Lysanne Charles, BIJ1 nummer 13; A Caribbean Voice for the Tweede Kamer: "I seek to relate to people and for them to relate to me"

Lysanne Charles, 42 jaar, is kandidaat voor de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen, vanuit Saba. Het eiland is sinds 10 oktober 2010 een  bijzondere gemeente van Nederland en vormt samen met Bonaire en Sint-Eustatius, Caribisch Nederland. Lysanne staat op plek 13 bij BIJ1. Mariam Lo Fo Wong interviewde haar voor AFRO Magazine.

Uit wat voor gezin kom je en hoe heeft dat je dromen, idealen en wereldbeeld beïnvloed? 

I come from a very close-knit, loving, and assertive Caribbean family that stretches throughout the Caribbean archipelago and across the world. I grew up surrounded by women known for their strength, caring, daring, leadership and directness, such my paternal great grandmother Rebecca Levenstone and maternal grandmother Carmen Simmons.

This influenced me greatly, because from young I felt that I had to embody those characteristics as well, especially when it came to standing up for myself and for others who could not stand up for themselves. I think this led me into politics and activism from early on. I grew up knowing that women and leadership were synonymous and that led me to feminism and womanism and later to activism in and around women’s rights, racial equality, youth and LGBTQIA+ empowerment and emancipation.

I also grew up between two dynamics in terms of wealth and saw how people on both ends were treated because of their status or lack thereof and that has stayed with me until today in that I believe that all people are worthy of respect, dignity and equal treatment regardless of their economic status.

Wat is je professionele achtergrond? Wat voor werk doe je in het dagelijks leven?

Back academic background is in sociology and cultural anthropology having obtained two masters from the University of Amsterdam in those areas. Over the course of my professional career I have been an educator, a policy writer, and most recently the director of a small non-governmental organization on the island of Saba.

At the moment I am busy setting up my own small consultancy and I am wrapping up a yearlong artist sabbatical in which focused on my writing including the development of several children’s books, the editing of my grandmother’s second memoir about her volunteer work and my second collection of poetry and research for a historical novel that I am writing. I am also the outgoing chair of the St. Maarten/St. Martin Alliance For Equality (SAFE SxM) and the current chair of the Eastern Caribbean Alliance for Diversity and Equality (ECADE) Inc.

Wat was je reden om de politiek in te gaan?

This is my second foray into politics having run locally on St. Maarten when I was in my early 20s and I think the reason remains the same; representation.

At that time, I felt that St. Maarten needed more youth representation in the island council and in this case I believe that the Netherlands and the Kingdom of the Netherlands needs Dutch Caribbean representation in the Second Chamber, because so much of the decision-making about us happens there without us and that should not be. I think it is also time that equality within the kingdom and the Netherlands becomes more than just a catchphrase and I think BIJ1 is just the party to ensure that that happens.

Wat vind je van de positie van zwarte mensen en migranten in Nederland?

I think this is a very complex question in that it is layered. It reminds me of a question about freedom that I posed to some of my LGBTQIA+ friends about their experiences in the Netherlands versus their Caribbean island home and the responses I received can be summed up like this; in The Netherlands they could express themselves more as freely as LGBTQIA+ people, but were judged more as black and brown people and in the Caribbean they could express themselves more as black and brown people, but were judged as LGBTQIA+ people.

I think that is the paradox of the Netherlands it offers certain freedoms that are important, but also withholds and does not address others which are equally important. Also, there is the feeling that over the years the Netherlands has also become increasingly anti-Black, xenophobic, and conservative this are things that have to be unpacked and dealt with and not avoided by continuing to insist that the Netherlands is super tolerant, when in fact it is not.

Wat ben je voornemens daaraan te gaan doen?

I intend to advocate to change this by working with the BIJ1 network to continue to put pressure on government to tackle these issues head on. As it relates to the Caribbean and the anti-Caribbean tone of the Second Chamber I also intend to actively continue to work to shift the narrative where this is concerned.

The Caribbean parts of the Kingdom have contributed a great deal to the Netherlands and continues to do so in terms of geographic location and access to various conversions, this needs to be acknowledged. In addition, beyond I also intend to continue doing what I have been doing for the past decade or so which is engaging on a community level with individuals and organizations to create change on local and kingdom levels. The BIJ1 party platform address the need to assert for radical equality and economic justice across the kingdom and I have intention to continue to work with them in order to achieve this throughout all parts of this political constellation.

Waar mogen we jou over vier jaar op afrekenen? Wat wil je dan zeker hebben bereikt?

On a political level I will still definitely be busy with BIJ1 and on an activism level I will certainly still be busy working towards racial and economic equality in the Netherlands and LGBTQIA+ emancipation on the islands. I will remain a strong voice on social issues across the kingdom. On a personal level I hope to have several books out and for sure I will be busy with education in some form or the other.

We leven nu met COVID; het is bekend dat het zwarte mensen harder raakt. Uw mening daarover?

I think that in times of pandemics and natural disasters we know that marginalized and vulnerable people are often impacted to a greater extent than other groups, so it makes sense that black and brown people are more adversely impacted than other groups. In addition, we know that healthcare professionals do not always take the complaints of black and brown people as serious as the complaints of others and that this is linked to historical ideas around blackness and pain and black people as subpar humans and I think in addressing radical equality and economic justice we have to talk about these things, also in the Netherlands and in the Kingdom.

Living on Saba for most of the pandemic has meant that I have been in a COVID free bubble for the most part, but it does not stop me from realizing how horribly this crisis has impacted vulnerable people and left them even more so.

Ga je je laten vaccineren? 

I wish I could be first in line actually, so yes, I am definitely taking the vaccine and just waiting for them to give me my date.

Hoe belangrijk is meer kleur in de kamer? 

It is uber important to have more color in the Second Chamber, but not just more color, but more color that is committed to the principles of equality and empowerment for all and not just for some. That is why I am aligned with BIJ1, because the message is clear it is not just about getting a black person in the Chamber, we have had those, or a woman, we have had those also, or a black woman, we have had those too; it is about getting a black woman or black women and black people in the Second Chamber who are committed and persistent about championing issues that empower vulnerable people.

Hoe krijgen we meer kleur in de kamer?

We have to mobilize! We are less than a month away from elections and still there are a lot of people who do not know that this election is coming and how important it is for them.

BIJ1 and all of the candidates, including myself, have been trying to reach as many people as possible, but we also need black and brown people in the Netherlands, on the BES islands, on the CAS island countries and their allies to help up by spreading the message to go out and vote for BIJ1 on March 17. Beyond that we have to remain consistent, so this movement does not end on March 17 when we get one or two seats in the Second Chamber, we have to continue to engage with the public of the Netherlands and of the Caribbean parts of the kingdom even thereafter and we committed to this.

Het is bekend dat veel mensen uit Surinaamse, Antilliaans, Afrikaanse en andere immigrantengemeenschappen niet gaan stemmen. Mensen van Kleur herkennen zich niet voldoende in de politiek, hetgeen zich weer vertaalt in hun stemgedrag. Hoe inspireer je mensen om wel te gaan stemmen?

This is true. Throughout my campaigning that is one of the most frequent responses I got, that Caribbean people do not see themselves reflected in the politicians at national level. That is, I think, until now. When you look at a list like BIJ1 which is led by a Black woman and is full of black women and Caribbean people (yes as a teacher of history I include Suriname in the Caribbean) who represent the issues that impact them greatly I believe you will see this trend changing and this is important.

Hoe zit het met de politieke betrokkenheid van deze mensen? Wat vind je ervan? Mag het meer of minder? Hoe pakken we dat aan?

Listen, you know I think for a lot of Caribbean Dutch people it is a quandary; they come to the Netherlands for economic reasons and yes make it home, however politically they are not necessarily included or accepted unless they move in certain circles which provide access. We want to change. BIJ1 says come as you are and not only hear us, but let us hear you. And that is important. I think that you see the party already very busy on local levels and that will increase the political participation of this demographic over the next several years.

Je zit bij BIJ1. Waarom juist deze partij?

I am with BIJ1 for two reasons 1) because I recognize that while I, and others like me are not victims of history, we are heirs to it and the historical legacies of the colonial past of the Netherlands must be addressed and redressed and 2) because as an activist I know that there is no future for us as long as oppression of any kind is allowed to continue and BIJ1 works with an intersectional approach which means that it stands up for a large grouping of marginalized people.

Wat is je politieke stijl? Bijvoorbeeld: wat is je strategie wanneer  je in een debat plots de feitelijkheden niet kent? Of, als blijkt, dat je (toch) helemaal geen standpunt hebt? Of, dat je standpunt niet goed onderbouwd is? Wat doe je dan? 

My style has evolved with maturity I think. Before I would like to argue a point to the death, but now I realize, you know, that I am incapable of knowing everything all the time and also I may not always have all the data or may not have considered a particular angle. So for me listening is important, finding common ground is important, but so is really understanding what I stand for and where I am willing to compromise and where I am not. At the end of the day whatever I am arguing for is not about me and so I have to do my best on behalf of those I represent and seek to represent and this means also acknowledging when I need to gather more information or revisit an idea.

Hoe ga je om met vragen van burgers/kiezers, die niet relevant lijken?

All questions are relevant, all questions may not however be equal in terms of priority and so I try to address the questions that are most urgent first and then tackle the other questions. I think however, it may be the teacher in me, if a citizen has taken time to formulate a question the least I can do is acknowledge it and try, when I can, to respond to it.

Hoe ga je het verschil maken binnen de partij, in de campagne en uiteindelijk in de Tweede Kamer?

I think I have already made a big impact in the party by being a voice for Dutch Caribbean people on issues that are important to us and having the party include them in the party platform. It does not end there though, because our party leader and other candidates have agreed to really consider the Caribbean islands, Dutch Caribbean people and Dutch Caribbean people in the diaspora when considering the issues that they are championing so already that is great strides. I also intend to ensure that after the election the party continues to advocate for the abovementioned.

Hoe ga je om met emoties van kiezers? For me it is not so much as me appealing to the emotions of the voters, but the emotions of the voters appealing to me, that is why I entered this political race. The Kingdom and the Netherlands has a lot that is positive, but there are also lots of things that must change. People are becoming fed up, some are already fed up and with good reasons. Change must come and I only want to be a part of that change-making and that is my point of departure regardless of what happens.

We hebben het al over inspireren gehad. Kun je mensen inspireren?

I do not seek to inspire people, I seek to relate to people and for them to relate to me. I think if I accomplish that then that is enough and we inspire each other and beyond that great things can happen. I just try and arrive in any space as my most authentic self and what happens from there beyond me.

Waarom moet ik op jou stemmen? Verkoop je even aan me, kort en bondig. In all of my activism and professional career I have remained passionate, consistent, and direct. This has not always won me favor, especially not in post-colonial systems structured around hierarchies that sees an assertive black woman as aggressive or hostile. Still, I am committed to fighting for my people across all of my intersections and I will do so with my last breath. I think if persons want to have strong representation for the Caribbean in the Second Chamber they will find no stronger or more assertive voice.