Why I Won’t Be Shaking a Tambourine

On Saturday, March 11 the Tambourine Army (a group formed two months ago) is holding a Survivors’ Empowerment March in Kingston, beginning at 3:00 p.m. However, I will not be marching with them.

It is not that I don’t believe in the cause. I do, fervently – as a survivor myself. Let me tell you why I will not be marching (my personal views).

Firstly… There has been a great deal of disrespect surrounding this campaign. Shutting people out (including other women, who also fight for gender equity and the empowerment of women every day); using curse words on Facebook; telling religious people that they have no right to comment, and so on – is not the way to build a campaign, in my view.

Secondly… The campaign began with an assault, and has celebrated that action ever since. I don’t wish to be associated with that. Even the rhetoric (“fierce warriors,” etc) is violent. The logo with the tambourine and the somewhat clichéd clenched fist is nice and well designed, but it heightens that tone. Fighting violence with violence? I think not.

Third… I do believe in an inclusive women’s movement and civil society dialogue – inclusive of different ages, gender identity, class, colour, religion, (including those like me, who have no religion), where you live, ability, education, political party affiliations, if any… and so on. I believe it is more than possible through dialogue – preferably not entirely via social media. Dialogue involves listening – respectfully – to people who share different views. Leadership is not about shouting, nor is it about egos. We all have our different ways of tackling issues.

Moreover, I don’t believe this is anything new. I do not expect a “revolution,” as Jaevion Nelson suggested in his Gleaner column today – but I may be wrong. If the campaign helps some survivors of sexual abuse and violence to recover more easily – to feel themselves at least partially whole again, or on the road to healing – I am all for it. A healing circle is good, but this kind of work has been going on for years in Jamaica; and in this connection I would like to especially single out the incredible (and largely unacknowledged) work of Eve for Life, who have sacrificed a great deal (and by that, I mean personal sacrifice) to support, empower – and rescue – survivors of sexual abuse living with HIV/AIDS. Huge kudos to Joy, Pat and the Mentor Moms.

By the way, this healing takes years, and an enormous amount of hard work. So, if it is a revolution, it will be long and slow. According to Jaevion Nelson, the Tambourine Army is a group of…

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.

In other words, it is a very young movement, without the experience of other women who have fought “in the trenches” for decades? Have these “burdened” women ever been apologetic about what they stand for? Are they so “burdened” that they are no longer relevant? If that is the suggestion, I would question it.

I wish the Tambourine Army all the best. It’s just not my way.

P.S. I wrote a piece for the Gleaner blog page recently: There Are Many Ways to Be an Activist. This supports what I have said above, I think you will find. You don’t have to agree with me.

Note about myself – where I am coming from, personally…

I  too, can be aggressive. Growing up, I was known for my fiery temper. I once slammed a door so hard it fell off its hinges! I’m not proud of that. Gradually, I have learned to curb it – because, like a child, I have learned that throwing tantrums doesn’t get one anywhere. It makes people shrink away. It frightens people. What is the point in that? 

I also have an ego. Well, everyone does. Again, I try to keep it in check. In fact, I try 1,000 times a day; and I can’t say it’s easy. I try to counteract it by reaching out to people who may be less confident than I am; and by understanding that everyone has his/her own cross to bear, that we may not even know about. And if this is being “positive” – which some sneer at – I really don’t mind. I know that so-called “positive” people get things done, and “positive” attitudes go a long way towards solving problems. I do not believe, personally, in divisive rhetoric. We have had plenty of that in the past. It makes me weary. 

I was also a “radical.” I went on countless marches, demonstrations, sit-ins (mainly protesting the evils of apartheid). I was a young woman in the 1970s and that was a decade of protest – starting in the late 1960s, of course. I am still pretty “radical” in many of my views – on the environment, capital punishment, human rights, abortion rights, LGBT rights – although I have been called a “bleeding heart white liberal”! I don’t worry about labels. Nor do I believe in violence, whether physical or verbal. It solves nothing. I know that, from the bottom of my heart.  

(l-r) three founders of the Tambourine Army: Latoya Nugent, Nadeen Spence and Taitu Heron.




35 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Be Shaking a Tambourine

  1. This is expressed better than I could myself. Thanks for shedding more light on the Tambourines. I found it preposterous how they see nothing wrong slandering the names of men who haven’t been charged, tried, sentenced etc. for sexual crimes. Sure the accusations may be right but what if they aren’t? That is serious libel and the men’s reputations may never recover. They are taking it as an attack on their mission rather than seeing the breach of human right to fair trial that was. If their intentions are pure I wish them well too. I just hope they recognize that taking the law in their own hands isn’t going to do any good but rather, put their efforts into helping victims and advocating for a legal system which handles sexual crimes more effectively and sensitively.


    1. Thanks, Rochelle. It was very difficult for me to write, because I had wanted to fully support the initiative, as I support the cause and have been supporting it for many years now, through involvement with Eve for Life and others. However, this use (or abuse) of social media was one of my major concerns. We are a small society and as you say this can impact people’s reputations and harm their families. Also the general tone of the campaign worried me; there is nothing clever in using a constant stream of expletives to express yourself – not to me, anyway. Personally, I did not want to be associated with that. Since I wrote this post, the response of the TA has been unexpectedly extreme. The level of personal abuse – on Facebook! – I have received from leaders of the movement (and from people I don’t even know) was disturbing, but unfortunately rather proves the point I was making. I do hope they get back on track and back to their core function as soon as possible. But I am afraid some bridges have already been burned.


      1. I can only imagine the feedback you’ve received- it’s evident from some of the comments on this post even. It’s pretty hard to agree with a cause yet disagree with the methods used. I wish people could fight for the same causes in unity. The goal would be reached so much faster…


      2. I wish for the same thing. But sometimes people think there is only one way… and personal abuse, online, is always unnecessary and very divisive.


  2. Just an observation. I’m intrigued that, apart from a few comments here, the arguments against you were taken into the full blown air of Twitter and Facebook, rather than the blog. A cynic may argue that those two platforms offer more ‘airtime’, rather than the seemingly limited space of a blog. If one were to get into the business of always imputing motives then I wonder what motives could be imputed by that set of actions? Perhaps, one reason for not sticking to comments on the blog comes from concerns that comments would be moderated, and thus, not always published.


    1. Yes, isn’t that interesting. I’ve noticed that myself. Is it because there is a much smaller audience? Well, I could impute some motives too. You can make much more of a blast in the toxic landscape that is Facebook. On the blog, the audience is certainly far more limited. I have never edited comments on my blog, by the way, and I always respond. One of my rules!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. You have an inescapable ability to insert yourself and your aggressive yet ‘victimized’, attention seeking white feminism into every single argument concerning Jamaica’s social and political life. Surely a talent. So no, you won’t be missed at any tambourine marches to come. And nobody is going to water down their activities to kum ba ya with you. The fist will always be raised, stay home.


  4. Emma, you’ve hit the nail on the head. I intuitively shied away from becoming a Tambourine Warrior because the militant stance just didn’t sit well with me. I fully support their goals, just wasn’t sure their brand of activism was something I could get behind. Thank you for articulating this feeling! You’ve made me so much more comfortable with my decision.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for your comments, Robyn! I really wanted (and tried) to support them but felt increasingly uncomfortable – not with their aims and goals, but the tone of the campaign was really “off” for me. You know, sometimes you have to trust your intuition, too! All the best.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Can’t we all just get along. Why does everything have to come down to race. Black or white we have different views and we should be able to share them without the fear of starting a verbal war. Some people lead from the back and achieve success. There is no shortage of academia it would seem, but that’s not what this should be about. While some march today, others will be in church praying and others will be continuing in their corner to reap success quietly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it reminds me of the song by Timmy Thomas. Let us all do what we can in our different ways. I may be naive and “old hippy”-ish, but I feel we can all come together if we try. I just wanted to state that this was not my way of operating, because there was too much negativity surrounding this campaign. The tone wasn’t right. But that is just my choice. I certainly did not expect such a violent backlash (which in a way illustrated my point, sadly) – and the racism really shocked me. The academia is neither here nor there, and they do not have the last word. Thanks for your comments!


  6. Emma…thanks for being true to yourself, being generous in your thinking and responses, speaking from your standpoint of someone who has had the benefit of action and reflection…over many years. I stand with you against the bully-ism and brutishness….stand firm…as we say in Jamaica, time longer than rope…..

    Every Blessing SistaFren!

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Well articulated. While I do support (and see the importance of) anti-violence protests as a way of widening awareness and generating dialogue, the premise on which this “Tambourine Movement” is formed, perpetuates the notion of violence as a way of solving societal issues. This, not only makes this campaign unendearing but also exclusionary. Some of the supporters of this movement and the wider “feminist agenda” are also divisive, egocentric, attention seekers, who don’t even practice what they preach. Finally, I’ve seen the commentary on this article which validates your point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, this is my point too. Violence, aggression and cursing does seem to perpetuate what we are trying to move away from. We have enough of that in our society. And I am afraid you may be right about the attention seekers! I still believe that dialogue and arriving at possible solutions that we can implement and ACT on is the best way, bringing hopefully partners along with us. Much of the commentary on social media has been quite toxic and certainly not encouraging for the future. But we’ll see. I’m ever optimistic!


  8. Emma – When you put this post here, it’s no longer personal but political. The parallels are not lost on me either. You are using the very same tactics that white liberals and so-called feminist men have used to shame people of color and women into taming and limiting their demands. Here, you are using the enormous privilege that you have – as a light-skinned woman in Jamaica who has considerable social and cultural capital and that has afforded you a public platform – to try to undermine what the organizers have managed to do in two months. You are right; that’s a very short time for people with limited organizing experience to have turned the public discussion about sexual violence on its head, called so many people to be more accountable, and made so many people, including yourself, uncomfortable about their complicity and refusal to take the necessary risks to make change. If the organizers do nothing else after this, they have exposed, questioned and pushed back against the complacency that currently characterizes what passes as feminism in Jamaica.

    In that way, I suppose your reactionary stance in trying to shut down support for the march should be expected. That doesn’t make it more palatable though. Not only is much of your commentary ageist – yes, that’s something that Jamaicans don’t like to acknowledge but is on full display whenever young upstarts try to assert themselves – it is also unproductive, destructive and deeply anti-feminist. But, that’s how people with social and political power in Jamaica roll, right? Either do things your way or you set them on fire. Well, you’ve struck your match. But you can’t burn the house down with badmouthing. Not this time. 10 people or 1,000 people, the march will happen. The work will continue with or without you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you want to see it as political, that is fine. But I assure you it IS personal. I was fighting with myself as to whether to join the march or not. I have given this a lot of thought and decided it was not for me. I was not trying to derail anything. In fact I support – and have supported with my actions many times – the goals and objectives of the march. It is the methods I don’t like. I served on the board of Eve for Life and talked to survivors, and wrote about the issues many times – and this was from years ago. But you may not bother to look back through my blog to find these articles.

      “Badmouthing”? Where does that come in, exactly? I am getting plenty of bad-mouthing from people on Twitter (“cyber bullying” in fact, full of expletives, racist comments etc. Lovely!). And where does COLOR come into it, by the way? It really is amazing how people subscribe all kinds of motives to me for writing this one post. Anyway, you know… It is my blog, I don’t expect everyone to agree with me and you clearly do not – but I have freedom of speech, just as you do. I don’t have any social or political power that I know of, but I do know I have advocated. But I don’t appreciate people seeking to misrepresent me as some kind of evil white woman, who is telling people what to do. If you see it that way then that’s your problem. It is not mine.

      Liked by 2 people

  9. Petchary thanks for setting out so clearly your position. Thanks nuff. I have disagreed with some of the posturing (and I call it that intentionally) of the Tambourine Army but I have been supportive of and even thankful for their militant activism as I too appreciate inclusiveness even from of those who exclude others. This was because I believed in the goal of ending gender based violence especially sexual violence. I have told the women involved that I do not support some of the behaviours but really felt the activism had value and there was a place for such radicalism. I even encouraged the women on my organization to participate tho I am away so will be absent. Now that I am reading your very careful reasoning from your separation from this army, I will be pausing to think again about my own position as I seek to resolve the value I see in dramatic, confrontational, uncomfortable, even ‘bad’ action with undramatic, non-confrontational and kinder, “good ” action. I am Christian part of the community railed against by the warrior women and loving the God even cursed (I hear , not by all I hasten to add) – that didnt worry me, I know God can deal with it, but I also have friends who have been hurt by the weapons the warriors wield – the tongue and the type or text. I do not want to betray my friends…and alas the warrior are also my friends. What a muckle! So yes thanks for the food for thought as I use this as a part of my Lenten reflection.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Pat… Yes, you have a good point. There is a place for that kind of activism, always. Which is why I wrote that piece for the Gleaner blog (I put the link in my post) about “Many ways to be an activist.” Yes, it is indeed a muckle!! (I am not a Christian as you know BUT I am going to Susan Goffe’s meditation class this evening. I think that may help me reflect further on all of this, myself!) Why intentionally hurt people (which is what some people on Twitter are trying to do to me, since the post was published. They are not listening or trying to understand, merely abusing me and calling me names. Ugh!) I honestly have always believed in non-violent action – and I always believed that even in the fiery seventies – which were not for the faint-hearted! Thanks for your comments… It’s difficult.


  10. Excellent words in action that are far above and beyond mere rhetoric and posturing that I’ve come to expect from some do-gooders!!Your work and actions speak for itself so don’t ever feel like you owe anyone a explanation for speaking and living your truth Emma!!


    1. Thank you so much, Itana. I really appreciate your words. These are just my views… I’m not comfortable with posturing, either. Let’s just do what needs to be done!


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