Democracy, Belief, and Belief in Democracy

BahamasPrideFlag-AranhaThere's a petition circulating right now. I've signed it. I'm also promoting it. And I'm apologizing right now to those people for whom my promotion of the petition is problematic. I recognize the dilemma you might be facing. It's not my dilemma, but if it is yours, I respect it. I even apologize for not allowing the issue to go away.But I'm not going to allow it to go away. Because discrimination is not right, and I will not support it in whatever form it takes.Here's the issue:

"ATTORNEY General, Allyson Maynard Gibson said yesterday the Constitution should be amended to end all forms of discrimination, except discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. (Tribune 11/06/2013)Amendments to existing law or introduction of new legislation (whether constitutional or statute) should include provisions for the protection and free expression of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community in the Bahamas.-----------------Original story: http://www.tribune242.com/news/2013/jun/11/end-discrimination-except-over-sexuality/"I Have Been Discriminated" ~ Erin Greene:http://www.tribune242.com/news/2013/jun/12/i-have-been-discriminated-against-my-sexuality/

And here's the petition:

To: Allyson Maynard Gibson, Attorney General

Sincerely, [Your name]

I believe that in a democracy, one citizen should not be any less equal than another citizen. If we are removing discrimination from our constitution, let us remove it altogether, even if the process of making everyone equal may open up challenges to our personal convictions. It is that equality under the constitution that guarantees us our right to hold our convictions.If you agree with me, consider signing the petition. Let us stand for democracy together.

The Bahamas Corruption Narrative: Get Yours and Say Amen

There's a narrative about The Bahamas that helps shape the ways in which we talk about politics, the nation, ourselves. It's a narrative that proposes, uncritically, that the Progressive Liberal Party is a consortium of liars, crooks, and outlaws, and the Free National Movement is a party of honest men and women whose only desire is to make the Bahamas a better, more civilized place. It expands this idea by suggesting that PLP supporters are lazy, uncouth, corrupt, stupid, and violent, while the FNM and its supporters are diligent, civilized, honest, intelligent, and peace-loving.Now I admit it: I have voted in my life for the PLP. So have many of the people around me, people whose good sense, personal integrity and patriotism I respect. (Many others whose good sense, personal integrity and patriotism I also respect have voted FNM, BDP, CDR, DNA, BDM, VNSP, and probably Labour, NDP, and maybe even the Workers' Party too, but that's another story.) For this reason, as well as for the reasons which have led me to cast my vote in that direction, the idea that I have supported a party of demons and criminals, as well as the idea that in doing so I have condoned or supported corruption, does not sit well with me. But that is where the Bahamas corruption narrative, at least in its current incarnation, tends.It's a narrative that appears in the mainstream print media, both at home and abroad, and it certainly surfaces in politically charged speeches of all kinds. It ran rampant in pockets on Facebook, especially immediately after the results of the general election last week, so much so that some dismayed individuals chattered about packing up their belongings and emigrating from The Bahamas in the wake of the PLP victory at the polls. So pervasive is the narrative that many young Bahamians, born and raised in the 1990s, accept it as truth, and tend to apply without question the concepts of the Progressive Liberal Party as gangster men with their arms up to their armpits stuck in the national "cookie jars", and the Free National Movement as white-hatted sheriffs, valiantly smashing those cookie jars to set the cookies free. It's a lovely, simple idea, and one that seems to be reiterated, consciously and unconsciously, in general conversations, so much so that discussions become depressingly, boringly predictable.The only problem is, it's not strictly true.Let me be quite clear here. I am not claiming for one minute that there is no corruption in Bahamian politics. I am not claiming that the Progressive Liberal Party is a pristine organization; the history of the party is chequered, to say the least, and definitively tarnished when one goes back a generation. The 1980s were not bright and shining times for any of us in The Bahamas, and the Progressive Liberal Party was implicated in much wrongdoing. The 1980s were, for those of us who lived through them and remember them, vexing, turbulent times. But they were not all bad. Criminality and addiction pervaded the society from top to bottom, and there was talk about our losing an entire generation to drugs; but at the same time, we had stories of remarkable personal triumphs (ask Carlos Reid and Pastor Dave Burrows), we saw a burgeoning movement of self-help and self-reliance (ask Myles Munroe and Neil Ellis), and we saw leaders taking historic stands of conscience that cost them more than many of today's holders of political office would be willing to lose (ask Arthur Hanna, Hubert Ingraham and Perry Christie).No; I'm not claiming that there is no reason for a corruption narrative to exist. What I am suggesting is that it is not unique to any one political party or the other, as so much of today's discourse appears to suggest. It seems to be a truism that the PLP is corrupt, the FNM incorruptible; but the truth is politics is a dirty business on the whole, and no group is exempt. Even in the 1980s, the moral ground on which the Free National Movement stood with regard to drugs began to erode when the public realized that the shining stars in that party themselves had links with drug kingpins, with Free National Movement lawyer-politicians acting for Luis "Kojak" Garcia and Carlos "Joe" Lehder; as the former Leader of the Opposition, Kendal G. L. Isaacs, Q.C., acknowledged, in our system of law, individuals are considered innocent until proven guilty, and all people are entitled to representation.What bothers me perhaps the most is that this discussion appears to unfold without critical examination. Take, for example, this comment from one of the denizens of Facebook, regarding the change of government:

So the PLP is already off and running with their same corrupt business as usual. ... Same corruption. Same mess. Same PLP. And it hasn't been a week yet. (taken from a thread in "Bahamas Election 2011/2012" in May 2012)

An overzealous supporter, you say? Someone with limited knowledge, someone who is easily led? Perhaps, but take these examples, from the editorial pages of the Tribune, which appear to chart the course:
She made a little speech about supporting the PLP and what “Papa” better not come promising around her, then in a typical PLP gesture, she held out her hand: “Gimme sumt’ing,” she begged. (April 24, 2012, my emphasis)

and

Yesterday we drove around various constituencies, including Grants Town. The stories we heard of vote buying in various places were mind-boggling. Some were told by the very persons who had been solicited, one of whom had succumbed.We heard the stories of men who were offered bribes of $5,000, $10,000, as high as $15,000, to take off their red shirts, reject their FNM candidate and convince other FNM supporters to do the same. (May 8, 2012)

I really don't need to state the obvious: that vote-buying is neither a new habit, nor one owned, invented, developed, or perfected by the PLP; it has been blatantly a part of Bahamian politics since men could vote. I don't need to say, further, that if one listened, one might hear similar stories regarding the taking off of yellow shirts to put on the red. This issue is not a party issue, but a cultural one, and something that needs to be addressed in a manner that involves a little less paternalism, a little more respect.Rather, I'd like to focus on what disturbs me more: that the corruption narrative appears to be validated by the fact that the American media follow the same general line as is taken above. I have long been troubled by the lack of balance, or perhaps of critical distance, exhibited by our print media, which, despite tremendous improvement over the past decade or so, is still inclined to eschew political analysis in favour of reportage and innuendo; but what prompted me to write this post was the story in the Miami Herald which appeared on May 4th—an article that made reference, of all things, to the Anna Nicole "scandal" of 2006-7, while overlooking issues of greater concern, such as (say) the awarding to the Aga Khan the right to own/occupy/develop islands within the bounds of the Exuma Land and Sea National Park, for what Bahamian benefit I have never been able to discern. I have never terribly impressed by sex scandals, or things that purport to be. I happen to believe that it's perfectly possible for a man (or woman) to make valid, even inspired, political decisions while at the same time being incapable of controlling his (or her) libido; Martin Luther King and William Jefferson Clinton come to mind. Call me crazy, but I am far more concerned about the selling of Bahamian tax dollars (say, the several million in advertising that we continue to provide Atlantis, some 18 years after its initial investment), Bahamian land to foreigners (Cable Beach from Goodman's Bay to Sandals, an indigestible chunk of Exuma to Four Seasons/Sandals, or individual islands and cays to cruise ships), or untapped fossil fuel resources to little-known private companies.This is why the current Bahamas corruption narrative unsettles me. It's not that we shouldn't be talking about corruption; of course we should. What is missing from the discussion, however, is balance. It is easy to assign blame to only one group of people, to assume that when a particular party takes power, the moral fibre of the society is under threat—but it is not accurate. It is a matter of record that politicians on all sides of the political divide have been implicated in questionable activities, if not outright examples of corruption; but it is also a matter of record that the people that many consider impeccably honest of the House of Assembly come from every party too.When we pull up Anna Nicole Smith, but ignore Mona Vie, the Aga Khan, or cease our interrogation of the 4,000+ Chinese work permits, we undermine our commitment to the Bahamas corruption narrative. When we revisit the 1980s, but skim over the scandals, such as the Clifton Cay deal, that plagued the Free National Movement at the end of the 1990s, we do the same. In both cases, we may be following our moral compass; but we're overlooking the fact that it needs calibration.My own position is that there is probably very little difference among politicians. People are people; many succumb to temptation, while a few are able to resist. What I would like to see is a willingness on the part of all Bahamians to call out corruption whenever or wherever we see it, especially if it comes from within our particular political enclave. It is not all right to endorse corrupt activities in the name of one's own party while at the same time condemning them when they are conducted by another, as happens here:

ATTENTION ALL FNMs, the PLP is now giving out PLENTY MONEY!!!!!! THE OIL MONEY IS HERE. TAKE THE MONEY, SAY THANKS YOU AND VOTE FNM. Heavy money in Freeport, Bain Town, Centreville, Bamboo Town, Mount Moriah, Fort Charlotte, Montague, St. Annes, West Grand Bahama, Coopers Town, North Andros, Central & South Eleuthera, North Eleuthera Fox Hill etc. There is plenty OIL MONEY. GET YOURS AND SAY AMEN. (taken from a thread in "Politics in Review" in May 2012)

So let me end by taking a leaf from my own book. It's this very question, the question of "oil money" that concerns me right now when it comes to the continuation of the Bahamas corruption narrative. Bahamian oil is an issue that, as Larry Smith has so succinctly observed, "is the biggest single issue facing the country today"—and something about which we know far too little; shareholders in London appear to know more. It is also something that, now the government has changed, is no longer a neutral issue for the Progressive Liberal Party. When last challenged on their relationship with the main company that has been granted oil exploration licences, the new Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister stated that they had no conflict of interest, as they were not in government, and had no ability to influence national policy on the question of oil. The situation is fundamentally different today.I call upon the government to move swiftly to the referendum promised regarding oil drilling from the platform of the Progressive Liberal Party rallies. But before that, I call upon the government to engage in open and public dialogue about the oil question. Let us see and know what the Bahamas Petroleum Company plans to do with the oil that apparently lies beneath our seabed, and how drilling for it might benefit us. Explain to us what good things, beyond the $$$ we naively associate with oil money, drilling will bring to our nation, in this century that is already looking beyond fossil fuels to sources of alternative energy. Show us how ordinary Bahamians will benefit from oil exploration, and why we should trust any investment in a resource that has brought poverty and turmoil, not prosperity, to too many of the regions that looked upon it as a remedy for all their ills—Nigeria comes all too swiftly to mind. This is an issue as big as any we have faced thus far in our history, and it is an issue on which the new government of The Bahamas, a government in which I have chosen to believe, will stand or fall.

On the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

One of the reasons I am unmoved by either any of the current political parties' manifesti, plans or proposals, is that I have the pleasure of teaching new groups of young Bahamians every year. This is a pleasure, because they are far more open and interested than they have any right to be, given the abysmal neglect of their generation and those immediately preceding them by the governments of our nation; but it is also a scandal. They know so very little about their country, themselves, and the world they are expected to navigate.We came into our own as a nation in 1973, almost 40 years ago. The generations that straddled that watershed were erudite, educated, aware of the world and our place in it, bent on changing the world they had grown up in, and educated to do so. The generations that they produced, by contrast, are none of those things. There are of course pockets of erudition, handfuls of individuals who can be considered "educated" in the democratic sense of the term, but these are not common. They are usually the products of families for whom The Bahamas matters, who may have earned a critical place in Bahamian history, who invest in education for themselves and their children, not because of what they perceive that education might earn them but for its own sake. More damningly, they are all too often also the graduates of private schools, hailing from the middle class or the upper middle class, children of privilege. Ironically, our self-rule and our independence, bought at some cost by people for whom education was by no means a given, to whom education was prohibited, has created a society in which the so-called "universal" education has bred a population whose ignorance is legion.As I tell my students, I don't blame them for reaching voting age without knowing anything important about themselves or their country. I can't; the fault is not theirs. But as I also tell them, I will blame them henceforth (to invoke the one-word motto of my alma mater) if they maintain that ignorance now that they know they possess it. That it should proliferate after a generation of Bahamian scholars, all of them investing their time, money, and energy into writing our stories, in penning our histories, in telling tales about us, is an indictment on every single government of The Bahamas since independence.But even that indictment cannot be evenly spread. Different administrations bear different kinds of guilt. The first Progressive Liberal Party administrations must shoulder the responsibility for skewing our history, for telling only part of it, for erasing whole chunks of Bahamian life and experience from the spoken record. Even given the fact that there is something understandable in the fact that the first decade of community building in the wake of majority rule was given over to the Black Bahamian experience, the continuation of that bias into the third decade after Majority Rule is unconscionable, given the fact that The Bahamas was the site of not one but two important republics in the New World, and a site of a very ancient, if politically skewed, democracy. The myth created out of the PLP rhetoric of the 1970s and 1980s was that Black Bahamians had no vote and no voice in the pre-PLP era. The result of this half-truth is that young Black Bahamians were never made aware of the role of free African settlers in the Eleutherian Republic—the second republic in the new world—or of the Pirates' Republic of the end of the seventeenth century, which, though branded as lawless and rebellious by a Britain intent on global conquest, was also multi-racial and strangely democratic. The other result of this half-truth is that successive generations of Black Bahamians were created who had, and have, no comprehension of the actual composition of the Bahamian population, who take fair-skinned Bahamians of colour for the "whites" who controlled the nation in the past, and who take actual white Bahamians of ancient pedigree for tourists; and this serves to disenfranchise otherwise productive Bahamian citizens, to render them invisible, to remove from them a real stake in the fortunes of the nation.The first Free National Movement administrations, on the other hand, must bear a different responsibility. Perhaps coincidentally, the change of government from PLP to FNM occurred in the same year as the complete phasing-out of General Certificate of Education, the international school-leaving qualification previously earned by Bahamian students. The creation of the BGCSE was not the doing of the FNM, but the way in which it was administered must be. It is on the doorstep of the FNM that we must lay the blame for the continued miseducation of Bahamians. The miseducation of Bahamians with regard to the Bahamian citizenry and the place of whites within the Bahamas was addressed, but was done so as destructively as the miseducation of Bahamians under the PLP had been done. Instead of increasing the knowledge of young Bahamians about their nation and the world within which it existed, a choice was made to decrease that knowledge. History was not only made an optional subject, but even the origins of the Bahamian nation itself were concealed. It is impossible to recount the story of the rise of universal democracy in The Bahamas without privileging the role of the PLP; and so the history of the post-independence Bahamas was not taught at all. It is impossible to talk about slavery without acknowledging the oppression of Africans by Europeans; and so the history of Bahamian enslavement was not taught at all. By erasing critical eras of Bahamian history, by valourizing pre-1967 heroes such as Stafford Sands and Roland Symonette, or by recognizing (belatedly) other pre-independence heroes such as Cecil Wallace-Whitfield,  the first two FNM administrations effectively blotted out the story of the Bahamas that obtained between 1967/73 and 1992.I am told—I wasn't there, but have no reason to doubt the source—that during the 1990s, attempts to address living Bahamian history were actively discouraged by serving educators. I am thinking about an incident recounted by a colleague of mine, who told of a time when he stood up to make some reference to the days of Black Bahamian oppression at a school assembly where he was a guest speaker, only to be rebuked by the head teacher, who told him that teaching young Bahamians about the past would encourage racism against white people. That helps to explain the huge gaps in the knowledge of the students I teach today, some twenty years after that most recent active erasure of our selves. These are students who have heard of Martin Luther King, of Malcolm X, of Barack Obama, but who have no idea of who Lynden Pindling and Milo Butler and Cecil Wallace-Whitfield were, much less having even heard of other great Bahamians like Randol Fawkes, Etienne Dupuch, or Roland Symonette. They do not know what was suffered to give them free access to education, or what it means to be able to earn a college degree. They have barely heard of apartheid, the Holocaust, or colonialism. They do not know that the red, white and blue they associate with the Stars and Stripes were also once the colours of the Bahamian colony, not because of our American proximity, but because of our annexure to Britain. They have never heard of the Haitian Revolution, or know that Haiti was the first and the only successful ex-slave republic anywhere in the world. They do not know that, when he was released from prison and knew that victory for native South Africans was assured, Nelson Mandela came to The Bahamas to study the way in which we had achieved majority rule without bloodshed and created a successful society in its wake. They do not know who Nelson Mandela is. They do not know, and yet they are expected to become full citizens of this African-influenced, slave-shaped, postcolonial nation. The idea is absurd.And so I regard the incoherencies that pass for election rhetoric with a sense of disgust. These people who are now on their game, who are engaged in the grotesque performance that passes for "democracy" in the voting nations of the late capitalist era, are either complicit in the creation of the mass ignorance of the voters, or they are the products of the skew-eyed histories that have shaped our existence since independence. How can anyone who believes in democracy as the expression of the will of a people, support any set of politicians who have so completely seen to the erasure of the kind of knowledge that best informs that will? How can one, with good conscience, cast a vote in this climate? Why should I care about the leaders of the parties, when I know that they will all come out the same in the wash—blustery, misinformed/misinforming, irresponsible?Somebody tell me why.

Answering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy, and voting - part I

Of all the responses to the Voter's Manifesto I received, it was the one that challenged it that I appreciated the most. Not that I didn't welcome the people who commented and wrote in support of the Manifesto, or that I am not happy to know that the original seemed to have struck a chord with several other voters; but at the heart of democracy is, and must be, the ability to disagree. A space for dissent, for disagreement, for debate, must be built into any democratic system; democracy cannot hope to be achieved when no debate takes place.And it's not enough for room to be left for debate; that's only the first step in the democratic process. Unless debate happens—and debate that is rational, not polemic, slander or other forms of empty political rhetoric—unless, in other words, the group of people for whom democracy was provided do not exercise their freedom to speak, the process cannot survive. Silence paves the way for tyranny, and so also do name-calling and mud-slinging. There is very little that's democratic about a host of people, all clad in rainbow-coloured clothing, gathering insults into a pile to throw at one another. In that scenario, Ian Strachan's comment that no matter who wins the general election, the losers will be the Bahamian people is spot-on. What's missing from our political discussion is any reference to real, debatable issues, and any honest debate about them; and if we hope to maintain our hold on democracy, already tenuous in several respects, blind agreement can be as unproductive as senseless personal attack.So to the critique of the Manifesto, which was described by its critic as "ill-conceived, emotive, and racist". The main area of contention was the "I do not believe" section, which rejected the ideas

In response, the critic observed that

  1. the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership 
  2. it is arrogant to suggest that a population of under 400,000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country

and concluded that these statements "seemed designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses". The response challenged me "to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation".Here is my defence. To the first, the claim that the electoral process in The Bahamas is "fully democratic". This I challenge on many levels while at the same acknowledging the core of truth in the statement. On the one hand, we have a right to be proud of our electoral record. Great changes have taken place in The Bahamas via the ballot box, without bloodshed, and with a relatively low incidence of coercion, fraud, or corruption, the common understanding of all of the above notwithstanding. One could of course argue that there is a long-standing practice of wooing voters with cash incentives or of rewarding them for their support with gifts of food, or, apocryphally, large appliances; I could counter that with the challenge that the twenty-first century has seen an overall reduction in the value of these incentives, given the fact that neither of the two latest elections resulted in any major hiring of supporters to work in the absolute security of the Government Job. But I digress. We have a strong democratic tradition when it comes to voting for people to sit in Parliament. But we have a very poor democratic tradition when it comes to raising, debating or considering issues that have relevance for our nation; what passes for "political" discussion in our country is really personal attack and gossip dressed up in cotton tees.There are several areas in which we fail miserably in the development of the democratic tradition. The first is in the fact that, unlike other democracies, Bahamians have only one tier of representation. In our elections, two-thirds of the population may vote only for the national government. The city of Nassau has no local government, and there is no talk of any serious nature of creating one any time soon. Although we talk about urban renewal and the regeneration of downtown Nassau, the agency that we imagine will be given the responsibility for this is a corporate entity appointed by the government and accountable to no ordinary citizen. Family island communities have a measure of local governance, but urban Bahamians are governed by corporations—the Port Authority in Freeport, and whatever the title of the proposed agency will be for Nassau.The second is in the method by which our representatives are chosen. It's not good enough to invoke the Westminster model of parliamentary governance here; I am arguing that no matter where it came from, it does not meet our needs. In Nassau (where, I repeat, our Members of Parliament are the only voices we have at the governmental level), our much-touted ability to vote is seriously compromised by the fact that voters have the very last say in choosing the candidates. There are no primaries, no public weeding out of candidates, no debates, no means by which the average person can vet the candidates before they are presented to us. The selection is in the hands of the political parties alone. This dilutes the democratic process. I'm going to quote Pat Rahming here, because his poem "Power", now four decades old, continues to resonate:

cuz vot’n ain’ much powerif somebody else guh choosethe choice

The third is that the representatives are not answerable to the people from the time they are elected to the time they begin to campaign for votes three, four or five years later. Voters, having gone to the polls, made the best choice they could from among a group of (generally) unsuitables, are obliged to sit back and live with what they have done for five years. We cannot recall our representatives. Our representatives have no obligation to report to us what they have done with our trust. All we can do is watch them make fools of themselves and a mockery of our state on the Parliamentary Channel, and at best talk behind their backs—or on the air, sometimes—while smiling and kowtowing to their faces. Our so-called full democratic process has succeeded in making passive hypocrites of too many of us.The fourth is that in order to create democracy, more than a vote is needed. A voice is also not enough. We got our vote in the 1960s when women were allowed to cast ballots, and we got our voice in two parts: in the 1960s when we elected the first majority government of The Bahamas, so that the faces that ruled us looked like ours, and in the 1990s second when the Free National Movement made it possible for different perspectives to be heard on the airwaves by breaking the broadcasting monopoly that had hitherto been held, by law, by the Broadcasting Corporation of The Bahamas. Neither fact seems to have prevented us from enacting the same dumbshow of electing and revering individuals who by their greed, lack of exposure, lack of knowledge, lack of morals, or lack of sense of self have proceeded to disenfranchise the average citizen even more. We need more than a voice; we need to be given the kind of education that breeds a sense of pride, a sense of honour and a sense of integrity so that we, the citizens, can exercise that voice in such a way that democracy is strengthened. That is clearly lacking. The very real oppression of the 1970s and 1980s—by which dissent by ordinary people was silenced in numerous ways, not least among them the very real activity of victimization, when opponents could be, and were, stripped of their livelihoods, their positions, and their reputations—has given way to an oppression of the mind. We have the channels and the means to speak, but what we have to say is ignorant of Bahamian history, lacking in substance, and small-minded.And so. We live in a nation that is nominally very democratic, but that is actually little better than any tyranny—and perhaps worse, because we are comfortable with our situations and so prefer not to rock any boats. We live and die by our passivity, and when things don't go well for us, we complain, we moan, or we lash out with knives and guns. Our democracy is a veneer, and a thin one at that.End of this part of my response; more to come

A Reader Responds to the Voter's Manifesto

Got the following response to my Voter's Manifesto. It was sent privately, for reasons the writer makes clear, but as that individual has encouraged me to post the response and to respond in my turn, I'm honouring the request.

Happy New YearI wish to challenge your Voter’s Manifesto as ill-conceived, emotive and racist. You will notice that I am doing this in a private message rather than a post.I would rather post and challenge publicly, however, unfortunately, foreigners do not have freedom of speech in the Bahamas without fear of consequences, and so I am forced to challenge you in private.I request that you honour my request for anonymity, but I encourage you to post (anonymously) and respond to my challenges in public.I have no argument with your ‘I believe’ section.I suggest that you are being intentionally emotive and encouraging misunderstanding in your ‘I do not believe’ section.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project’ I am not sure what you mean by ‘project’ but the Bahamas already has a fully democratic process for electing its leadership so this statement seems gratuitous and a little divisive to me.‘I do not believe that Bahamians need help, time or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now’ Wow this is an arrogant statement, to suggest that a population of under 400, 000 people has every single skill, knowledge and experience to address the issues faced by the country. In this context I am reading ‘help’ as ‘help from non-Bahamians’ as I don’t see what else it can mean.Let me take an example that is close to your heart ……. COBCOB has been struggling for over 10 years now to transition from a community college to university status.• I question what percentage of Bahamian lecturers at COB became qualified for their job in the Bahamas? I believe over 98% of Bahamian COB lecturers gained their education abroad.• There are a number of foreign lecturers at COB. According to work permit requirements, COB was unable to fill those posts with Bahamians or work permits would not have been granted.Did you mean that you want to get rid of all the foreigners from COB and stop Bahamians going abroad for their education?Let me take another example………. The economy.The two largest industries in the Bahamas are tourism and off-shore banking. Both of these industries rely on foreign investment and international interactions.You might not like Sol Kerzner building Disney Land on Hogg Island, but it is one of the largest employers in the Bahamas, and there were no Bahamians in a position to build at the same level, as proven by Baha Mar, which tried for a number of years to elicit Bahamian investment and failed, and also could not generate the skill set required for high rise construction within the Bahamas.The off-shore banking industry functions through cooperation between the government of the Bahamas and international banks, who generate significant income for the Bahamas.These two industries between them generate the majority of the wealth of the Bahamas and the majority of opportunities for Bahamians. Take away the foreigners and the money of the foreigners and both will collapse, along with the economy of the Bahamas.You may not like the Bahamas’ dependence on foreign industry, but the Bahamas cannot do without it until it generates a broader economic base.Your statements seem designed to elicit anti-foreigner responses.What does it say about a country who shows such little respect for the foreigners legitimately living there?“If you want my vote don’t come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.”Are you saying it would be ok if they were rich black people from abroad?I do not think you intended to be so disrespectful to those white foreigners living in the Bahamas, but it is significant that, whilst addressing your agenda of quality of jobs provided by the government, you are comfortable using derogative phrases like this.This document does not match your usual quality of work in my opinion. I think it is significant that you published it on MLK day in the USA and its style is derivative of the ‘I have a dream’ speech.I invite you to defend your words and demonstrate the error of my interpretation.I moved to the Bahamas because it is a country that still values family, community and humanity. As you correctly state, it is a country full of people with talent and creativity. I love the Bahamas and the people of the Bahamas and I believe I make a positive contribution to this country, so I find it hurtful to hear ‘getting rid of the foreigners’ as an election platform.

 

A Voter's Manifesto

With elections around the corner and three political parties, none of which appear to have formulated, much less articulated, any new or credible plan for Bahamian development or growth in twenty-first century (and no, planning to beg more rich people for more money to buy up more of our precious archipelago does not count), I think it's time for the average Bahamian, the voter, to exercise her democratic right and put down in pixels what will or will not get her vote.I am a Bahamian who has never been represented by any party that has held power in The Bahamas to date. I am a woman, middle class, neither black nor white, a cultural worker and intellectual, a citizen and a voter, an ordinary Bahamian who does not campaign, carry a voters' card, attend rallies, or otherwise show her face during the silly season that surrounds politics.I pay my taxes in every way they are presented to me. I have never sat in a politician's office to beg for anything when doing so was not part of my job as a civil servant. I have been eligible to vote in the past 6 general elections but in that time I have only once been visited by a prospective MP, who believed that he was making a social call on old friends, my parents. I have never,  in my civilian position, called any sitting politician for a job, for a handout, for a favour, for any sort of help. I do not work in the tourism industry, real estate, the construction industry, or any other other area that figures in political discussions of "jobs" and "economics" or anything else.I am one of thousands of productive, independent, patriotic Bahamians who make this country run on a daily basis. I took the opportunities offered to my by the first independent government of The Bahamas and went off and earned a college degree. I came home because I wanted to serve and build my country. To date, my country has not put in place anything to serve and build me; to every politician who has served in parliament in the time I have been voting, people like me have been invisible. In our democracy, we do not count.And so: a voter's manifesto.

I believe:
  • that Bahamians are as intelligent, as resourceful, as industrious, as talented and as deserving as any other group of people on the planet;
  • that Bahamian innovation, creativity and adaptability carved this nation out of these scattered rocks in the sea, and that that innovation, creativity and adaptability will make flourish in the twenty-first century;
  • that Bahamians are full human beings, with needs that go beyond the merely material;
  • that The Bahamas is as important as any other nation in the world, and should be treated as such;
  • that our human capital -- the ingenuity, intelligence, talent and independent spirit of the Bahamian people -- is the most important resource that our nation has.
I do not believe:
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to deepen and strengthen the democratic project;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to address those problems that our country is struggling with now;
  • that Bahamians need help, time, or training to make our country better.
And so:
  • I, the voter, do not care what colour T-shirt you offer me or what three letters you cast before my face.
  • I believe in democracy.
  • I do not care nearly as much about the history of your particular party (or of your opponents) as you think I do.
  • I do not care about how good (or bad) you look in a suit, how well you speak off the cuff, or whether your leader is God incarnate or the Devil himself.
  • I care about this country we all share.
  • I care what you and your party are planning The Bahamas will look like tomorrow.
  • I want to know the details.
  • I believe that it is the right of a people to elect a government who will represent them and not the foreign interests who come offering the latest wads of cash or promises grander than the grandest Prime Minister's.
  • I believe that is the obligation of a government to seek out and hear the needs of the people whom it represents.  All the people, not just the vocal few at the bottom who have depended thus far on their crippledness to coerce their representatives into enact ill-thought and hurried acts of bribery-in-return-for-votes, or the fatcats at the top who enact coercive acts of bribery of their own.
  • I believe in governments who represent and serve the people who vote for them, not the people who pay them, or bully them, or frighten them.
  • I believe in equality. That is not to say that I believe that all people are universally idiots, or that we must make all decisions according to the lowest possible common denominator. Rather, it is to say that I believe that all citizens—and, indeed, in a truly civilized nation, all people within our borders—should be equal under our laws and treated as such. No better, and no worse.
  • I believe that our ideals should be more important than individual exceptions.
  • I believe that a nation should be founded on ideals. Tell me yours.

If you want my vote:

  • Don't come waving flags or t-shirts or offering promises of more jobs laying cement, gathering laundry or taking orders for rich white people from abroad.
  • Don't come not debating policy.
  • Don't come bad-talking the other politicians around you.
  • Don't come not knowing basic things about this country, about governance, about policy, or the world of the twenty-first century.
  • Don't come expecting my political philosophy to do the trick and make me vote for you party because it happens to be the next best thing to the ideals I hold.
  • Don't come expecting your track record to move me.
  • Don't come expecting my colour, my family name, my friends, my profession, or any other attribute to influence the way I vote.
  • Don't come trusting in your personal political arrogance and my continued political passive stupidity.
  • Come talking to me about the Bahamas you will create the day after Election Day, and come telling me in detail how we are going to create it together.

It had better be a different Bahamas from the one I live in today.•••More links:A Reader Responds to the Voter's ManifestoAnswering the challenge: a consideration of patriotism, democracy and voting - Part IOn the mis-education of the Bahamian citizen

The Duty to Vote - by Simon

I've been thinking about this commentary by "Simon" of Bahama Pundit (and the Nassau Guardian):

To refuse to vote is a decision.  It shows a level of disdain and contempt for our democratic system.  There is certain arrogance to those who feel that voting is beneath them and that they won’t participate in electing “those politicians” (who, incidentally, are our fellow citizens).

Voting is not fundamentally about politicians.  It is about the citizenry choosing their elected representatives and holding them accountable.  Democracy, like the human condition is imperfect, requiring constant improvement and renewal.  The alternative is a system of anarchy.

There is also an immaturity to those who refuse to help choose the nation’s elected representatives and refuse also to participate in governance.  Still, they expect someone else to make the tough decisions on everything from crime to the economy to education.

Often, these same individuals have much to say on issues of public policy though they refuse to vote or become involved in governance.  There is a level of hypocrisy by those who sit on their high horses complaining about the politicians while refusing to participate.

A refusal to exercise one’s right to vote is a dereliction of a basic right for which many have fought and died, and for which many are still struggling.  For the progeny of slaves it is a sort of disregard and dishonouring of the struggles of those ancestors who for generations fought for basic freedoms, including in The Bahamas for majority rule.

Those who refuse to exercise their right to vote for cavalier and unreflective reasons, do a disservice to the witness of Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, Bahamian men and women freedom fighters, and protestors around the world today for whom the right to vote is a democratic gift not to be taken lightly nor for granted.

The Right and Duty to Vote - via Bahama Pundit.

In many—many—respects I agree with him. The right to vote is more than an entitlement; in any democratic society, is a responsibility, the major responsibility perhaps, of citizens in democratic societies. Simon's right to shift the point from the politician to the citizen, and is also right to remind his readers about the cost of democracy, and to remind us all not to take it for granted. But there is a whole lot more to it than that, in my opinion.

For I have a problem with this idea that the responsibility in any democratic society is one-way, that it adheres to the citizen only, and that the politician is exempt. Because while I agree wholeheartedly that one has a duty to register and even tend to agree that one should turn out to vote, I balk at the idea that my vote must be constrained by the choices offered to me by people who, it seems, more often than not, have very limited imaginations about the potential of this nation, who indeed have very limited comprehension of statehood at all, and who are really put in place because they bowed down and said the right things to the right political overlord. Even in the most informal cases, a person has the right to abstain when the time comes to vote, and that abstention is counted; it is, in effect, an anti-vote, a rejection of the choices placed before one, or of the lack of choice imposed on the voter by political machineries that are fundamentally antidemocratic at their very core. What, after all, is democratic about a system in which representatives are chosen in the wake of an unholy alliance between a set of individuals entrenched in a political game and the super-partisan delegates whose job it is to choose and/or ratify candidates? When does the ordinary citizen, who is faceless and nameless and often even party-less, get to have some say in who will sit in Parliament on her behalf?

So while I agree with the duty of every citizen to participate in this most fundamental of democratic rights and responsibilities, and while I think that Australia is on to a good thing—every citizen is obliged to vote by law—I resist entirely this idea that the politician has no responsibility to the citizens or to the state that they govern. I especially resist it in our Bahamaland, where local government is another word for more direct taxation and where there is no such thing for the over two-thirds of the population who reside in the city of Nassau. There is nothing democratic about the shifting around of constituency boundaries by that parliamentary joke called the "Boundaries Commission"  and there is nothing democratic about the musical chairs being played by the three political parties in scrambling to find candidates who, by some strategic algorithm, are best poised to win within some made-up geographical area. And so I reserve the right, having registered and planning fully to turn out to vote, to make my displeasure known at the polls if (or when) the three parties who are scrambling for power do not show me enough respect to offer for office an individual for whom I can vote without feeling that the choice is one among many evils.

In short, I believe in the citizen's duty to vote. But it doesn't stop there. I believe as much, perhaps more, in the politicians' duty to govern. And until I am confident that they think as much of this nation as I do, I reserve the right to choose no one to represent me at all.

Global Financial Crisis Highlights the Threat to Liberal Democracy’s Survival | The Jakarta Globe

A commentary well worth reading in full. I've been thinking along these lines for some time--not with regard to the democracy part so much but certainly with regard to the conflation of liberal democracy with free-market capitalism, and thinking, as these commentators are saying, that it is coming to an end.I am not so sure, though, that the linking of democracy with capitalism isn't too easy still, and that would be my critique of the whole article. I think that democracy can--and probably should--exist beyond/without capitalism (capitalism is proving to be vaguely compatible with communism at this moment, go China, who knew?) and expect it to continue to develop. But one thing's sure--we are living in an age of change.But enough from me. Go read this commentary.

Contemporary liberal democracy developed in Western Europe in tandem with industrialization. Indeed, social democrats and the trade union movement played a crucial role in agitating for universal suffrage, initially only for men, removing the earlier requirement of property ownership.But beyond the issue of voting, the economic and social transformations of the Industrial Revolution underpinned the development of the welfare state, which provided social insurance against the vagaries of capitalism and attempted to mitigate the latter’s inequalities.The welfare state’s emergence was also promoted by the communist revolution in Russia and the Great Depression that engulfed the world in the 1930s. With millions out of work, leftist ideologies gained ground — even in that bastion of individualism, the United States.In most Western states, the way out of the Great Depression involved not only countercyclical spending, but a political accommodation between labor and capital, manifested in the political arena of the two-party system — one party for labor and another for capital.Yet a strange thing happened around three decades ago, with serious challenges emerging to the capital and labor accommodation. The arrival of neoliberalism — the ideology that replaced Keynesianism with the idea that society should be organized along competitive market lines — rose up in the 1970s and early ’80s, ostensibly to counter declining rates of profit in key capitalist countries.via Global Financial Crisis Highlights the Threat to Liberal Democracy’s Survival | The Jakarta Globe.

Larry Smith on The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements

This is an issue that needs research, reflection, and discussion, not knee-jerking. Larry Smith starts the ball rolling at Bahama Pundit.

... the deeper we delve into the so-called 'Haitian problem', the more we come face to face with ourselves. The squatter settlements that give rise to so much public angst are a clear example of the alternate reality that many Bahamians live in, and we are not the only ones grappling with these issues....The reality is that squatters include indigenous Bahamians, Haitian-Bahamians, immigrants with work permits and illegal immigrants. But these one-dimensional labels merely mask the complexity of the problem, as the following three examples illustrate.A 2003 news report on squatters focused on a young man who, although born here, was not a Bahamian because his parents are Haitians. He had never been to Haiti, and though he had applied three times for Bahamian citizenship and spent about $4,500 on paperwork and lawyers, he had nothing to show for his efforts.A friend of mine knows of a "true-blood Bahamian" who works as a messenger and had a daughter with a Haitian woman. "The daughter was educated here and is hardworking, but has no status. She is confined to the fringes of society because her father can't be bothered to help her get regularized."Then there is the Haitian who has worked here for years and become a permanent resident. "He has several children," my friend told me. "One son is here on a work permit, a second son went to R M Bailey and appears to be a Bahamian, and a third son just arrived from Haiti and can't speak English. The second son is intelligent and well-educated, but has no status and is very angry about it."These examples put a human face on the problem, and we can multiply them many times throughout our society. The root question is, how do we deal with them? One answer is to deport immigrant children who are born and raised here. Another is to regularize them to become productive members of our society.The other key point to bear in mind is that squatting is often the only option for low-income people with no collateral or savings who subsist on temporary jobs. They can't afford the cost of land or housing, so they are forced to rely on irregular arrangements facilitated by Bahamians.Squatter settlements are the inevitable result.via The Alternate Reality of Bahamian Squatter Settlements - Bahama Pundit.

On Emancipation Day

Wanted to post something all day yesterday but was working to finish one of the two reviews and so I didn't. (I did finish the review though!)This is the beginning of what I wrote:Today is Emancipation Day. It's the last public holiday for the summer, but that's not really the point of the day. On August 1, 1834, slavery in the British Empire came to an end. (The conditions that attached to slavery didn't end then, but that's another story). I'm not entirely sure that we truly understand the significance of the day, but that's also another discussion. This year, in 2011, neighbourhoods, communities and families are planting trees.It's a first step. But for emancipation really to have been achieved, we need to emancipate our minds from a number of things. The first of these is the idea that many of us have—that far too many of our "leaders" appear to promote—that we Bahamians cannot do anything without outside help. That we cannot trust the man sitting next to us, or the woman in the next room, but that we can trust the stranger coming in from overseas. That we ourselves do not need to prove ourselves trustworthy because, well, Bahamians don't know any better anyway.For true emancipation, we need to believe in something bigger than ourselves, and something less scam-distorted than the "god" we hear so much about. (Believing in God is all well and good, but if it's just to make sure we get material reward in this lifetime, then it's not God we're really believing in at all). Something like truth, or honour, or service, or community. Something that makes the enslavement of our ancestors and their subsequent freedom worth all the suffering they endured. Something that would make them proud to have survived what they did on our behalf.So plant trees—and water them. What was begun yesterday must continue for the rest of the year, even the rest of our lives. But we need to understand that this is only a beginning, and a symbolic one at that.

Developing democracy in The Bahamas

A year and a half ago, I had the privilege of attending a weeklong faculty seminar in Maryland. The topic: globalization and democracy. The Wye Faculty Seminar was established to bring faculty from all over the USA together to think deeply about democracy, particularly, though not exclusively, the democracy practised by the United States of America.It was the first time I'd studied for any real length of time in the US. OK, so it was only a week, but it was long enough for me to realize several things. One, that watching US TV and living on the edges of the country is not the same as being there. You learn a lot when you're the fringes -- more on that later, maybe -- but it's not the same as being immersed -- being surrounded by, eating with, talking to, US citizens. And in this case, reading excerpts from the founding documents of the USA and discussing those ideas with the others who had been chosen to attend the retreat.The result: a series of sparks of ideas in my head. In The Bahamas, on what is our concept of democracy founded? Do we have a concept of democracy? Our constitution, such as it is, is an adaptation from a boilerplate supplied to us by an anti-imperial Britain at the tail end of the colonial era. Is democracy important to us at all?Today, I had at the almost equal privilege of finding an answer. Two thirds of the way through a class, I realized I was part of a classroom debate whose focus was hope and agency in the globalizing Bahamas. That wasn't what we thought we were talking about at first. The discussion had grown out of our long-term study on the economics of Junkanoo, in which the members of this particular class participated; but before we knew it, we were discussing Bahamians' constitutional rights and the conviction that too many young men on the streets of Nassau have that they have no rights at all -- that the only people they have to depend upon are themselves. And one of my students was outlining the only concept that makes sense today: that we need to imagine a different way of living, that we need to create a philosophy of citizenship, that we need to build what he calls an illusion of our own.The "illusion" that drives American democracy, that sets the standard, for better or worse, whether we like it or not, of democracy in the world, are the principles on which the American nation is founded. What we need today, perhaps forty years too late but not a moment too soon, are our own democratic principles. We need a movement that gives us our own "illusion" -- Bahamian ideals by which our actions, collective and individual, may be measured.Ever since last year's sojourn in Maryland, I've been thinking about the ideals in which we believe. We need them more than ever today. We need them to give us the impetus, for instance, when politics lead to absurdity, to call our politicians out. We need them to judge our own actions, and those of our society at large, and adjust our behaviour accordingly. I suspect they're similar to, but not entirely the same as, American ideals; they're strengthened by our history of freedom and republicanism and tempered by our close encounter with racial apartheid. They need to be written down in a place where we can all find them when we need them.It's time to build our own declaration of democracy. I'm ready to start working.

Bahamas B2B: Elizabeth Lessons

There at least three important lessons to be learned from the Elizabeth by-election.

  1. Bahamian voters are fed up with "politics as usual".
    • Voter turnout for the by-election was around 64%, low for The Bahamas, where the usual turnout is over 90%.
  2. Independent candidates are now a formidable force in Bahamian politics.
  3. The governing FNM party will not coast to a victory in 2012.

--Bahamas B2B, Lessons from Elizabeth

Hear, hear. More on this later.

Elizabeth By-Election: a Tribute to Idiocy, Absurdity and the Lowest Common Human Denominator

Vote Independent. Or New Party. Let us try and find some adults to run our country. Let us behave like adults at least some of the time.

11:10am Supporters of both sides continue to hurl abuse at one another. FNM Deputy Leader Brent Symonette put his hand on one woman's shoulder, asking her to calm down, and as he turned to walk away, she hit him in the shoulder. He didn't report it to the police or have her removed from the area.10:30am Barricades have now been put up to separate FNM and PLP supporters. Even though they've now been physically separated, the angry shouting continues. PLP candidate Ryan Pinder, who at the moment remains down by a single vote, arrived a short while ago and stopped to speak with the media gathered there. He chided the media for focusing attention on the acrimony between the two groups, suggesting that by doing so, they're fueling the problem. 10:26am Police have had to form a human barrier around the gate to the Thelma Gibson Primary School where the recount is taking place. This after they had to break up groups of passionate, arguing supporters of the FNM and the PLP. Inside, FNM Deputy Leader Brent Symonette and PLP Leader Perry Christie shook hands for the cameras. via The Tribune.

Are we all criminals?

Got this from zotz, aka Drew Roberts, who is a passionate proponent of creative commons licensing, of a rethinking of the copyright laws of the twentieth century:http://blip.tv/scripts/flash/showplayer.swf?enablejs=true&file=http%3A//blip.tv/rss/flash/730724&autostart=false

 I wanted to post it, and link to the page it came from, because I agree with it, 95%.  My reservation comes when I'm thinking about our local creative work.  Creative commons is all very well when it's applied to corporations versus individuals -- the very issues that are being discussed above.  But what happens when corporations lay claim to the intellectual property of countries, cultures, groups?  What recourse do the creators have then?  I am still a supporter of copyright law when it applies to those peoples and cultures who did not get to benefit from the turning of knowledge into capital that occurred in the twentieth century; I believe that without the fundamental comprehension that what we imagine and make is worth cash we in the Americas will continue to do what we were established to do by Europe and its successors in North America -- provide the raw material for others to refine, market, sell, and profit from.But check out the video.  It's still something worth discussing.  Good food for thought.