It’s 2019. Conversations in the public domain are swinging round to elections, which are coming in two years. (Is it coincidental that conversations in the American public domain are doing the same?) But the conversations are more of the same-old same-old: who makes the best leader, who we want to elect. Who, who, who.
There are too few conversations about what we need as a nation if we hope to grow any further in the twenty-first century. Because the truth is, we are not growing. Our nation is floundering. And the only solutions politicians seem to be able to offer are weights to help us sink to the sea-bottom faster, not life rafts or under-the-seat flotation devices or even, heaven forfend, entirely new ships headed in entirely new directions.
But that is what we need.
In virtually every area we can measure, The Bahamas is objectively faring worse. Wait—I can hear the protests now. We are modestly performing better on international economic lists. We are complying with rich countries’ desires for smaller, poorer countries. We are scrambling to join international organisations which were set up to benefit the wealthy at the expense of the poor, which, arguably, encourage the creation of poverty in order to simultaneously create wealth. In other words, looking at some internationally-sourced standards of measurement, we are “doing better” as a nation. Our numbers, they tell us, are headed in the right direction; our laws are more palatable to those nations who would prefer to keep their wealth in their own hands rather than sharing it across borders.
But when it comes to the lives of Bahamians?
Our cost of living has gone up.
Our standard of living has gone down.
Our tourism product is faltering, badly, even though no one will admit it.
Where our tourism product is holding its own (large New Providence resorts and small foreign concerns across the Family Islands), most of the gross revenue leaves the country. Experts estimate that 70% of every dollar earned by tourism is banked overseas.
What good are “jobs” when we are working on plantations whose profits are sent far, far away?
Bahamians are caught in a stranglehold of expense that prohibits our ever being able to become internationally competitive, even as we tremble on the edge of entering global free trade agreements that will open up our economy to be despoiled still further by the rapacious of the world.
And the only solutions our politicians can conceive to offer us are higher/more taxes, fewer services, and more competition from corporations whose home countries support their efforts through incentives, tax breaks, and free trade agreements that work in their favour but not in ours.
Two years ago, in deciding not to cast a vote for any political party or candidate in my constituency, my partners and I were vilified by people who felt we were, I don’t know, betraying the democratic process/opting out of creating change/supporting wrongdoing in the highest circles. In response, we stated that we had no confidence that anything we did, any vote we cast, would change the direction of The Bahamas in any positive way. Voting against bad policy is not a solution; it enables the election of the incompetent, the intellectually bankrupt, the politically hollow. And the result of the palpable anger against the bad governance of 2012-2017 was the election of a house of assembly that might, in the absence of concrete ideas of how to change the Bahamas’ fortunes, be open to any and every suggestion from external actors, and which could, given the tiny opposition in parliament, be in a position to do virtually anything at all.
Which is where we find ourselves today.
It does not matter who sits in government.
It matters what their plans are to change the course of our nation.
So, as we begin our conversations, and, hell, as we begin to see rallies and have closed-door meetings about the teams we might build that could win the next election, we need to start having conversations that are not partisan in nature, but that are clearly about policy. That talk about how we go about building a better country.
What solutions do we need to craft if we are not to slide rapidly into the maelstrom that is the general Caribbean economy?
In what, or whom, do we need to invest (while we still have the resources) to ensure that the wealth that we possessed for the fifty years between 1945 and 2005—in part by design and in part by accident—bears fruit and continues to benefit the Bahamian citizenry?
How do we avoid the disaster that is, to my mind, clearly around the corner—the disaster that recreates the economy of the colony of the Bahama Islands that existed until the 1950s and 1960s, where a few people (a tiny, interconnected oligarchy) amass all the wealth and all the power, and the rest serve as an underpaid, under-served, unhealthy workforce?
How do we leverage the advantages our nation has to make us into a Botswana of the Atlantic, rather than a nation in which wealth (almost always foreign) is our only criteria for success?
Because here’s the thing. If we are not having these conversations, or demanding them from the people who seek our votes two years from now, then what, what is our vote really for?
There's a video I shared on Facebook. Its purpose: to explain to the world the real purpose behind the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) movement in France. The speaker in the video calls it "the revolution".
We live in a revolutionary age. It's not something we can escape. Marshall McLuhan, writing long ago, observed that when the medium of communication changes, the entire world—social, cultural, political—shifts. In his book The Gutenburg Galaxy he offers evidence for his position, exploring in particular how the shift from script-culture (when books were handwritten) to print-culture (when writing could be mass-produced) bore fruit in the various revolutions of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. He also demonstrated how the shift to broadcast media from print media (he lumped film in with print, but radio and television with broadcast media) had a similar revolutionary impact.
So it should be unsurprising that actual political revolutions are now happening—on both the right and the left. It should be unsurprising, indeed expected, that these revolutions are protests, one way or another, about the representative government associated with today's democracies—protests about the way in which the people we elect to represent us do NOT represent the people who elected them.
I've argued elsewhere and I want to argue again that it's time for us to rethink democracy. Not to get rid of it, but to re-tool it. Questions will arise. Print and broadcast culture flattened the world, created a shared culture that could be experienced by many people at once. The digital world ruled by clustering algorithms has retribalized society. There is absolutely no need—indeed, there is little space at all—for people with different views of the world to interact at all, much less discuss/debate their differences. But democracy is founded upon dialogue and debate. How do we keep our democracies alive when the world is being fragmented by algorithm into groups of people who consume the same things and think alike?
There's a common perception in The Bahamas, and perhaps in other parts of the world too, though I can't speak to them, that democracy flourishes during election seasons, when the citizenry is given its chance to elect the people that will govern the nation in ordinary times.According to this perception, the power of the Bahamian people (in our parliamentary system) is limited to one moment in time, generally falling roughly every five years, when the citizens of the nation indicate their approval or disapproval for the way in which their affairs have been handled by voting for or against the group of people who have handled those affairs. Once that moment has passed, though, the people's power subsides, and the elected officials assume it.But that is not all there is to democracy. Not at all.
What democracy is
The idea of "democracy"—at least the idea that the western world holds about democracy—is said to have originated in Ancient Greece, in Athens. Rather than being ruled by a monarch or an aristocracy, the government consisted of the Athenian citizens themselves. These citizens would gather in public spaces to discuss the affairs of the city-state, and vote directly on important matters.But that was ancient times, and only a handful of people living in Athens were considered "citizens": men who owned land. This limited the government to a small group of people who had decision-making power, and excluded from this process were women, servants, people who owned no land, and slaves.Later manifestations of democracy, those that found their expressions in the Americas, initially adopted this model. But this was expanded in the nineteenth century to include all free male citizens of a particular nation-state, and then in the twentieth to include women as well. By the time we entered the twenty-first century, the idea of "democracy" included the right of all citizens of a nation-state to have some say—usually through voting for representatives—in their government.So we can say that what we understand democracy to be is government of the people by the people. How that actually works itself out, though, is a matter of some difference the world over.Here in The Bahamas, it's worth thinking about the way we have so far engaged in the process, and it's time to ask ourselves whether the democracy we have become used to—casting a vote every five years—is still meeting our needs today.
Bahamian democracy—direct or representative?
What we practice here is representative democracy, a form of democracy which depends on the sovereign (i.e. the citizens) choosing individuals to represent their wider concerns in a place of government. The election of those individuals is a matter of trusting them to work not only for the general good but also in the interest of those people they represent.This is a different form of democracy from that practised in ancient Greece or in ancient Africa, or even in Switzerland until the twentieth century. In those societies, democracy was direct: citizens gathered in public spaces to vote on matters that pertained to them.Direct democracy works well in situations where the society is relatively small, where issues can be brought before town meetings and discussed by the populace, or where democracy is limited to certain sectors of the population—say land-owners, or men, or members of a certain race or class.Representative democracy works better when populations grow too large for individual citizens to have a useful perspective of the needs of the whole society. It also is useful in situations where a minority of citizens have the education, the means, or the information to comprehend the bigger picture. It is a very practical way of running a society. Good government, after all, is time-consuming and requires a lot of effort.
The benefits of representative democracy
When populations grow too big and issues are pressing, every challenge cannot logistically be brought before every citizen to be voted upon. Further, ordinary citizens tend to be driven primarily by their own self-interest, and are not in the habit of considering the common good, especially where that common good might infringe upon their own needs or desires.Take the question of New Providence traffic, for example. The source of the problem is simple: there are too many cars on the island. The solution is also simple: to reduce the number of cars on our roads in one way or another—by restricting the number of cars that can be imported, or by limiting the number of cars that a household can own, or by creating an efficient public transportation system that makes it unnecessary for individuals to have to drive everywhere.But which individual is likely to opt for any of these solutions? Some of us may voluntarily choose to limit ourselves to one car per household, but the probability that all of us will do so is slim. In a case where we voted directly on this issue, most people would probably choose to benefit themselves and their families and ignore the common good.In this situation, representative government is a valid option. Individuals are elected to take the difficult decisions on behalf of the state as a whole. And by voting for those individuals, most citizens agree to have a single person represent them at the decision-making levels in society.
The dangers of representative democracy
The issue facing us now in The Bahamas is that our governments are only as good as the people who represent their constituents. Our form of representative government is not very extensive. In a country of 400,000 odd people, we have the equivalent of one representative for every 1,000 citizens. This representative is expected to do many things: serve as members of the cabinet, chairs of government agencies, legislators, and representatives of their constituencies. They are expected to handle the most mundane annoyances—like the collection of trash and repair of potholes—as well as national and international issues, like foreign investors' project proposals and avoiding financial downgrades.Unfortunately, the majority of representatives that we elect are ill prepared for these responsibilities. Our system of government is also poorly structured to meet the needs of the twenty-first century. The fact that we have only one single tier of government—people who serve at the national level—is also a drawback. It does not allow people who wish to serve their nation to gain experience in thinking and planning collectively, with the result that bad decisions are routinely made.Our system is also overly partisan. In the normal scheme of things, the citizenry is given a say only at election time, and the ordinary citizen has no say over the people who are brought before them to elect. The vast majority of these individuals are selected by political parties in closed-door sessions with no public oversight and no accountability to the citizenry. Candidates are presented to the electorate in a take-it-or-leave-it manner, in the confidence that the electorate will simply vote along party lines.Once elected, the MPs are no longer accountable to the people who elected them. There is nothing compelling them to keep their constituents informed about the legislation that comes before them as MPs; they are not obliged to consult with the people they purport to represent before voting on any particular matter. Indeed, their primary loyalty is expected to be to their political party, not to the citizens they represent. What this creates is an oligarchy rather than a democracy, and defeats the principle of government for and by the people. What we get instead is government for and by the party, a distortion of the very idea of democracy.
We need a new approach
The democracy that we practice here in The Bahamas, this voting for people who represent parties, not the citizenry, is not serving us well. The people we send to the House of Parliament are not our representatives at all. They are not there to serve us. They are there to serve their political parties, and we, the citizens, have no say within those entities unless we decide to declare an affiliation with one or the other, become an active member, and get to a place where we can vote for prospective candidates. But this state of affairs defeats the purpose of one person, one vote. Those people who choose the candidates do so behind closed doors, and are not accountable to the citizenry for that vote. The citizens, on the other hand, are at their mercy when they are faced with their choices at election time.So what can we do about it?
Democracy: more than just casting a vote
In the first place, we have to get past this idea that democracy is something that happens once every five years. We have to get beyond the concept that the people we send to the House of Assembly are our "leaders", and remember they are our representatives. We have to start exercising the rights that are guaranteed us in our constitution, namely the freedoms of conscience (to believe what we want to believe), of expression (to say what we think) and of assembly (to gather together in large groups) to make our voices heard. When we are not happy with the way in which we are being represented, we have the right—indeed, because this is a democracy, we have the duty—to let our representatives know we are not happy. And we have to be prepared to do this whether we have leaders to follow or not.So when we are unhappy with the way in which our representatives are serving us, we have the right and the duty to say so, and there are many legal channels available to us. There are certain limits on our freedom; we are not guaranteed absolute freedom of expression, for instance, and certain forms of speech, certain things we say—or the way in which we say them—have consequences. But we do have the right to say what we think, and we should. One of the slogans used by the We March movement of 2015-2016 was this: the power of the people is greater than the people in power. We would do well to remember that.There is one last thing I need to say about democracy. One thing that is intoxicating about the idea that democracy is the government of the people by the people is the sense that it is the majority that makes the critical decisions. I frequently see discussions of democracy lead to this point: that whatever the majority of the people in the nation want is what must happen.But that misses the point of democracy, which is that each individual member of a society is equal to every other individual member. The mob (the unthinking majority, which reacts based on emotional, often selfish, impulses) is not greater than the individual; democracy is an aggregate of individuals. What that means is that in true democracies, the rights of minorities are guarded and protected.
The place of the minority
In our system, which elects people based on a simple majority of votes (the first-past-the-post system), we tend to hold the idea that if a citizen is not part of the mainstream, their rights are not valuable. But this is called the tyranny of the majority, and it is a danger that goes along with democratic systems that rely on the will of the majority. The tyranny of the majority is as dangerous a form of tyranny as any other, and must always be guarded against.It's not easy for individual citizens to think about the rights of others. After all, it's human nature to look out for one's own self-interest and seek to maximize it. But if we believe in democracy, this is a principle to which we must adhere, and it is a practice that we must exercise.So as we move to hold our representatives accountable, as we move to make them aware of our will, as we move to ensure that they represent the citizens of our nation and not just their political parties or their own personal desires or benefit, we must also remember that the nation is greater than our own individual interests. As co-governors of this state, we have to recognize that we are and must be our neighbours' keepers, and it is our duty to look out not only for ourselves but also for all the others whose rights may have been overlooked because they are not part of the majority.Democracy is not an easy thing! But it is worthwhile. We must never stop thinking about it, questioning it, and finding ways to expand it. So I challenge you, my fellow Bahamians. What are you doing to make our Bahamian democracy bigger, stronger and better?
The problems that face us in Nassau are not unusual. They are not strange. They are foreseeable because they have happened to all cities. Our so-called solutions, our continued errors, are equally unremarkable. They are all absolutely, tiresomely predictable, and all the more so because the people implementing them are part-time dilettantes, people who are better at tearing down opponents and fighting elections than solving problems on a collective basis.Read More
Any government I support from here on in must, must have a vision for the development of the whole Bahamian archipelago. This vision needs to be broad-based and involve a devolution of power. In other words, any government I support from here on in must recognize that it must be the architect of a loss of its central power. Sounds paradoxical, but it has happened elsewhere in the world, where nations were governed by individuals of principle, courage or vision. It is a question of short-term sacrifice for long-term gain.Read More
Or, why I really spoiled my ballot
Time and rope
There is a great Bahamian saying: time longer dan rope.A year has passed, a year and a month or so, since #OutDaBox242 began its much-excoriated campaign to raise the profile of voter registration and float the option of not having to choose the best of a bad lot at election time. Well, enough time has passed for the three of us, us three "educated fools", to get to a point where we are trying really hard not to say those four fatal words.It's not been a full year since the incredible landslide, but we are already realizing that the euphoria of getting rid of the last government does not compensate for what the new government lacks. And we are also well aware of the danger of the kind of majority that we put in the house of assembly. By changing the faces in that institution, we have made no real change at all. The prime minister still possesses far too much power that is good for any man. The government is far too strong and far too able to make bad decisions with virtually no check on its power in the house of assembly. The speaker has already abused his authority and abased his position in doing so. The minister of finance is still talking about the excesses of the previous government and why we can't get out from under. The minister of immigration and the attorney-general are now antagonists to freedom fighters that they were once allied with. Go find a newspaper from 2013, substitute names and faces, and see what, if anything, has changed.I am hoping that enough time has passed for the emotionalism that blazed around the last election to have worn off to allow me to explain why I really spoiled my ballot––and why I shall continue to do so until we change the way we approach democracy in this nation we are trying to shape.
Where's the vision?
I cannot speak for my partners in crime, those comrades who with me refused to take part in the abortive exercise in non-democracy that occurred in the last general election, but I can speak for myself. My refusal to cast a vote in support of any candidate in my constituency, and hence my refusal to give my support to any political party, was partly motivated by a desire to protest the lack of real choice given to "voters". (It's not a new protest, by the way. Forty years ago, while most Bahamians were rejoicing in the glories of majority rule, Patrick Rahming was expressing the selfsame sentiments in his poem "Power": "vot'n ain' much power / if somebody else guh choose / the choice".)But other, just as real, reasons I withheld my vote in 2017, and why I will do in 2022 (should we have to wait that long)––and beyond, unless we see fundamental changes in our society between now and then), centre around the following facts.
- We are a new nation. This is not being said by way of excuse, but by way of fact. Our constitution is 45 years old, and our nationhood is seriously underdeveloped. And nations do not just happen; they must be dreamed up, imagined, crafted.
- There is no nation-dreaming or crafting going on.
- The vast majority of people being ratified as political candidates fit into three main categories:
- Hoary politicians who have held on grimly and are now awaiting their turns in the limelight and shouldering everyone else out of the way
- Party loyalists or, worse, friends, families and lovers of the hoary and desperate members of category 1;
- People who have some deep-seated insecurity of their own, some illusion of grandeur, some outsize concept of themselves that find themselves drawn to the perks, prestige, and trappings that parliament can offer them, who like the idea of the blue plate that allows them to do what they want when they want, who wish to get the even bluer plate that comes with a car and a driver and the ability to sweep past the paeons to the top of the drive and have other paeons kiss their feet when they step out;
- (While there are some individuals who offer themselves for public service out of a sense of duty or obligation, who are called to serve, and who are the kinds of people I could support, their value is usually swallowed up by the corruption, the limitations, and the rapaciousness of the former three groups.)
- There is absolutely no deep thought about who we are, where we are, what The Bahamas is or could be, our strengths, our weaknesses, our advantages, our opportunities, and ways to build a future.
- There is no policy that is crafted to meet the needs of the late twentieth century, much less the twenty-first.
- Governments ever since 1992 have given up the idea that Bahamians can or should be architects of their own fate. Instead, they place their faith pathetically in foreign investment, doling out unimaginable concessions to undeserving non-Bahamian prospectors without even understanding what the political and economic philosophy of foreign investment is supposed to achieve.
- Our leaders stumble from crisis to crisis and grasp the ludicrous, the ridiculous and the illegal as a means to solve our problems––or, perhaps more accurately, to begin to seem to fulfil their vapid election promises.
For the rest of my life, then, I have resolved not to vote for any individual, party, or group that has not done the following things, and demonstrated that they have done them:
- Articulated what they know about The Bahamas as a whole, as an archipelago, and indicated that they are aware of the critical issues facing us over the next 50 years;
- Analyzed the strengths and weaknesses of our state and shown that they are able to understand our opportunities and threats;
- Outlined solutions that are home-grown and rooted in local research, even if they draw on best practices from around the world. After all, we know ourselves best. And if these solutions are all Nassau-centric, they are not solutions;
- Considered ways in which to stop the leakage of our best minds while we still import cheaper labour from elsewhere. We are a middle-income developing nation, and so we will lose our best while attracting expatriate second-best. Foreign direct investors are not solvers of local problems. They do not invest in other people's countries to build them. They are capitalists who are seeking strong profits. They cannot ever be substitutes for investment in ourselves;
- Considered how to end the leakage of Bahamian-generated profits to jurisdictions beyond our own;
- Recognized that New Providence is a toxic environment socially, physically and environmentally and begun crafting solutions to change that fact;
- Recognized that the other 98% of the Bahamian archipelago is underdeveloped and the source of much of our potential;
- Come up with educational strategies to prepare Bahamians for their futures that are NOT mirrors or confusions of the late colonial period;
- Recognized that in a nation of under half a million people, solutions are possible.
End of Part I - Stay tuned for Part II, coming Monday
Fifty-one years and two months ago, on January 10, 1967, the Colony of the Bahama Islands held the election that concluded with what we have come to call "Majority Rule". In 2014, January 10 was officially legislated as a public holiday. And four years after the creation of the Majority Rule Day public holiday, we remain divided as a people as to how, or even whether, to mark this moment, to commemorate this event.The problem is fundamentally political.On one hand, it's politically partisan. No matter how we spin history, it's impossible to separate majority rule from the ascension of the Progressive Liberal Party to the government. The election of the PLP constituted Majority Rule. Put another way, the black majority of this nation chose the PLP to represent it.It's also structurally political. Majority Rule is about the right of the racial majority in The Bahamas to direct its own fate. Before 1967, Bahamians of European descent were socially, economically and politically supreme, Bahamians of non-European descent subordinate. Being part of the white minority conferred a whole system of privileges that the black majority was denied. These included things as simple as access to health care and a high school education, protection from exploitation in the workplace, access to electricity, running water, telephone service and basic sanitation, the opportunity to start businesses or enter the professions, the ability to borrow money from banks, the ability to save money in banks, the right to own land where one pleased, the ability to vote for people who looked like us to represent us in the place where laws were made, and so on.These two elements, the partisan and the structural, combine to make the celebration of Majority Rule Day a point of discomfort for many Bahamians.
The problem of party politics
First things first. It seems very difficult for contemporary opponents of the Progressive Liberal Party to celebrate their victory on January 10, 1967. Let's face it. That victory represents a political defeat, one when a way of life that was three centuries old came to an abrupt end. The United Bahamian Party, formed in 1958 in answer to the growing political consciousness of the Bahamian people, dissolved less than 15 years later, in large part because Majority Rule made what it stood for obsolete. But upon that dissolution, several former members of the UBP helped constitute the Free National Movement in 1972, and they have carried the pain of the 1967 defeat into the political climate of the twenty-first century. You can hear echoes of the UBP philosophy in social media discussions that suggest, sometimes outright, sometimes by implication, that the country was better governed before 1967: the budget was balanced, the education was better, corruption was non-existent, Bahamians were more mannerly, etc. These perspectives mirror and replicate paternalistic arguments advanced first by the British throughout the colonial era, then the UBP in the 1960s and then by the FNM in the 1970s––that the black majority was not ready to govern itself, that it had to be taught how to do so, slowly, and with extreme caution. For the Bahamians who fall into this category, Majority Rule Day is an unwarranted celebration of something that they believe (as the UBP and the FNM predicted in the sixties and the seventies) to have failed.
But there's another side to this issue. Let's not forget that it took The Bahamas 47 years to make Majority Rule Day a public holiday, and the Progressive Liberal Party, the immediate beneficiary of Majority Rule, was in power for 33 of those 47 years. Indeed, the social revolution that brought about Majority Rule swept the PLP into power and kept that party there for twenty-five years straight. It would seem only logical that the party of Lynden Pindling, the Black Moses who led the Black Bahamian Israelites out of the bondage of Bay Street's Egypt and towards the Promised Land on the tenth day of the first month should enshrine that day, should make it the first public holiday of this Bahamian era.But it did not. It was not until the Bahamian Black Moses had been dead almost 14 years that January 10 was elevated to a public holiday. How do we explain this?I'm going to go out on a limb and argue that to focus too closely on the actual events of January 10, 1967 was not in the interest of the PLP of the 1970s and the 1980s. In the first place, the PLP did not actually win the election that was held on January 10. The result of the 1967 election was a tie: 18 seats for the UBP and 18 for the PLP. No government could be formed until that broken. We all know now that in order for either party to form a government, negotiations had to be carried out with two men who were members of neither major political party of the day. Those negotiations, as we can see from the newspaper at the top of this blog post, were not finalized until January 14, some four days after the election, and they ended by giving the PLP a slim margin of one seat in the House of Assembly. (For those people who don't know the details, the two men were Randol Fawkes, who represented the Labour party, and Alvin Braynen, an independent. Braynen accepted the position of Speaker, which meant that he did not normally have a vote in the House, and Fawkes agreed to form a coalition government with the PLP, becoming the first Minister of Labour in the Pindling cabinet.)Perhaps the reason that Majority Rule was not made a public holiday during the first 25 years of the PLP's rule was that the PLP victory dependent entirely upon the actions of two individuals who were not members of the Progressive Liberal Party. The scrutiny that would have accompanied the creation of a holiday before that date meant that PLP would have had to modify its liberation mythology, the one that placed Lynden Pindling alone the head of the movement towards freedom. It would have meant recognizing the contribution of a white Bahamian and the contribution of a labour leader—a labour leader whose independence of spirit meant that he had criticized the PLP when he had seen fit to do so.And so, as uncomfortable as the commemoration of January 10, 1967 makes people who oppose the PLP as a political party, it has also been regarded with considerable ambivalence by the PLP itself.
The problem of structural politics
Beyond party politics, though, it would appear that there are other issues being debated that indicate an extension of that ambivalence further than members of one political party or another. Even for some of those people who recognize the significance of the 1960s to the expansion of democracy in The Bahamas, there is debate about the nature and the timing of the achievement.
Why 1967 is the right date
First of all, there's a question of whether the 1967 date is the most significant one. There is a school of thought that suggests that we should consider recognizing November 26 as Majority Rule Day, rather than January 10.For those who aren't aware, November 26, 1962 is the date on which Bahamian women voted for the first time. The proponents of this position make the argument that the extension of the suffrage to women had more significance in terms of creating a democratic majority than the almost accidental election of the PLP in 1967. Key to this particular argument is the idea that what we should be commemorating when we honour Majority Rule is the ability of the Bahamian populace to participate freely in the democratic process, rather than any particular outcome of that process. This argument is bolstered by the fact that, even though the PLP obtained only a small minority of the seats in parliament in 1962, it did win the popular vote.But this position relies on certain assumptions that are not borne out by the facts. Women's Suffrage was among a number of critical electoral reforms that followed the 1958 General Strike. Before that, there was plenty that was undemocratic about Bahamian general elections.Until 1942, voting was done by a show of hands in open halls; bribery for votes was widespread and blatant. It often took the form of a torn banknote. Half of the note would be given to the elector before he voted. If he raised his hand at the right moment for the correct candidate, he would be given the other half of the banknote at the end of the election.Property, not age, was the primary qualification to be able to vote. If you did not own your own property, or if you did not rent a property valued at over a certain amount, you could not vote. On the other hand, each man was permitted to vote as many times and in as many places as he owned property. The Bahamas was divided into districts that returned two or three representatives to parliament, and the wealthier you were, the more votes you could use. General elections were held over the period of three to four weeks to allow landowners to visit every island on which they owned land and vote.In this scenario, ordinary black Bahamian men were at an extreme disadvantage. If they did not own property, they could not vote at all. If they did own land, the likelihood that they owned more than one piece of land was slender. And if they did (like, say, L. W. Young) own multiple plots of land, the chances that they owned that land in more than one or two voting districts was almost negligible.At the other end of the spectrum stood a handful of men at the top of society. By the middle of the twentieth century, these men were being referred to as "the Bay Street Boys", and they made a point of acquiring land on every single island of The Bahamas. This gave them the right to vote in every single district, and thereby affect the outcome of any general election. The idea of one person, one vote, even as late as 1958, was not one that had any traction in The Bahamas.But the property vote (known as plural voting) was not the only way that a single Bahamian could conceivably cast numerous votes in an election. There was also the company vote—something that conferred a vote to men who served as directors on the boards of companies for each directors' position that they held. This rendered the influential even more so, and guaranteed that a handful of white Bahamian businessmen could affect the outcome of any election.In the wake of the General Strike of January 1958, the British colonial government strongly recommended that a series of basic reforms be put in place in the Bahamian electoral system. Among these reforms were the extension of the vote to Bahamian women, the abolition of the company vote, and the abolition of the property vote. Two of these three recommendations were put in place in time for the 1962 election. Women were allowed to vote for the first time, and the company vote was abolished. But the plural vote remained, albeit in a restricted fashion. Landowners had the choice of voting in their residential district and one other.This was a limitation on the excesses of the past, but it was not the kind of suffrage that we associate with fair and open democracies, where one adult has one vote and one vote only. That particular electoral reform was not implemented until 1964, when the new constitution prescribed new constituencies, which elected ONE parliamentarian each, and each adult had one vote, subject to residential qualifications. The result: 1967 was the first such election.
That knotty problem called "race"
Another source of deep discomfort with the celebration of majority rule has to do with the question of who the "majority" referred to. It's apparent that we are still deeply conflicted about the Bahamian history of racial discrimination. But here are the facts. Until 1967, Bahamians were separated—the word should probably be segregated—into separate and definitely unequal groups. These groups were racially defined: people of European heritage occupied a highly privileged position in society, while people of African and mixed descent were subordinate. Numerous structural strategies maintained this situation, among them the various anti-democratic electoral strategies mentioned above. Majority rule meant, quite simply, that the members of the government for the first time represented, at least in appearance, the majority of the Bahamian population.There's one final reason why people are deeply ambivalent about this holiday, and it's this: although majority rule for Black Bahamians was attained in 1967, the majority of contemporary Bahamians feel unrepresented by the governments they elect. The question, quite fairly, is raised: what was truly gained by majority rule?
Who's the majority, anyway?
I want to come back to this point, because it's valid, and it's worth its own blog post. But that's another reason why we question the value of this day.Let me try and suggest an answer.Each generation faces its own struggles. In situations where freedom has been denied to any portion of a population, it takes time for that freedom to be felt and experienced by all. Our grandparents triumphed with their achievement of majority rule. But we have not advanced the struggle far enough. We live in a society where significant majorities—Bahamian women, for one example, and Bahamians who were not born before independence—remain underrepresented. Women comprise a slim majority (51%) of the population, but are still denied basic civil rights. This does not constitute majority rule.Further than that: the true majority of the population, Bahamians under the age of 45, is marginalized and unrepresented in the legislature. They are undereducated, poorly served by social programmes, underemployed, and leaving. For them, the concept of majority rule is a cruel joke.But it is possible to criticize the present while honouring the past. That, I believe, is our duty as we face Majority Rule Day every year. There is one major point about this new holiday: it forces us to face our social divisions, past and present, and forces us to talk to one another. It doesn't allow us to forget or ignore the injustices we have inherited and never resolved. And for that I'm grateful.Facebook Live video of Majority Rule Symposium 2018
Under one week and counting. Advance polls opened (late and chaotic) yesterday. And the question is, who's going to win the election?Now I've gone on record saying that I don't believe that it really matters; that none of the parties and few of the candidates who are contesting seats in this election have demonstrated to my satisfaction that they are prepared to deal with the challenges that face the nation in the twenty-first century.But that doesn't stop me from wondering what the practical outcome of the election will be. Unlike several posters on Facebook and other social media, I have no idea whatsoever. This election is impossible to call. I know it's become popular to imagine that because the government has messed up so often and so publicly, and also because of the 21st century trend of changing governments every five years, the PLP cannot possibly be returned for another term; but the people who seem convinced of this may have forgotten, or may be too young to remember, another election run on the theme of corruption: the election of June 19, 1987.There's something else that may also be missing from the dialogue. It's what I learned a long time ago and a long way away from here to call the zeitgeist of our era. That is, it's the spirit of the historical moment. One thing about the twenty-first century that we should not overlook is that that spirit is as global as it is local; to ignore the influence of the wider world upon this moment we find ourselves facing would be folly.It's because of that zeitgeist—the fact that we live in a revolutionary time, in a time of extreme scepticism regarding the status quo, in a time of rejecting political mores, in a time when voters again and again vote in ways that confound the pundits (think Brexit, think Trump; even think Trudeau & the Liberals if you want to)—that I find this election impossible to call. Nothing will surprise me. (Well, OK, some outcomes would surprise me more than others, but I'm ready for anything). FNM landslide? Absolutely. PLP victory? You bet. Hung parliament, with independents and/or DNA holding the balance of power? Yep, excitingly possible. DNA forming the opposition or even the government? Even this is conceivable, though it's admittedly a long shot.I'm going to walk through the options, trying to explain why I think that they are on the cards.
- FNM victory.I'm starting with this one first, because it's the most likely outcome. It's the one that the media, social and otherwise, is inclined towards. It fits the 21st century trend. You don't like a government? Vote 'em out. Replace 'em with the Other Guys.It also has a sort of satisfaction guaranteed likelihood. The common wisdom is that the FNM is the upright party, the party of principle, the anti-corruption party. (Never mind that recorded history doesn't exactly bear that out—witness the skulduggery of the leadership race, the receiving of the BEC bribe, the confusion/shady transparency around the road improvement project.) It sounds good. The FNM are the GOOD animals in the Animal Farm scenario. They deserve to win this one.And, then too, the rallies, the t-shirts, the posters, the flags, the memes. Two failed referenda. Baha Mar scandals. Rubis, Chow Tai Fook. All these seem to suggest that the country's going red.OK. But—Stick a pin.
- PLP victory.We cannot overlook the eerie parallels that this election has with the 1987 election. 30 years ago, corruption was the watchword. The PLP government had been battling serious allegations of deeply entrenched corruption relating to the transshipment of drugs for nearly five years by the time the 1987 election came along, and the FNM were galvanized around that issue.The FNM leader, Kendal G. L. Isaacs, was a nice man and a decent representative, but he had nowhere near the charisma or people-power of his predecessor, Cecil Wallace-Whitfield. (He also happened to represent Delaporte, the seat which was the forerunner of Dr. Minnis' constituency of Killarney.)There was confusion regarding the voting register(s). Voters' names might be found on the register made for a recent by-election (register #1); or on the register made for the general election before the boundaries commission reported (register #2); then again on the register made for the general election after the boundaries commission increased the number of seats in the house of assembly from 43 to 49 (register #3).The country was so polarized that certain hymns could not be sung in certain churches. The FNM had boycotted and picketed the Commonwealth Heads of Government Conference in 1985, thus leading them to be branded by PLPs as traitors. On the other hand, the FNM was not allowed any time on local radio or TV stations for political advertising, with the result that their campaign was marketed from Florida by satellite. Despite all this, FNM rallies were drawing record crowds—so much so that the night before the general election the FNM mass rally was held in the QE Sports Centre, the largest gathering of political supporters the Bahamas had ever seen in one place.Everyone, FNM and PLP alike, was prepared for the FNM to do the unthinkable and win the election.The PLP won by a landslide—33 seats to the FNM's 16. So: a PLP victory next week is not only possible. It's happened before in circumstances very like these.
- Hung parliament with DNA/independents holding the balance of power.This isn't as far-fetched as it might sound, and it's really the most exciting of all these options, IMO. People might do well to remember the interesting outcome of the 2002 elections, when no fewer than 4 independents were returned to the house of assembly (Tennyson Wells, Pierre Dupuch, Larry Cartwright, and Whitney Bastian). The PLP majority was large enough for those four independent voices to have little to no voting power (there were 7 FNMs and 29 PLPs), but to imagine that independents have little chance of winning this year would be a mistake.People would also do well to remember the equally interesting outcome of the 2007 elections, when the balance of power was effectively held in the house by the three former members of the CDR. To be precise: in 2007, the FNM beat the PLP by a mere 5 seats, holding 23 of the 41 constituencies to the PLP's 18. Three of those seats were held by former senior members of the Coalition for Democratic Reform: Bernard Nottage on the PLP side of the house, and Charles Maynard and Phenton Neymour on the FNM side. Although the CDR had officially dissolved by this time, it could theoretically have worked as a bloc to force through policies and legislation that came from its platform (alas for it and for us, it did not).So, it's just possible that in this election, with the DNA now an established political force and independents of some stature contesting seats, that the
4039 places in parliament could be evenly or almost evenly divided, with one or two DNA/independent seats holding the balance of power. Shades of 1967, 2002 and 2012 all coming together in one exciting option.
- DNA opposition/DNA victory.I'm not dreaming here. I believe that these comprise a real, if far-fetched, possibility. My principal argument to support it is zeitgeist.People are tired. Bahamians are tired of swinging back and forth between one inadequate and corrupt regime and another. Just as there are many people (mostly die-hard FNMs) who believe that the PLP is the root of all evil in this country, there are also many people who believe that the FNM is no better. The DNA presents itself as a viable alternative. And it's had its plan and policies out there long before the major parties got their acts together.But wait, you're thinking. All the DNA can do is act as a spoiler in this election. It can only take votes away from one of the parties (most assume that the DNA draws votes from the FNM, but this is without actual research and analysis). Let me stop you there. Let's turn this idea around.What we do know about the DNA is that it's a new party. Its candidates are youthful, by and large, and they come from across the traditional political spectrum. It's got twice as many women as the PLP and three times as many as the FNM. It's got some credible candidates (it's also got some duds). And it's got a reputation for attracting the support of first-time, younger voters.Now, thanks to the parliamentary registry and its inability to finalize the register, we cannot say with any certainty how the registered voters are spread across the generations. What we do know, however, is that first-time voters registered early in this cycle. They seem determined to make their mark somehow.So here's the thing. What if the PLP and the FNM in this election are spoilers? What if they split the established vote, and open the way for the DNA to get elected? Not a chance, you say. No change can be that radical that fast, you say.And I say: look at Brexit. Look at Justin Trudeau. Look at Trump. And look at the chaos of today's advance polls. The tell me it's really that far-fetched to imagine that Bahamians may say to hell with both former administrations, let's go for the ones with the newer ideas.Never say never. Don't count the DNA out just yet.
So there they are. My "predictions". I'm not doing the gerrymandered boundaries/2012 margins thing, because I don't see the point of it here. For one thing, others have done it far better than I possibly could. But for another, I know this.There's no such thing as margins, really. All any citizen has is one single vote. To assume that everyone's vote is fixed, like a compass, on a particular outcome, is to make the same mistake that the pundits made when calling the US election for Hillary. I don't know what makes people vote the way they do, so I'm not placing my faith in any numbers/boundaries mojo. I think this election's up for grabs. Only May 10 will tell.
We live in a democracy. It's not perfect, but we adhere to certain fundamental principles. Like this one: individuals are entitled, even encouraged, to hold widely divergent views. The vigourous debate of those views extends and enriches democratic life.Unfortunately, we tend to avoid that kind of debate. Rather than engaging with opposing ideas, fighting our corners and reviewing our positions based on different points of view, many of our discussions about principles and philosophy take on a personal cast. This happens most often when we wish to divert attention from an argument that we find outrageous or unsettling. Instead of engaging with the divergent idea, we prefer very often to cast "shade". Our general response to such an argument is to tear down the arguer, rather than to dive into the discussion at hand.
As someone observed to me recently, "Bahamians love shade".
And so it works.Here's how it works. Instead of thinking further about the issue, our focus slips to the person talking about the issue, and the more we can think of to discredit that person, the more we imagine the argument has been won.There's another name for this method of discussion. Rhetoricians call it the ad hominem fallacy, and it's a way of not arguing at all.Last weekend, Front Porch took me to task for a number of positions I've apparently taken regarding the Bahamian political process. Now I have no problem with being challenged in an intellectual fashion. As anyone who knows me well will tell you that I find good, old-fashioned debate exhilarating. At the same time, though, I find the refusal to debate ideas by choosing to discredit the person putting forward the ideas lazy, disingenuous, and weak.
(Notice what I just did there? I dismissed the ad hominem argument in an ad hominem way. Instead of showing what was wrong with it, I just described it, using a string of adjectives. But I didn't demonstrate why the ad hominem argument is weak or lazy. I just said that it was. At the end of the day, you believed me, or you didn't, but not because of any evidence. You believed me or you didn't probably because you like me, or you don't—or else you just took the adjectives on face value. Which you shouldn't, because adjectives are very slippery, lightweight words which, in an argument, all too often say more about the person using them than about the thing they're used to describe.)
But there's a better way to argue.Let's have a look at what Simon appears to have disliked about my political stances. There were a number of issues that offended. Some of them have some history to them—statements I made before the 2012 election—and some of them have a measure of currency.Specifically, they were:
- Policy and political rallies;
- The role of minority governments;
- The role of representative governments;
- The spoil the ballot campaign; and
- The election of Bahamian Senators.
I'm going to deal with the first one, the one which stretches all the way back to 2012, in this post. I'll save the other four for another post. One which won't be quite so giddy. It'll probably be insipid instead.Hyperbolic irresponsibility & woeful uninformationSo. Here's the first dismissal:
Before the last election, Bethel engaged in the sort of hyperbolic irresponsibility that one might expect from someone woefully uninformed. She noted that she heard nothing about policy at political rallies.
She was dead wrong.
Simon, Front Porch, "The Rituals of Democracy", April 13 2017,emphasis added to highlight adjectival phrasesLet's see what I actually did say.
I have heard absolutely nothing from any party about what the future holds. The PLP has crafted some very general principles for the next few years, but these, when decoded, seem to amount to a reinstatement of what was in the works between 2002 and 2007 when they were in power. The FNM has focussed very much on vague generalities like “proven leadership” and “deliverance”, and what has been done, largely in material, infrastructural terms, in the very recent past ... The DNA speaks in broad terms, pushing the buttons that they feel gain them support, but not showing any real coherent ideology about which their philosophy has been crafted.
According to Simon, both Christie and Ingraham contradicted these statements by offering "policy and programmatic ideas in a variety of areas." Well, OK. I'm going to guess Simon and I have different definitions of policy and programme, and we could agree to disagree—if that was all there was to it.But that's not the issue at hand. Simon went further. Rather than focussing on the idea of political rallies, Simon chose to comment on my professional competence: "It was odd that as an anthropologist she could not, or refused to, understand the brilliance of the political rally as a ritual of democracy."This extends the fallacy beyond the ad hominem attack into the realm of the strawman argument—because, had I been interested in the anthropological function of political rallies, I would have talked about it. For political rallies are, as Simon quite rightly says, an important part of political ritual. But important as rallies are, their function does not make much room for discussions of policy and programme.Here's what Simon doesn't say about the anthropological approach to the ritual function served by the political rally. The ritual of the political rally uses revelry and fun to build bonds among potential supporters. When people allow themselves to be caught up in the euphoria of the moment, they engage in something anthropologists call communitas—a kind of group bonding that doesn't come from any objective similarity among the people involved or any objective coherence to what they are being told in the process, but from the collective activity they're participating in. In this situation, the action is what matters about the ritual, not the content. It engages humans at the level of the body, not the mind, and so what is said matters less than how it is said Rhythmic speaking, call and response, catch phrases, bombastic delivery—these are what count.In other words: had I been talking anthropologically, I would have said that the purpose of the political rally is not to offer or discuss policy or programmes. A good rally is like a party or a show; if policy or programmes are mentioned, they have to be offered in such a way that they don't break the mood. So I'll accept that Christie and Ingraham offered policy and programmatic ideas in 2012. I'm not so sure that anyone really heard them. If the rallies were successful (and they were), they were not supposed to.My criticism was not of the lack of policy at political rallies. It related to the lack of vision anywhere in the 2012 campaign. The Plan and the Manifesto and the DNA's contract looked great to be sure, but that's not the kind of vision I was thinking about. Rather, I was looking for an articulation of the kind of Bahamas we would be living in in twenty or thirty years' time, and could not find it anywhere. I wasn't looking for it at the rallies. But I wanted something else—some online address by a party leader to outline and explain that party's vision of the future, some acknowledgement of where we were in 2012 and how we were going to change direction and move in a different one, even some recognition of the fact that we were now in a 21st century, digital world and analogue solutions were just not going to cut it anymore. And there was nothing. Nada. Except, perhaps, shuffles, sidestepping, and holograms.As I'm being castigated not only for hyperbole but also for woeful uninformation, it might be worth looking at what else is contained in that same blog post in April 2012 from the perspective of April 2017 (the emphasis is added). If anyone is still doubtful about why, in this election, I am considering spoiling my ballot, here's what I said five years ago, almost to the day.
I’m preparing for five more years of struggle, no matter who wins or doesn’t win this election; for five more years of escalating violence in our society; for five more years of a contracting economy, traffic problems, and decreasing revenues. I’m preparing for five more years of governmental desperation, of prostitution of the country to the biggest donor (China seems to be the crowd favourite right now), of undereducation and of brain drain, no matter who wins.
("Elections—and beyond", April 11, 2012)emphasis added to highlight the elementsthat maybe weren't quite so woefully uniformedFive years later, those words seem almost prophetic. (They weren't; they were just the logical outcome of the lack of vision/policy/programmes that plagued the 2012 elections). Check back in a couple of days to find out more about my stellar and breathtaking ignorance. But for now, cheers.
I accept that the twenty-first century is a century of revolution. That our print-based, elites-centred models of representative democracy have run their historical course. That the model of society which gives a small group the exclusive right to rule over a large one, with minimal checks and balances which can be activated by the large group, needs to be re-examined and remodelled. That the tools we now have at our disposal—tools for public education and public participation—have opened the door for more participatory forms of governance, and that we must move with the world in that direction.And so this election, I do not consent to participate in this old, flawed model. I know it's a crazy idea. I know it's illogical. But I don't believe it's wrong.Read More
People ask me the same questions again and again.
- Why go out of your way to spoil the ballot—why not stay home/go to the beach?
- What is spoiling the ballot going to achieve?
- Why aren't you looking at the candidates on offer and considering voting for a person rather than a party?
- If you're so dissatisfied, why don't you run/find an independent to run in your constituency?
These are not questions that are easy to answer. I've been thinking about this election for a loooonnnng time and have a whole lot to say.Several times I've started to explain them on camera. Here's one, recorded back in November 2016, right after President Trump's election. Perhaps it'll begin to give an answer.[wpvideo MQ11ozrc]
I am not American. However, I recognize the United States of America for providing a model for democracy around the world. No, its democracy is not perfect, but it is earnest. In principle, it seeks on numerous levels to work against tyranny, to empower its citizenry. The execution of these has been far from perfect, but the ideals have been sound.There is a status post on Facebook that individuals are copying and pasting. It essentially outlines every step that the new president of the United States of America has taken since his inauguration. I do not know the sources personally, so I am taking other people's word that these things actually happened.The thing that is worrying about the list is that the majority of these cases consist of actions that are fundamentally anti-democratic, that explicitly reduce the ability of Americans to self-expression, that muzzle the right to free speech, that increase the possibility of a tyrant beginning a process of domination in a nation widely regarded as the birthplace of democracy. Further, is it my imagination, or does the turn to violence, or the condoning of state-accepted violence, have a definite fascist cast.I want my friends and family who support Donald Trump to tell me why this is not the case, please.The list is as follows: (I've changed the stars to numbers so that we can see the length of the list).
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
- On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
- On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
- On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
- On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
- On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
- On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
- On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
- On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
- On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
- On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
- On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
- On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
- On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
- On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
- On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
- On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
- On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
- On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
- On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources.From News and Guts*credit for compilation: Karen Cornett-Dwyer
- On January 24th, 2017 DT threatened martial law by 'sending in the feds' to Chicago.
No, it's not your typical discussion of numbers, etc. I'm sharing this link (I've pored over many!) because it uses the techniques we use as anthropologists to understand the perspectives of people considered to be "other". It looks at how engagement itself can become a road to empowerment. The end of the article, which quotes part of an interview with Kathy Cramer, a University of Wisconsin researcher, is the best part. It recalls the impact of the Sustainable Exuma research in Exuma, which relied on getting to know the various players as human beings as well.I'm going to buy her book, The Politics of Resentment
Thank God I was as naive as I was when I started. If I knew then what I know now about the level of resentment people have toward urban, professional elite women, would I walk into a gas station at 5:30 in the morning and say, “Hi! I’m Kathy from the University of Madison”?
I’d be scared to death after this presidential campaign! But thankfully I wasn’t aware of these views. So what happened to me is that, within three minutes, people knew I was a professor at UW-Madison, and they gave me an earful about the many ways in which that riled them up — and then we kept talking.And then I would go back for a second visit, a third visit, a fourth, fifth and sixth. And we liked each other. Even at the end of my first visit, they would say, “You know, you’re the first professor from Madison I’ve ever met, and you’re actually kind of normal.” And we’d laugh. We got to know each other as human beings.Source: A new theory for why Trump voters are so angry — that actually makes sense - The Washington Post
The title says it all.I'm watching the burning on MSNBC right now, having started watching it on CNN, and I'm thinking of all the mistakes we have made over the past ten years, the past twenty years, the past forty years in our nation.For those of you who may be reading from outside the 242, when I say "our nation", I mean The Bahamas, not the USA. I may be resident in the USA for the next 10 weeks, but when I say "our nation" I mean our Bahamas.The first thing that I'm thinking of is our current crime wave in Nassau. As far as I can tell, the violence began to escalate in 2007, and it has been rising steadily ever since. Now I know that this is not a popular thing to say. The popular thing is to blame the Progressive Liberal Party for everything negative in our country, but the fact of this matter is that in 2002, the then PLP administration, led by PM Perry Christie, instituted a revolutionary programme for our inner cities. Urban Renewal as it was then conceived was based on three principles. The first principle was that the people who live in the inner cities are not all criminals. Even if criminality is prevalant in those communities, the majority of the residents, those mostly law-abiding people, who are our poorest residents and those people who are first and most often affected by criminal activity, deserve to be treated as citizens like everyone else. The establishment of Urban Renewal centres in those inner city communities (never mind that the communities themselves were artificially determined according to those absurd lines on paper we call constituency boundaries) recognized this, and those centres were not only inhabited by police; they also brought together various other government services which made it easier for the people in those communities to access government programmes. The idea was that those centres were one-stop shops where people who had limited resources, a shortage of transportation and a shortage of time, could pay their bills, see their social workers, and get the help and guidance they might need to make their lives easier, not harder. The second principle was that when it comes to crime, prevention is better than cure. It may be more exciting and more macho to invade communities with guns blazing and riot gear on, but the decision was taken to turn the police into father figures rather than warriors. The idea was that if you treat citizens as people and give them the chance to experience their own citizenry, by making the police their servants and their mentors and not their enemies, peace will follow. And the third principle was that you can't fix broken communities by breaking people. The Urban Renewal programme of 2002-2007 was an integrated programme based on serious and long-term research into transformative community activity, led by psychiatrists and community activists, a programme that forced a number of different agencies to cooperate and work together, using neighbourhoods as the locus of their action and people as their focus, rather than their far-flung, over-insulated offices and addictions to hierarchy. It provided counselling and mentoring; it provided alternative activities for inner city youth; it provided father figures and the sense that inner city residents mattered.This is what the discussion about Baltimore tells us is missing in that city, what lies behind the riots tonight.I believe that the rolling back of that programme in 2007, citing the "waste" of government resources, the frivolity of marching bands, the softening of the police, and the inefficiency of providing multiple services, is at least on some level responsible for the escalation of violence and criminal activity in the communities from which the programme was removed. Imagine you are a seven year old boy living in one of our urban centres in 2002. All of a sudden you are given the opportunity to meet policemen, to get to know them, to be taught music by them, to be treated by them as a young human being and treat them as mature human beings. Imagine joining a marching band and getting to travel and wear a uniform and have something to invest in and to feel proud of. And then imagine being that same boy in that same urban centre in 2007, only now you are eleven. Your band is disbanded. Your police friends leave the community. And the next time you see any police at all they are storming your neighbourhood with guns and insults. Is it any surprise to anyone that violent crime has been rising since? Like Baltimore, we have abandoned our most vulnerable communities, and strong men, bullies and thugs, are stepping into the space we have left behind.And the new Urban Renewal programme, which seems to be focussed on buildings rather than people, on small connected contractors mostly from outside the community rather than on building up human beings from within does not take us back. I am not sure that the damage done by the dissolution of UR 1.0 can be fixed; when trust is ripped apart by betrayal, it is twice, four times, ten times as difficult to built it up again. What we are calling "Urban Renewal" today, the so-called "Urban Renewal 2.0", is not worthy of the name. It is a cosmetic, hollow shadow of something that had roots and had begun to grow. It is a symbolic gesture, a suggestion that we are interested in our least fortunate citizens, but what it does is unsustainable. People who are built up can continue to build themselves; but when houses are repaired and derelict vehicles towed, it's only a matter of time before repairs and cleean-up are required again.So were are we now? Once again, we are fighting superficially, squabbling along party lines, worrying about the exercise of authority rather than the principles that ought to guide us. We are slipping into the exhiliration and competition that leads up to the election season, ignoring the fundamental problems. I have no problem with the bringing of rigour to the programme; I have no problem with the audit or the report or any of the criticism that has been levelled. This is criticism that, to me, has a place in a democracy; political and civic leaders should be called to account when they spend the public's money. But it seems to me that we're actually missing the point.The rigour and the attention that we are bringing to the spending of the public's money is all well and good, but where was that rigour when the first Urban Renewal programme, the one focussed on people rather than buildings, the one that won international awards for its community policing initiaives, the one that pulled the guns off the streets, the one that built relationships with the law-abiding people in our inner cities and made them feel comfortable in their neighbourhoods, where was that rigour when that programme was being dismantled? I'm left with the uncomfortable feeling that maybe, maybe we care more about money than people. That we are happy to allow our law enforcement officials to exercise their strength rather than demanding their compassion. That we are more comfortable with classifying one another as troublemakers than as fellow human beings. And so I watch Baltimore burning, and I suggest you do too, and listen to their discussions. Because we have made choices, and our choices have not been good. We are told that governments don't make stupid decisions, but we can see the deisions, one after another, that have been made over the past decade or so, and they don't look smart to me. I watch Baltimore burning, and know that there, there, but for the grace of God, go we.
Einstein: The Negro Question (1946) | On Being.In 1946, Einstein wrote the following with regard to white Americans' prejudice against Blacks. I believe we need to challenge ourselves today to consider the way in which we think about and treat people who migrate to our society from Haiti -- and their children and grandchildren as well.
Much of the discussion I hear about "illegal immigrants", which clothes itself in trappings of patriotism and concern for Bahamian sovereignty, has plenty in common with the racist rhetoric directed by whites against blacks. I long for the day when we can discuss the issue of immigration without using the rhetoric of racism to do so.
Some time ago I wrote a post about the absurdity of cutting the budget for the College of The Bahamas at the same time as the College is being mandated to move to university status. Not only is the College the national tertiary level institution, but it's the only indigenous public institution that is engaged in any form of ongoing Bahamian research.How many of you who are reading this know that? (Colleagues, especially those of you engaged in research, you don't count.)Apparently the Minister of Education, who was once a Deputy Chair of the College Council, doesn't know that.Certainly the government, which happily pays out hundreds of thousands of dollars to foreign agencies and institutions, doesn't know that. Or doesn't care.Well, here's the truth of it.Last Sunday, I returned from Exuma, where seven of my students and I had partnered up with students and faculty from Harvard University as part of the Sustainable Exuma project. Our contribution was at the research end. My students spent ten days in selected communities in Long Island, Great Exuma and the Exuma Cays, studying topics ranging from land tenure to sustainable tourism to social and economic interactions in those communities. In a couple of weeks' time they will be giving a presentation to a small group of their peers on those studies. This past Friday, another group of my students gave presentations on the ongoing research they are conducting into the viability of the proposed Bahamian carnival. Their topics included the sustainability of a Bahamian carnival, getting Bahamians' buy-in for the carnival, the carnival's benefit to Junkanoo, security at the carnival, and marketing the carnival to tourists. They have engaged in secondary analysis and first-hand interviewing of stakeholders and experts. At the Student Research Symposium, which is in its sixth year, other students (all undergraduates) presented on topics as varied as young Bahamians' residence in New Providence, mathematical models for the human spine, and the effect of alcohol use and erectile dysfunction among Bahamian men.And last semester, my students engaged in interviews with people who were ten years old or older on July 10, 1973, to collect their memories of that date and also to collect their evaluation of how far we have come over the past forty years. Those interviews are being transferred to a digital archive which will be available for Bahamians to dip into in the near future, but which will also be available in 2023 when we are fifty years old.None of these students are graduates. They are all undergraduates. And they are all conducting original, Bahamian research.Meanwhile, COB faculty are focussing on (forgive me, scientists; I can only speak for my discipline, so my colleagues can help me fill in the gaps): violence in Bahamian society, including violence in the home, the school, the street; criminality in Bahamian society; profiles of inmates at Fox Hill prison; migration; statelessness; human trafficking (yes, politicians, COB is studying human trafficking; there was no need to invite the UN to do it for you); potcakes and pet-keeping; manifestations of Bahamian Creole (aka Bahamian dialect); ways of teaching that incorporate the Creole. Other studies involving both faculty and students include the shortage of Bahamian nurses; the potential impact of VAT; the economic impact of Junkanoo; and the efficacy of the Stafford Sands economic model for the twenty-first century. Not to mention the ever-expanding study of Bahamian history, in broad strokes and in nuance.Where can we find this research? you are probably asking. Well, it's around in various forms. There are books published with the research in them, and there is the International Journal of Bahamian Studies, published annually and available online. There's also the School of English's journal Lucayos, also available online. If you pay attention, you'll know what we're all working on.