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Radical advocacy: Are we ready for it?

Lorenzo Smith

Sunday, March 19, 2017    

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Over the past two weeks or so there has been much criticism, scepticism, and a general lack of understanding about the aims and objectives of the #TambourineArmy. Much of this lack of understanding was displayed on social media, particularly Twitter.

Twitter is ironically the same space within which several members would voice their displeasure with an issue and would go as far as to call for a revolution. But do we understand the trappings of a revolution or, better yet, are we ready for it?

It is clear that the #TambourineArmy understands and is ready to lead the revolution; a revolution for social change particularly with regard to gender-based violence. So what is the #TambourineArmy? The army states, as per their Facebook page, that they are a radical social justice movement committed to uprooting the scourge of sexual violence and safeguarding the rights of women and girls. A close examination of that statement proves that the army is not your ordinary diplomatic ‘sit and talk’ advocacy group. It is clear that the army is all about disturbing the status quo.

Let’s examine the American civil rights movement. In the civil rights movement, there were pacifist or non-violent activists, and in the latter part the movement was introduced to radical advocacy through the likes of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. When Malcolm X, and more so the Black Power Movement, came on the scene they were chastised by members of the old guard. They were considered too radical. The old guard thought Malcolm X, and more so the Black Power Movement, would erase the ‘gains’ made by Martin Luther King Jr, et al. The truth is, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, of which Carmichael was a member, became disillusioned with the integrationist approach.


It must be noted that supporters of Martin Luther King Jr, namely the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, were considered conservatives, and some argued that they were playing in the hands of the Government at the time. Martin Luther King Jr was considered a puppet of US President John F Kennedy. The young people at the time were upset with the diplomacy, upset with the talks, and wanted to shake things up.

People like Carmichael moved from conservative activism to a more radical one and this movement was more attractive to the youth at the time as they, as it is said, wanted change and they wanted it now. Malcolm X drove fear into the whites; he was utterly different from the mainstream civil rights leaders. He opposed the non-violent approach and asked, “How can you have a revolution by turning the other cheek?” Malcolm X, like Carmichael, wasn’t liked by the old guard. This type of in-your-face advocacy was new to them; this type of advocacy apologised to no one.

Where am I going with this? It is uncanny how we romanticise protests and marches, even radicalism, in history, yet when we are faced with the same radicalism, protest and/or march in today’s world we question its utility.

The #TambourineArmy, in my view, is a shift in advocacy; certainly one that we are not accustomed to. It’s a shift that is making noise and causing the usually quiet to be uncomfortable. A shift that is causing us to look into ourselves. The #TambourineArmy is forcing us to challenge our own idiosyncrasies.

Radicalism is not pleasant; it will step on many toes, it will shake us at our core. It’s not for the faint of heart, and, yes, the conservatives will oppose. Jaevion Nelson suggests in his article ‘Be Bold for Change’ that a revolution is coming and that what we need is a revolution for women: “A revolution that is led by fiercely courageous women who are not burdened from years of pushing for greater gender parity, and who are unapologetic about what they stand for and represent. A revolution that will get people to understand that there is in fact a problem, rubbish the folly of certain arguments, demand change, and get things done... The #TambourineArmy best represents that kind of rebirth and renewal, particularly around the issue of rape, sexual harassment and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated against women and girls.”

Like Carmichael, the army has been traumatised by incidents of rape and domestic violence, particularly towards our women and girls. The army is embittered and traumatised by the culture of cover-up. They are embittered and traumatised by the lack of safe space for women who are victims of gender-based violence and as such they are committed to uprooting the scourge from the social landscape of Jamaica.

Now when I examine the term ‘uproot’ it does not speak to diplomacy; it is aggressive, it is strong, and the army is saying that we need a firm approach to the issues of rape and domestic violence. Am I inviting violence? No. I’m simply saying that the strategies and tactics of old cannot be employed today. We have been using the same strategies and not yielding much success while our women and children continue to suffer. The army is saying enough!

Let us not be quick to dismiss radical advocacy. Were it not for radical advocacy we wouldn’t have a Paul Bogle or a George William Gordon. Let us give the army a listening ear. #TambourineArmy, Forward! March!

Lorenzo Smith is an educator with interests in social justice. Send comments to the Observer or to

lorenzsmitt@gmail.com.

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