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Tambourines clash - New advocacy group getting baptism of fire

Published:Sunday | March 19, 2017 | 12:00 AMErica Virtue
Participants in the Survivors Empowerment March against sexual violence making their way along Molynes Road just over one week ago.
Emma Lewis

With one of its founders facing criminal charges and opinions split over its methods, the recently formed advocacy group Tambourine Army is getting a baptism of fire, but its leading members remain defiant.

Last week, members of the Tambourine Army told The Sunday Gleaner that the view of some persons that there is no room for disagreement with their position is false and misleading and a deliberate attempt to major in minor issues.

This follows the recent social-media spat between co-founder Latoya Nugent, who was last week arrested for breaches of the Cybercrimes Act, and popular blogger Emma Lewis, who said she would not be marching with the group when they went on the road just over one week ago.

Co-founder of the Tambourine Army Nadeen Spence told our news team that there are bound to be disagreements between individuals inside and outside of an organisation.

Spence argued that the rise of the Tambourine Army is because there was a vacuum in advocacy in Jamaica.

"We had a big row with the women's movement. I don't even know what is the problem but in the first instance they had a problem with the hashtag 'say their names'.

"They say the names should not be said. Then it was that these young activists don't know what they are doing, and it became a fault-finding disagreement of all kinds of things. But the truth is they were not engaging the Tambourine Army, they were engaging Stella (Nugent)," said Spence.

One area of disagreement is the attire of the 'soldiers' in the Tambourine Army and the 'more heeled groups'. The traditional feminist advocates reportedly believe they were skimpily dressed in short shorts, popularly known as 'b...y riders'.




The regular use of the Jamaican 'bad words' by Nugent has also earned the ire of some individuals in more established organisations, who also disagree with how members of the 'Army' manage disagreements and their seemingly recklessness approach to advocacy.

"I know of no other organisation that is doing or has done the work of the Tambourine Army. We believe in advocacy with a difference. We believe that battles are won after a fight, whatever form the fight takes.

"For some, you have to be adversarial, and others, less adversarial. Women in Jamaica have not benefited from anything that someone has not fought for," argued Spence.

She said she is unsure if there is disagreement between "other women's organisations and the Tambourine Army or whether there was dissatisfaction between some individuals from women's organisations and some members of the Tambourine Army".

Either way, Spence said "both support and disagreement are welcome, but we may need to agree that we disagree".

According to Spence, she has no problem with the way others chose to advocate, they just advocate differently.

Spence argued that the Tambourine Army is "very organised around what we do, and as a result of that we do not have a quarrel. We sit and determine our agenda.

"For example, we have a healing circle which is about the healing of women who are victims of sexual abuse. We have gone to St James and St Ann and we have done teachings.

"The members of the Army also do research, plan strategies and then positions are articulated towards the goals," said Spence, as she pointed to the survivor empowerment march which was held two Saturdays ago and which drew support from women, including from established organisations.

The criticisms of the Tambourine Army where highlighted recently during a social-media spat between Nugent and Lewis.

The spat drew public interest after Lewis, under the name 'Petchary', posted a blog 'Why I Won't Be Shaking a Tambourine'.

"... 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," said Lewis in an obvious response to some expletive-laced post on social-media platform Facebook by Nugent.

Lewis said she does not support violence, and the campaign began with a violent incident. This was an obvious reference to Nugent's use of a tambourine to hit a leader of the Moravian Church during a service.

"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 cliched clenched fist is nice and well designed, but it heightens that tone. Fighting violence with violence? I think not ... ," said Lewis.

She also argued that the Tambourine Army was not inclusive.

"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," said Lewis.

But according to Spence, Nugent, who has publicly stated that she is a lesbian, is just one of the faces of the army.