Sunday, September 30, 2007

Save Our Savannah

August 1999 was a part of a difficult time for me, I was awaiting the start of the law term and the date for my divorce hearing while trying to come to terms with how suddenly my life had changed. I had gone from being a long married, creative "arty" type, in the blink of an eye to someone who had no roots and very few references. At the time, I was employed at the Tourism agency and moving to my first post marriage apartment..with not a whole lot of anything.

August proved to be one of those times when a lot of my beliefs and I were put to the test. One morning I came to find myself standing shoulder to shoulder with many of my colleqagues and friends from the environmental movement. A not unfamiliar stance given our history of protests but this was particularly poignant, my ex husband was one of the people who had made the placards and the entity we were protesting against was my employer.

The sun was hot that day, and I was wearing business wear and high heels; standing in between Adele, also in four inch heels and Eden Shand. Clearly the two of us had not planned on being on a building site, far less in the midst of the Savannah. That day there were several Government employees there with a lot to lose, including Adele, Val, Rudy and myself. What it came down to was us standing up for our principles. The paving had been conducted at the behest of a Government Minister in the dead of night. Our network had seen the trucks rolling in and we'd spent the night working the phones, the call to action came early the next morning in the light of day. I was already at my desk. My "boss" had stipulated that we were not to be seen participating at any protest but damn the bridges, I had been doing this a long time and it was important!

The Queen's Park Savannah had long been on our list of things to preserve for future generations. For years incursions had been made on the city's green jewel and we stood to lose one of the most beautiful things we had in our capital. Over the years I have written many stories about the Savannah and environs, including at least a dozen for the tourism website and brochures both before and since that day. Ironic don't you think.

That August morning the trucks started to roll as we chanted and I called various media houses from my mobile phone. The TV6 crew showed up just about when the first dumpster started to pour gravel on the protesters. AS I looked up at the tray rising into the air, loads of gravel slowly and then esclating in speed emptied out the back, we were in the way. My fellow men and the media called out to the driver to stop, there were people under there. I recall the malicious grin on his face in the side mirror as he blithely went on as Adele and I, younger and fitter than Eden, scrambled to get out of the way, our feet and legs bruised and scratched from the effort. Val and Adele's John D students leapt to our rescue and tried to help us out of the way. They were the ones who dug Eden out when the dust settled, another generation of environmentalists was cemented in that moment.

Photographers snapped pictures, people waved their signs and the word came that the Minister had declared a stop, if only for the moment. That day I learnt about myself and my fellow man. I realised that regardless of personal cost, I would uphold my beliefs and do what I considered to be right. At the end of every relationship, if it was worth anything, you find that ground to keep going. That a lot of peoole shared our views but were too afraid of retaliation or paralysed by fear to DO anything. A lot of these people came afterward to share their thoughts or congratulate us on our bravery.

It isn't about being brave, I have fears just like the next person but I believe unless you are willing to do something, you lose your voice and sometimes even your rights. In the eight years since that protest, I have continued to live my life with personal integrity, no job is worth losing yourself and your self respect. To this day, we continue to fight for the survival of the Savannah. I marvel that politicians who fight to distinguish themselves from each other are in fact really all the same for the most part. When will we learn?

Would I do it again? In a hearbeat.

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