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Tuesday 17 September 2019
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My memories of Marlene

Kamla – I almost fell off my chair – has counselled the nation against schadenfreude in kicking her sister Marlene while she’s down. Instead, in some gendered legerdemain, she’s used McDonald’s corruption indictment to question Keith Rowley’s leadership-fitness.

With help of a search of my Facebook feed, I joined the nation this week in looking back on memorable moments in Marlene’s 12-year career since the 2007 campaign in which she replaced Eric Williams as PNM representative in the Port of Spain South parliamentary seat.

The drama of her three appointments to and removals from the Rowley Cabinet, the fumble to replace her this week, and their impact on the PNM’s future in office, may well prove historic.

But I think no matter what happens in her court case or for the rest of her tenure in the public eye, what specifically Marlene will remain most indelibly remembered for is the wave-in that enabled Burkie’s July 2017 visit to President’s House and visible presence at her swearing-in for two short days in office.

The visuality of it all is why Cedric’s self-insinuation, classic couture and coiffure have become such a timeless meme.

My most personal memory of Marlene is her role in founding CAISO. It was the June 25, 2009 words of the minister of community development, culture and gender affairs at a post-cabinet press conference, quoting the gender-policy-for-some green paper’s commitment to “not provide measures dealing with or relating to the issues of termination of pregnancy, same-sex unions, homosexuality or sexual orientation,” from which the Coalition Advocating for Inclusion of Sexual Orientation drew its inspiration and name two days later.

In less than a year, Patrick Manning had called the snap election. Marlene’s classic moment was on the PNM’s women’s May 19 platform in Bournes Road, St James, at which fashionably red-clad candidates rallied to support the criminalisation of women’s reproductive choices, and Marlene crowed that a PNM gender policy provided no measures related to homosexuality, calling the People’s Partnership “a sorry bunch of mamapoules.”

“The opposition may flirt with these ideas if they wish, but this PNM government will not. We have stated our case quite categorically. This nation has always been and will continue to be guided by the highest principles and standards of ethical and moral behaviour.”

But what seized public attention in her sweating half-hour address was her high dudgeon as she waved a photoshopped “poster…of my face…pasted on a huge body,” she recalled just this March, clad in a bikini, to decry the opposition’s gender politics.

The sheer irony of her grievance was its timing, in a campaign where her party leader mounted the platform at rally after rally to call the woman offering her sisterly solidarity this week a skunk, a drunk, too country for Port of Spain office, or simply weak.

Intriguingly, when her association with a Sea Lots community leader led to her second Rowley firing, some PNM commentators questioned whether she was a victim of black respectability politics.

I don’t recall much of Marlene during her tenure as opposition whip following the PNM’s defeat. It was Christmas season 2016, while a government backbencher following her first removal from the Rowley Cabinet, that Marlene’s headlines next grabbed my attention and the nation’s amusement. Chairing a sitting of the Foreign Affairs Joint Select Committee discussing the Caricom Trade & Economic Development Council’s work on food and drug regulation, the matter of childhood obesity came into focus.

If she did not reach a particular eating establishment in her constituency at a particular time, all the food was done, Clint Chan Tack reported the JSC chair as lamenting: “Nobody cooks any more.”

TriniTuner posted Chan Tack’s Newsday story with the caption: “I looked up, I looked up irony in the dictionary and found this.”

It was a year after the Prime Minister’s lament that women no longer knew how to knead flour and peel cassava.

I mused: Dear Marlene, I am being way too economically productive to waste time cooking. Were we all poor and idle, we’d be in kitchen peeling cassava. I thought you’d be pleased with the state of the PNM-managed economy.

My last amusement with Marlene was her response to Fuad Khan’s fat-shaming Facebook rant this March following Candice Santana’s self-affirmation about playing mas.

Recalling the 2010 campaign images of her, Marlene asked, “Where was Womantra and all of them then? It was very hurtful but I campaigned, I won. Here I am. We as a people must delight in our diversity, not denigrate it. My size has never stopped me being who I want to be.”

It’s an enormous tribute to my friends in Womantra that people see them as so timeless and as responsible for so much, I noted.

But someone ought to whisper to Marlene that Womantra wasn’t formed till 2011.

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