CCFA, You Made A Boo Boo

CCFA, You Made A Boo Boo

By N Oji Mzilikazi

April 19, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 07)

Dear CCFA, Mr. President, Members of the Executive,

With all due respect, it is with a heavy heart I pen this. I had so much hope for you moving this thing that we love; this thing call Carifiesta forward. Your acceptance of the City’s shortened route is a betrayal of the community, and a betrayal of the very spirit of Carnival. It can in no way shape or form be justified.

I know you inherited an extremely weak organization; one whose past leadership failed to show direction, had no vision, no business acumen to make Carifiesta financially viable, and more importantly, no political groundings to deal with the City in an effective manner. They simply saw themselves as staging a “Jump up,” with no understanding of its deeper significance.

They didn’t see Carifiesta as politically, racially, and socially empowering. They didn’t see Carifiesta as an emotional release, therapy, stress reliever and a respite from the frustrations of winter, life, and the multitude of varied obstacles many in our community encounter and experience daily, including police heavy-handedness and racial profiling.

All they saw were wine and jam: hips, pelvis bouncing, wining, rolling in unison, genitalia thrown front, back, side and center, and rude girls in glory – showing off their perfected control of their middle section.

They didn’t see the Parade as saying to the wider society and the political structure, “Look at our numbers. We exist, we are here, we count, we vote, we pay taxes, and this is home.” Their approach to the City was like that of a beggar asking for change. I don’t want you falling into the same mindset.

They forgot that back in the day, whenever the West Indies, India and Pakistan played cricket against England and Australia, the game was transformed from bat and ball to that intellectual and racial strength.

Cricket represented white hegemony. Defeating those nations was to score a victory over former colonial masters and representations of white supremacy. It psychologically established equality of non-white humanity. Psychologically, Carifiesta is the reign of “outsiders.” People whose skin colour and physiognomy oft invoke negative reactions, bias and discrimination.

Carifiesta is our community striking a blow against white cultural hegemony. It is our way of “mashing” up Babylon.

They forgot that up until 1962, Canada’s Federal Immigration Act kept Blacks out. That Canada has never been welcoming to Blacks. They forgot we live in Quebec, whose people for the most part were victimized by the English and made to feel inferior, so the ascension of the PQ made French liberation; French empowerment and French language domination priority one, two, three, four.

It would be stupid of us to believe the City administration, Francophone bureaucrats and functionaries, or the people of Quebec are willingly going to care about us – our community, like us, respect us, or be magnanimous towards us.

We have to make them respect us. We must force them to recognize if not care for us. And how do we do that? By affirming our rights as citizens, fighting for said rights, getting involved in the political process, holding strong positions in regards to our welfare, owning businesses, building institutions, moving away from island tribalism, displaying effective management and leadership skills, and with transparency and accountability our measuring scale.

Every time we don’t function according to sound principles, one of our businesses fail, or we mismanage an organization, it says, “we ent ready yet – we cannot swim with the sharks, and the esteem of the community takes a nosedive.

Just this March, the City dropped a letter of eviction on Notre-Dame-de-Grace Black Community Association with a 60 day notice to vacate the premises.  The NDGBCA has been delivering services to the Black residents of NDG since 1972. While one could advance the City’s action demonstrates it doesn’t give a hoot about those serviced by the NDGBCA, it isn’t the City’s fault the stewards in the organization took the NDGBCA into that abyss.

And be rest assured, none of those stewards, some who deliberately acted inappropriately to get over, are losing sleep over that situation. Who among leadership is going to man up, call names and demand accountability – hold those stewards accountable? Are we going to continue to let mismanagement slide – go unpunished as in not being publicly embarrassed?

Power respects power. Every time we – our community accept less much less will be given. Has Jamaica Day grown since being kicked out the Park, and municipal legislation pass forbidding such gatherings in city parks? Every time Carifiesta is chipped away; so is the community’s respect.

Organizations/leadership must realize their thing is part of a bigger thing, not something that exists in isolation, and repercussions to poor decisions affects all.

In complaining about the difficulty in obtaining funding for Carifiesta some years ago, Ms. Sandra Dass was quoted in a newspaper saying, We need to move ourselves away from the Jazz Festival to show Carifiesta can stand out on its own.”

The Jazz Festival wasn’t even conceptualised when Carifiesta was launched. The Jazz Festival is blessed because it’s money-making machinery, not to mention it’s from white hands. The Jazz festival overwhelmingly brings Black Americans to make its coin.

Carifiesta is from our hands – West Indian hands/Black hands/Indian hands/community hands. And though it generates revenue for the city, and has the potential to be money-making machinery as well, the City has always treated Carifiesta as a disliked stepchild. Past leadership did nothing to change that perception.

Our community pay taxes. Taxes that contributes to the City’s functioning. The City investing in Carifiesta must be positioned as them giving back. Once we feel the City is doing us a favour, and we approach them in that manner we disadvantage ourselves.

In the same article, Dass opined, “We’re overshadowed right now but I can see Carifiesta being moved to later in the summer.”

When our officials can hold such a view, it’s easy to see why the City would keep us away from “clashing” with the Jazz Festival or Canada Day. Carifiesta is not in competition with the Jazz Festival nor does it target the same demographics – a point we’ve failed to establish with the City.

Without a model of strength, Mr. President, there was nothing for you to draw on. Hence I didn’t pound you last year for accepting to stage Carifiesta on the same day as Jamaica Day, (A house divided falls.) And for giving out flyers to homeowners and businesses along the parade route, at the behest of the City when its postal workers are paid to deliver mail.

I don’t know if you sought advice on this. I don’t know if anyone whispered in your ear or if you believe this was the best option. Any which way, it was ill-conceived, bad advice, and showed no understanding of the dynamics at play.

Even if something doesn’t make dollars, it should at least make sense. Why would any masquerader want to pay upwards of a $100 for 20 minutes on the road, especially in these economic times?  How long does it take to build a truck; make it road worthy, safe and to set up its music – an hour, two, three? Is the man hours needed to prepare those trucks for a 20 minute parade worth it?

Carnival is parade. Parade is display. Display requires room. Carnival is Spirit. Spirit takes time to heat and manifest itself. Carnival is physical exercise for both revellers and spectators. They walk, dance and wine. Spectators wine to the side.

Carnival is parade down the streets; the longer the better. To quote Lord Kitchener, “The road make to walk on Carnival Day.” The route as agreed upon by CCFA and the City takes the road away from the people? The proposed cool down at Parc Drapeau is foolishness with a capital “F.”

Drapeau has long proven to psychologically be too far for our people. Our events there usually flop. More importantly, how could we cool down on a Sunday when we never got a chance to boil on Saturday, much less heat up given the shortness of the route?

It have a lot of people here who does talk bout culture, and feel them is entitled to run tings, and when dey can’t get dey own way, dey does do like lil children and pick up dere marbles and run home. They ent lending their strength and connection to see the same culture dey say dey love grow.

Last year, I listened to a live interview of our very own Mr. Henry Antoine on Trinidad & Tobago’s Wack Radio. Callers from Montreal and the United States pointed out they were saddened he wasn’t running things here, the Carnival wouldn’t be the same without him, and he is the only man who could run it. A woman wrote in the Wack Shoutbox that she wasn’t going to be bringing no mas in 2011 since Antoine was out. She go be doing a kiddies thing in she area.

Mr. President, there are people out there who want to see you fail, and ah really doh think its personal. Though some ah de old timers ent bring no band last year, Carifiesta still come off. This year boy, yuh in rel doo doo. Ah cah vote fuh dat, but ah ent want yuh to fail.

Mr. President, your position calls for a heavyweight. A person, who knows the intricacies of the ring, is astute, mentally agile and could hit hard. I am not questioning if you made weight or if you’re boxing in the right class, but this here move has you out-manoeuvered, out-boxed and outclassed.

Business capitalizes on opportunities. Business targets special days and holidays for then, consumers readily part with their dollars. Party promoters look for the most opportune time to throw a fete – to have a greater pool of people from which to draw attendees. The Carnivals of Toronto, New York and Miami are huge because they occur on a long weekend.

There was a time when Carifiesta drew upwards of 100, 000 people.  Its administrators never sought to find out or tabulate its financial spin-off to the city of Montreal. Hard numbers would’ve made it possible to impress the City as to why its funding ought to be increased.

The failure of past carnival administrations to look upon Carifiesta as a business, apply principles of business towards it, as well as them being competent are major contributors in its decline.

Mr. President, if you could recall, when I attended the post-mortem of Carifesta 2011 last July or August, I suggested that since Canada Day 2012 falls on a Sunday, CCFA should have the Parade on the Saturday – operate like business and capitalize on the long weekend.

In the spirit of short-sightedness, my view wasn’t entertained. Someone mentioned the police wouldn’t want to put down two sets of barricades for both parades. Putting down barricades one week and then the next on two different routes incur a greater cost than doing so consecutively. The mere entertaining of what the police are going to think shows we do not think of exercising strength or power in the pursuit of goals to empower our community.

Mr. President, your boo boo can be used to our advantage. Put Carifiesta in the Canada Day Parade – use the long weekend of July 1st to stage Carifiesta. We go bring up the rear. You don’t need the City’s permission to participate in the Canada Day Parade.

The Canada Day Parade in Montreal was started by a West Indian – an Indo-Trinidadian. Carifiesta in the Canada Day Parade exposes Carifiesta to a new audience, and that ought to bode well for future Carifiesta parades.

City Hall and Federal politicians have always stayed away from the Montreal Canada Day Parade. Dey doh want to offend the francophone majority, plus for de most part, dem is Quebecois. Hence, Canada Day has had no political support in Montreal.

Though our community has known victimization from both French and English, our language based culture makes Canada Day something to celebrate.

Carifiesta in Canada Day saves the City upwards of the $200,000 that is claimed allocated to provide security, other amenities and the after-parade clean-up.

Given that all our people who went down the 401 usually return on long weekends to see family, Carifiesta in the Canada Day parade would more than likely have an attendance that hasn’t been seen in years. More importantly, party promoters will get a chance to eat a food. Last year all went hungry.

And I want you to tax promoters. Hit them up for five (5) per cent of their profits – to go into the Carifiesta Fund. For far too long promoters have been eating off Carifiesta and not giving back. Explain to them that a healthy Carifiesta translates into profits for them; and a financial contribution from them goes towards producing and having a better product. How could anyone argue with that? We must do for self before we ask others to do for us.

Mr. President, go back to the City. Tell them de people say no to Carifiesta on July 7 – that the shortened route defeats the whole purpose of having a parade. Tell them Carifiesta is going to join the Canada Day Parade this year, and allyuh work out allyuh money business. And if yuh want moral support, ah go go with yuh and yuh people to the City Hall. Don’t forget to inform the Canada Parade folks that Carifiesta will be joining them this year.


Joe Dyett: We Need A West Indian Spring

Joe Dyett: We Need A West Indian Spring

By N Oji Mzilikazi

April 5, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 06)

I’ve never met Joe Dyett, but we’ve had several engaging conversations. Dyett is adamant about two things. The community is in the worst shape ever. It is in need of restructuring, and we need to get back to reclaiming our West Indian identity.

Born in Montserrat, Joe came to Canada in 1967, after residing in England for 12 years. This retired carpenter with a history of activism in the Negro Community Centre (NCC) and the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) among others, describes himself as no intellectual, just an ordinary Joe.

Q: Why the specificity of West Indian people as opposed to the other identities employed by the community?

JD: Caribbean is too broad a term. In talking about Caribbean we are moving away from our history which is West Indian. The Caribbean includes Spanish speaking people from South America. West Indian history has always been about a regional people, an English speaking community. Its expats have always waved the flag of the West Indies. When we identify as Caribbean it’s as if we are ashamed of being West Indians.

Q: What about the children born here who identify with being Canadian and Black?

JD: As West Indian descendents, they are part of it. When I speak of West Indians and having West Indian organizations, I include their descendents and friends of West Indians. West Indians are great individuals, but individuality takes us nowhere when we have to deal with corporations, organizations and institutions. We can only move forward under a united front and West Indian is the best way to go. We seem to have been left behind. We are lagging in everything, the education, the economy. We have become the poor people of Quebec.

Q: And what do you attribute that to?

JD: Leadership! Poor leadership. Leadership has gone wrong, is going wrong. We haven’t had the leadership with vision to take us anywhere, and that has to change.

Q: There are those who would disagree with you, say we’ve had leadership, and take offense?

JD: Show me I will say, show me the leadership. We are worse off than before, and some of our leaders or recognised people them have been in office for over 30 years. We split and divide ourselves into little pockets; groups and organizations that really aren’t going anywhere, and haven’t been effective.

Q: Surely gains were made?

JD: As a community we haven’t moved. We haven’t developed and we haven’t grown. We have not been able to build and sustain institutions. Our institutions are gone. We have not been able to build an economy. How can we establish a community without institutions? It cannot be done.

Q: What were our glory days?

JD: The 70s. We had racial consciousness, regional consciousness and cultural institutions like the NCC. We had a more together community at the time. We have been slipping downhill since then. We haven’t been able to come together as a West Indian community and do anything positive. We haven’t got the institutions to maintain what we need to as a community.

Q: What went wrong?

JD: A combination of things. There are many things to be looked at but leadership is in the forefront. We haven’t put enough emphasis on education. Where are our English speaking West Indian or as you like Caribbean doctors, lawyers, technical people. They’re just not there.

Q: Could it be that PQ coming into power and Bill 101 drove them away?

JD: That’s only a minor part of it. We have to create something that our talented young can stay. We haven’t created anything. We haven’t built anything. Those that were built have fallen away, have become obsolete. It comes down to leadership. We have people in position here who really aren’t interested in the development and advancement of the community. They are interceptors.

Q: Interceptors?

JD: If the government wants to give us something, there is always someone out there to intercept it, and nothing ever develops, nothing ever grows. These interceptors are people that masquerade as leadership and are only out for themselves

Q: Why would the government/agencies who have a working relationship with those folks and their organizations want to hear your voice or say mines?

JD: The government only deals with them because there are no other group or institutions.

Q: I am not a fan of starting new organizations but strengthening existing ones.

JD: We need to reform, restructure the entire community. We keep on recycling. We are forever recycling. When institutions fail; when a bank or corporation fail what do they do? They don’t bring the same people back to rebuild. So why are we doing that? We are the only people you see doing that; the faces of failure are constantly given more opportunities to fail.  Why do we keep on recycling?

Q: How do we change that paradigm and get from here to there?

JD: By putting something else in place. Those people aren’t going to step aside. We must start building an organization and add people one by one. It’s a step by step, one by one approach.

Joe Dyett is presently engaged in setting up the West Indian Economic Development Corporation of Quebec.


Easter: Rebirth & Renewal

Easter: Rebirth & Renewal

By N Oji Mzilikazi

April 5, 2012

(Originally published in the Montreal Community Contact Volume 22, Number 06)

In 318 AD, the Roman Empire officially accepted the God of Christianity as their true God.  How could a people that fed Christians to the lions repudiate their pagan Gods and anti-Christian history and maintain the masses on their side?  Quite easily – by allowing pagan and Christian rituals to flourish side by side. Carnival and Halloween are perfect examples.

The pagan festival celebrating the gods of wine, revelry, debauchery – the joys of the flesh – Carnivore – Carnival is immediately followed by Lent – a period of purification, penance, fasting and prayer.

The Celts once occupied a huge part of Europe. Halloween, celebrated on 31 October marked their New Year, and was the day of the dead and of blood sacrifice. Halloween welcomed and invoked the spirits of the dead (Tricks and treats were a tool.) with the thrust of gaining supernatural powers.

In response, the Roman Catholic Church introduced the celebration of All Souls Day and All Saints Day immediately following Halloween. On November 1st and 2nd, candles were lit on the graves of the departed and on the steps, porches and balconies of homes. The festival of light was to guide the spirits back to their place of abode just in case they were disturbed by the celebrants of Halloween.

Though Halloween has been repositioned as a trick or treat adventure for children, reports show that the mutilation of animals especially cats and dogs increase dramatically on that particular night. As a preventative measure, some animal shelters wouldn’t allow the adoption of pets a couple days prior to Halloween.

There was never a known birth date for Jesus. King Herod heard of the birth of Jesus approximately two years after the fact, hence the edict to kill all male children less than two years of age. (The Catholic Church commemorates the event – Holy Innocents Day on 28 December.) 25 December fell within the Roman festive period of Saturnalia.  Repositioned as the birth day of Jesus, both Christian and pagan camps were kept happy.

March was the first month of the Roman calendar. (Around 47 BC, Julius Caesar revamped the calendar, changing the order of the months among other things. The Julian calendar was used until 1581.) The vernal equinox – the sun crossing the equator and making day and night of equal length occurs on 21 March – the first day of Spring.

March herald the season of Spring. Spring is rebirth from Winter’s sleep. Spring transforms inertia and absence of greenery that characterizes Winter, into human activity and buds of green. Spring is new life. Spring is rebirth and renewal of life. Spring was summarily feted with a holiday whose name is lost to time.

It is no coincidence that Easter occurs in Spring. Easter celebrates the resurrection of Jesus – his rebirth from death. According to historical experts, the word “Easter” comes from Eostre. Eostre was a pagan Goddess of Fertility and Spring. Easter symbolizes new life – the renewal and revitalization of spirit. Easter is a springtime holiday.

Here’s hoping the spirit of renewal and revitalization that marks Spring manifest in personal betterment, better family dynamics and community involvement.

Happy Easter!