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THANK GOD FOR MISS ASHBY by Wayne Kublalsingh

posted 17 Oct 2019, 07:46 by Gerry Kangalee

am sorry to say that Mrs Yvonne Ashby, the noted Chatham Anti-Smelter Activist, passed away at her home in Chatham on 14th October 2019. She sparked the flame which led to the collapse of the Government's 2001 Gaffney-Cline Master Gas Plan, which entailed a round of thirteen heavy gas-based industries and industrial estates and ports along the Western Coast of Trinidad. Please find hereunder excerpts from a Newsday article I wrote about her in 2008. Condolences to her three daughters and the fighting people of Chatham and Cap-de-Ville.

THANK GOD FOR MISS ASHBY

Thank God for Miss Ashby. It is Miss Yvonne Ashby of Chatham who has started this revolution in Trinidad and Tobago. It is Miss Ashby who stood up, three years ago, before Mr Vijay Lal of the National Energy Corporation and the three corporate executives of ALCOA, the Aluminium Company of America, and said NO to an aluminium smelter in her backyard. While young local men jumped up and howled, “Wuk, we getting wuk in the smelter,” Miss Ashby, stood up in that first public consultation in the Chatham Community Centre, and said No! She was not saying No for nothing; she was taking charge of her own development.

Miss Ashby is a nurse by profession. She is now in her late seventies, retired, living in her own home and garden in Chatham. She spent most of her life as a nurse in Port of Spain, and as a widow raising three daughters. She is also the granddaughter of African slaves. Her grandfather was one of the first to receive his “free paper” from the plantation owner in Chatham. He was one of the first to establish a free colony in Bourg Congo, on the Chatham coast, the densely forested area which ALCOA wanted to take. He was an independent sugar manufacturer, making his own stills and tools.

But Miss Ashby’s ital man, ital African icon, is not her grandfather. It is Jan Juma. He was the warrior conqueror of Bourg Congo. After Emancipation, one plantation boss continued to demand manners from the former slaves; you had to take off your hat before talking to him, you were forbidden from walking up his stairs onto his verandah, you had to stand hat in hand in the yard to talk to him. This bossman wanted to take back Bourg Congo’s “free paper”. One night Jan Juma ordered all the villagers to lock themselves in their huts. The following morning the bossman hurriedly packed all his belongings and boarded a schooner for Port of Spain. He was never seen again. The blow from Jan Juma’s gun had passed inches from his face.

As much as Miss Ashby celebrates her brave African ancestors, so much does she decry the cowardice of modern men. They lack courage, are weak. When their cause should be the nation, they throw their lives away after Nike and rank. And stupid men must die. The nation has no time for stupid leaders. They must go. Die! Before they get the chance to sell out our forest, our dairy, our honey industry, our sea and fresh breeze, our young people, they must disappear! We, the people, must now take charge.

Miss Ashby’s logic is the logic of the revolution. The people must now take charge of their own development. This is because the historical agencies usually appointed for this prodigious task have failed, or have been emasculated

Last week, August 5th, a group of Indians from Essar Steel, escorted by two SUVs, drove into North Claxton Bay, the community on the fence-line of the proposed steel mill and port. Mr. Prem Singh, and his Indian corporate executives, did not get very far. Eggs and rubbish came flying at their persons and possessions. Rubbish barrels came onto the road and blocked their escape. Citizens rocked the SUV’s back and forth. The executives cowered in fear. Two years ago, at a consultation, Mr. Prem Singh, had literally thrown chocolates up into the air for the happy natives to catch. Now the natives were returning the favour. Egg after egg knocked into their SUVs.

The persons who were leading this defence were women. Ordinary women found the strength to throw barrels, rock the vehicle, drive back the interlopers.

They were fighting for their development, the right to have a say in the destruction of their mangrove, the destruction of their health, their arable lands, their fisheries, their seagrass beds, their coastal food-rich foreshore, their mullet industry, their gas resources, their nation.

Miss Ashby is the oracle of the movement, the person who utters what is true, correct and ital when you go to her. You have to fight them, defeat them, she says, and God will protect you. If the ordinary people do not stand up to protect their ital resources, affirm their right to participate in their own development, who will?
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