‘Her revolutionary spirit and patriotic heart is refreshing in a country where so many have just given up because the deep-seated problems of corruption and poverty are so overwhelming. She has stood defiant in the face of danger. She has fought like a fierce warrior for the people.’
In choosing the annual Stella Says Woman of the Year, I usually have a list of several possible candidates that I must filter through before deciding on the one I think best suited for that year. Not this year though. This year, my choice for Woman of the Year was made months ago.
If there was one person Guyana truly needed in 2012, it was Sherlina Nageer, a.k.a Lina Free. While I am positive there are many other worthy endeavours accomplished by this wonder woman behind closed doors where no one can see, I am going to list just a few of which I am aware so the nation can get a better idea of why Lina Free is my choice for Woman of the Year.
In May, Lina organised a protest of the Medical Council and the Health Ministry to bring attention to the death of a young mother who felt it necessary to get a bottom-house abortion from an unlicensed doctor because there are no public facilities that serve women in this capacity.
In July, Lina had an article published in the ever-popular online newspaper The Huffington Post on the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) persons. I also know she was instrumental in helping at least one woman find a safe place to live after escaping from an abusive relationship.
However, while these deeds are quite notable and more than most people do in a lifetime to help others, what makes Lina my choice for Woman of the Year is just how much she was willing to sacrifice for the good of her fellow countrywomen/men.
When the brutality of the nation’s leaders became apparent in the unnecessary murder of young men in Linden, Lina was instrumental in spearheading an Occupy GT movement in Georgetown with a protest that found her and a merry band of cohorts occupying the park across from the Parliament building. For weeks, this group of activists endured grubby conditions of no proper place to relieve themselves, the hot sun and nowhere to bathe. However, they spent their time in dialogue with the people – the real people who the nation’s Parliamentarians would not take the time to speak with, much less listen to.
On August 18, Lina Free posted this update on the occupation: “We are a motley crew. Aside from the Red Thread stalwarts, we are a horse cart man, an Ayotallah Khomeni admirer, an alarmingly thin woman and her pregnant 17 [year] old daughter, one mad professor, one half cracked girl who daringly confronts hypocritical politicians, police, and pimps, but wails at the loss of her sister, mother’s love, and children, a sweetie vendor, several taxi men, a female bus driver, several bicyclists and former police/army men, a PhD or two, lawyer, a newspaper columnist in fear of his life, an unemployed youth man, a tall mechanic man, a recovering alcoholic counsellor, an unrepentant sleepy guard with a love for rum and learning, several church women, several party people, and me. We are mothers, daughters, fathers and sons, fighters and dreamers.
We are the 1%. We do yoga and stretches in the morning dew, tell jokes at midnight, and watch each other’s back. A woman donates a tray of eggs. A man drops off candles and stays to gaff til dayclean. Others come and go. We need you to stay. We need to work together to bring change to Guyana. We need revolutionary love. JOIN US. Together we can make this a reality.”
Admiring politicians, who could only dream of having even an ounce of Lina Free’s grit and determination, would come and go, but she stayed. She stayed after the police tore down the shelters and left the protestors exposed to the elements. She stayed through the rain and the scorching sun. She stayed through government intimidation and police harassment. For weeks, she stayed all through the days… and she stayed all through the nights.
The Occupy GT movement had many points on which they built their crusade. Here is a small part of the position proclaimed on its Facebook Page:
Clean air and water, quality goods and services such as electricity, healthcare, education, and housing, a safe and nurturing environment, as well as jobs that pay a living wage are the rights of all citizens of Guyana and must be made affordable and accessible to all.
We, the Free citizens of Guyana resolve to continue our peaceful struggle until a new parliament is constructed that will reflect the views of the people, addressing with urgency:
• the high levels of unemployment especially among our youth;
• lack of accountability of high officials;
• the high levels of state violence, corruption, police brutality and general police harassment.
• the continued degradation and exploitation of our rainforest and other national and natural resources;
• the continuing environment of racial segregation, discrimination, and disharmony among the Guyanese people.
The Occupy GT movement eventually morphed into the People’s Parliament and organised more protests, community building events and solidarity campaigns with outlying villages. The stated goal of the People’s Parliament is, “…the rebuilding of Guyanese society on principles of love, respect, dignity, human rights, and unity. We want to reclaim our personal and political power. We want to live free from fear, corruption, poverty, and police brutality, in a state that is responsive to our needs, that supports our positive endeavors, and that enables us to fully realize our dreams.”
The People’s Parliament also started a petition with the citizens’ demands for a better life for all Guyanese. They collected more than 6,000 signatures and the petition was delivered to the “official” Parliament.
As I said, Guyana most certainly needed Sherlina Nageer this year. Her revolutionary spirit and patriotic heart is refreshing in a country where so many have just given up because the deep-seated problems of corruption and poverty are so overwhelming. She has stood defiant in the face of danger. She has fought like a fierce warrior for the people.
Lina has rallied the People of Guyana this year like no other woman has been able to do since Janet Jagan. As such, Lina stands as an icon – a beacon of hope – not just for the women of this nation, but also for all Guyanese. I cannot wait to see what Sherlina Nageer will do in 2013.