valued the inspirational learning and wise words these elders offered. Looking around the room as Peggy and Andaiye spoke I watched each one of us hungrily digesting their words and advice. We listened with respect as they told us of all of the things they had done right and held no bars sharing where they thought they had gone wrong. I was moved for instance when Andaiye said: “We got the balance wrong – we focused so much on international advocacy we forget to pay attention to what was happening in our own back yard.” Her words certainly “grounded” us and took me back to the words of Toni Cade Bambara: “If your home ain’t in order, you ain’t in order. It is so much easier to be out there than right here. The revolution ain’t out there. Yet. But it is here.”
And I loved the way Peggy encouraged us to keep striving to get the balance right. “Each one of you” she said, “working at your various levels is important. Know that. Working together will be the only way things will change.”
I sat with all of those thoughts for a moment…and realized what they were saying. I realised that ultimately they were telling us that each one of us was “enough”. They were telling us to come as we were – but to come open. I have been carrying their words and those reflections in my mind everyday since the gathering. I will remember them always. #ThingsMyFeminsitGrandMommasToldMe
siSTAR fyHER, powHER and Love
And before I end I’d like to share the words and reflections of the CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network. I have divided it up into three sections based on the three principles I felt were present throughout our journey together: fyHER, powHER and Love.
*Consciousness-raising is more than education – it is about transformative life processes that change our approach to life and the ways we are living. *
*Politician come and go, funding agency come and go! Mi see nuff money throw way, waste way and all the problems still there. How we ah go mek this change ourselves? *
*We must appreciate the beauty of now…of our time today. If I died tomorrow I would walk around in a pair of hot pink panties because I feel everyone should see that at least once. *
*Fear not Sistren for fear kills light OR may cause your fire to burn what it does not mean to burn. Our fire must blaze deliberately like how our great-grandmothers controlled the fire of the fire hearth to bake bread…*
It just *looks* like the world is not ready.. shine some light into the darkness and see how fast people brighten up, like moths to a flame..blaze away!
I am feeling shaken. What to do when a fyah that was once flickering (on steady low heat) has begun to spread to all parts of your being (all in your toes yuh feelin it…all in your fingers yuh feelin it…all in yuh…you feel in it!) And now this fyah is blazing and you know you have to listen because it is turned up high – but you are stuck in a world that may not be ready for all that light? All your light?
*We are strong with each other. *
*The work we need to do is revolutionary. We cannot continue to focus on single issues… *
*Let’s not create an illusion. Let’s just keep it real. We work with what we have because we have things to change *
*The thing about Feminism that is so threatening is that it brings women together…it challenges the bullshitt of dominant power structures dat ah try hold we down – mi tink seh dem call it capitalism and patriarchy and ting *
*We need to think beyond money. What do we have to bring to our movements that can’t be cashed in at the bank – because when the stock market crash me nah go crash too! *
*We must bring the wholeness our ourselves to this work, we must bring our most integritous selves to our activism.*
*Whatever we do, we must do something. We are feminist ACTivists not Feminist PASSivists. Don’t let the revolution pass you by. The time to Act is Now.*
*We need to work at the heart level. At the Soul Level. At the sexual level. *
*Love = True acceptance / Depth of feeling *
*It is amazing to be able to have dialogues around healthy loving relationships with self and others.*
*In this work we must begin uncategorically with Love as our premise. Only love can make things change.*
*I see yoga as social justice work – absolutely. In this work self-compassion must come first. We must learn to act tenderly towards ourselves. *
*Life is not work. When you build a community grounded in love – that makes life *
*NB. Feel free to quote us. You can attribute the words to the #CatchAFyah Caribbean Feminist Network. For more reflections check out: CODE RED for Gender Justice
And so to all of you: Simone, Tonya, Rasheda, Robin, Patrice, Maxi, Tracey-Ann, Sanyu, Tara, Flavia, Mariam, Malaika, Kenita , Satira, Zahra One, Zahra Two, Asha, Sherlina, Fatimah, Kizzy Ann, Ifasina, and Valerie – Thank you all for “holding” me, for making me better, for helping me grow, for letting be “become”. Thank you for fanning a flickering flame into a full-blown fyah! Sistrens we can’t stop now – we have nuff work fi do! As sister Audre Lorde reminds us “Revolution is not a one time event.”
We have movements to move…but we must always remember that that we are not alone.
¡No pasarán!” “Ils ne passeront pas! “They shall not pass”