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
Thanks to the Speaker of House of Assembly, the term "indigenous Bahamian" has recently trended in public discourse. But. What is "indigenous" anyway?It seems the Speaker was using the term somewhat loosely -- i.e. someone who was born in The Bahamas during the 20th century, and probably to parents who, presumably, were also born in The Bahamas during the 20 century. But very few of us are demonstrably "indigenous" -- i.e. descended from the Lucayan Taino people, whom the Europeans met here when Columbus got so famously lost.So to fill in the picture just a little, here's an excerpt from a really interesting story about some even more interesting research that's being done on indigenous people in our part of the world. Turns out that most of us really aren't as "indigenous" or "native" as we believe.And it also turns out that some of us might just be more "indigenous" than we think...
The Bahamas weren’t settled until 1,500 years ago. The people who settled there are known as the Lucayan Taino, and they and the other Taino communities of the Caribbean were the natives who met the first Spanish colonists in 1492. At the time, the Taino were thriving; Spanish priest Bartolomé de las Casas estimated that about 600,000 people each lived on Jamaica and Puerto Rico, with as many as a million on Hispaniola. That didn’t last long; by the mid-16th century, smallpox and slavery had driven the Taino to the brink of extinction.Their presence still lingers throughout the islands, in the form of words that run through the heart of Caribbean life, like hurricane and canoe. There are also archaeological remains such as rock art that tell us something of the Taino's spiritual life beyond what comes down to us from the reports of Spanish priests. But the bustling communities and widely-flung trade networks that pre-dated European colonization are no more.It's long been suspected, however, that the Taino didn't die out altogether. Spanish colonists reportedly married Taino wives, and other records say that Taino and escaped African slaves also intermarried and formed communities. Some people in the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and even the mainland US still proudly claim Taino heritage and practice traditions handed down from pre-Columbian times, from cooking to crafting. There's been a larger effort to revive Taino culture and identity in the last century and a half or so, but it has never been clear how directly genetically related modern Caribbean residents are to their vanished ancestors.... the story, it turns out, is more complicated than simple extinction, and new DNA evidence helps fill in some of the gaps. Archaeologists found three relatively complete skeletons in Preacher’s Cave, a site on the northern end of Eleuthera Island in the Bahamas. Alongside the skeletons, they also found a single tooth, which didn’t clearly belong with any of the three skeletons. Schroeder and his colleagues got permission to sequence DNA from the tooth, which radiocarbon dating showed was more than 1,000 years old. That’s at least 500 years before European contact, meaning the tooth must have belonged to a Lucayan Taino woman who lived on the island between 776 and 992 CE.
What Patrick said ...
This post is from a friend of mine, a Singaporean friend who is gay. His struggle, and that of his community, remind me forcibly of the struggles that we face here in The Bahamas. It is the same and not the same, because here, too often, the voices and sentiments of bigots prevail. It takes courage and principle to stand up for what we say we believe in, if we indeed do believe in democracy and equality. Sometimes I feel we lack both. But I want to encourage all activists. What you/we are doing is important and necessary. Keep doing it. Here's why, from the other side of the world.
We speak up so that you can understand us better, and the struggles we go through. We speak up also because we have been told for so long to keep quiet. To hide who we are. To repress who we are. It takes courage for us to identify as LGBT. Many of us are in the position to share our stories and write about our experiences, but many of us suffer in silence because we live in a conservative family or community, or in poverty, or in shame, convinced that our sexuality is a curse. It takes unseen courage for many of us to attend Pink Dot. To take the MRT and endure curious stares and judgmental comments. To know that the authorities are keeping a wary eye on our actions and putting up barricades around our bodies. Many of you came to Pink Dot to support us.Many, many of you expressed your support on social media for my wearing the tank top, and helped the news go viral. That took courage too. Your courage gives us courage.
[Actions supporting equality do not need to be pro-anything. They need] only to be fair. ... [E]qual treatment, not special favour, is exactly what [we're] asking for. It’s too easy to favour the complaint. That was what the [Singapore] National Library did a few years ago when they removed the children’s books about non-traditional families from the children’s section because of some complaints. It’s much harder for an institution to take an impartial stance and adjudicate the merit of the complaint.
... When we were in school we recited the National Pledge every morning, and so, every morning we pledged ourselves “to build a democratic society based on justice and equality.” The writers of the pledge knew that equality is an on-going project. We were not equal then and we are not equal yet, but we can work towards equality. Gay rights are not just for the LGBT community; they are not special privileges for a vocal interest group. Gay rights are part of our national project of building an equal society. They are, right now, a key test of our will and means. I ask you, Straight People who are more than straight people, to support the struggle for equality with all the love you have for Singapore.
What strikes me about hurricanes in The Bahamas is the one glaring fact that we tend to obscure while we are praying to be spared or engaging in rescue and clean-up: that the modern Bahamas fares better in hurricanes than almost any other territory on the planet.Read More
Late last night, my husband Philip came out of his study and said:"I don't know how true this is, but they are reporting on Facebook that Larry Smith has died."I have to confess. I didn't check Facebook. I couldn't. This was news for which I was totally unprepared, and for which I was absolutely unaccepting. Larry? So I went to bed, pretending that there was some mistake. Or that, as Philip said, as with the wave of sadness that took over Facebook last month regarding the death of a Mother Pratt, it was another Larry Smith.But it wasn't.
Larry SmithAs of Monday, August 28, 2017
LARRY Smith, 67, well known columnist, died suddenly at his High Vista home on Sunday of complications from heart failure.From 2004 he wrote the weekly column, “Tough Call,” in The Tribune.#Larry Andrew Smith was born in Nassau in 1950 to Roy and Barbara Smith. He attended Queen’s College before attending the University of Miami on a government scholarship to study political science and journalism. He worked for the Bahamas News Bureau before starting Media Enterprises in 1984.#He was married to Joanne Smith, daughter of Mr Justice van Sertima, and they have two daughters, Aliya Carey and Casey Smith.
via Columnist Larry Smith dies age 67 | The TribuneThere are no words left. Others have already written their own tributes. Mine will take some time. But what I do know is that we, The Bahamas, will feel this loss. We don't do investigative journalism all that much around here. But Larry? Larry was the real thing.You don't believe me? Check this out.
It's the best website in Nassau, thanks to Larry. Just read the last post, and you'll see what I mean. Then go back and read the whole archives.Then, maybe then, you will begin to comprehend the magnitude of this loss to our nation.
From the podcast 99% Invisible (NOT WRITTEN BY ME)On the border of Virginia and North Carolina stretches a great, dismal swamp. The Great Dismal Swamp, actually — that’s the name British colonists gave it centuries ago. The swamp covers about 190 square miles today, but at its peak, before parts of it were drained and developed, it was around ten times bigger, spanning roughly 2,000 square miles of Virginia and North Carolina.And it’s understandable why people called the swamp “dismal.” Temperatures can reach over 100 degrees. It’s humid and soggy, filled with thorns and thickets, teeming with all sorts of dangerous and unpleasant wildlife. The panthers that used to live there are now gone, but even today there are black bears, poisonous snakes, and swarms of yellow flies and mosquitoes.But hundreds of years ago, before the Civil War, the dangers of the swamp and its seeming impenetrability actually attracted people to it. The land was so untamed that horses and boats couldn’t enter, and the colonists who were filing into the region detested it. William Byrd II, a Virginia planter, called it “a miserable morass where nothing can inhabit.” But people did inhabit the swamp, including thousands of enslaved Africans and African Americans who escaped their captors and formed communities in the swamp. This “dismal” landscape was the site of one of the most remarkable and least told stories of resistance to slavery in American history.via The Great Dismal Swamp - 99% Invisible
Cleophas Adderley has gone. He has left us with exquisite, difficult music that is hard for ordinary mortals to perform but, which when mastered, sounds like the voice of heaven. We are blessed that he was allowed to walk with us, to talk with us, to be as human as he was with us.Read More
For those people who wonder what I think about the consultancy, who would like me to comment on the consultancy, or believe that by being awarded the consultancy, Ian Poitier has somehow disadvantaged me or mine or all of us, let me say this: I am absolutely convinced that Poitier's contract offers value for money. I've read just one of the policy documents that Poitier produced as part of the terms of his consultancy, and as an author of policy documents myself, I can say unequivocally: It's worth every penny.Read More
Elections are over. The Bahamian people have voted, and the vote was historic.It's not just that it was the cleanest sweep ever in the history of party politics in our nation. It's not just that for the first time since 2002 that any governing party has been elected by a simple majority of the electorate (i.e. over 50% of the votes cast). And it's not even that this was the first election in our history in which the sitting Prime Minister was not only voted out of office, but also lost his own seat. These are all remarkable things in themselves, but they're not the most remarkable one.
What strikes me most in this election was the independence and the power of the voters.
Several people have commented on the new government, observing, with a measure of truth, that the Pindling era is now over, but I would put it differently. I'd say that the era of the One Leader is over. Because the true victors in this election were not the Free National Movement MPs who will be sworn in and take their positions in our legislature and executive over coming weeks. The true victors on May 10, 2017 were the Bahamian people.Now, stick a pin. I've made it pretty clear over the past few months that I don't regard changing of one political party for another as any guarantee that life in The Bahamas will get better (sorry, Red Tsunami). It may feel better for a few weeks or months, but simply changing our leadership will not, and cannot, heal our nation. Electing a new party to government doesn't automatically fix the economy, find young people jobs, make Baha Mar work to our advantage, eradicate crime and violence. It doesn't even guarantee that corruption will no longer be part of our political landscape. It gives us time to breathe and take stock, but the causes of our troubles don't recognize parties in power. They come out of us, and they have to be solved by us.I've said it before: our systems are deeply flawed, and we have to strip them down and rebuild them—not once, but again and again, so that they remain relevant and robust and continue to meet our needs.What makes me hopeful about the future is not that we changed the government. It's the way in which we changed it. We didn't follow the politicians' lead; they followed the people's. We called for debates, and candidates debated. We held town halls and they came. We, the people, demanded that our politicians respected us; and those who didn't were voted away.
What's historic in this election is that we, the Bahamian people, have collectively lost our taste for being dictated to by the political elite.
The leaders of the political parties were less important than the issues we wanted addressed by our representatives: issues of accountability, of transparency, of governance, of respect for the citizens in whose place they stand. While there was plenty of leader-bashing going on, it didn't really seem to be the core of the matter. No. What seemed to be even more important was that we were looking for representatives—people who would take our needs, concerns, and worries with them when they entered the House of Assembly to form the new government.Watch this, though.
Our governing structures are not set up to deliver what we have so clearly shown that we want.
It's not realistic for us to expect that if we live in a constituency whose representative is called to serve in the cabinet, that person should be meeting the needs of the constituency as well as working to solve the very real problems of the nation. It's even unrealistic for us to expect that back-benchers can meet the needs of their constituents while at the same time they are dealing with critical legislation in the House of Assembly. So even as we're celebrating, we need to be planning how we use this euphoria to fuel the way we move forward.Because it can't all be about marching and protests, though there's power in collective voices and feet. It can't always be adversarial, us vs. them, you-for-me-or-against-me politics, whether that happens inside or outside the House of Assembly. We need to find ways to build up structures that allow for constructive dissent. You and I don't have to share the same opinion in order for us to build our society collectively and inclusively—in fact, it's better for the collective when we disagree and we have to fight our corners using reason and passion. Dissent sharpens ideals, and makes people think harder about what they really believe, and the result is better for all.I for one have no more tolerance for the politics of exclusion, whether the people being excluded are of another race or ethnicity or creed or gender or sexual preference or political affiliation or ability.
We are all Bahamians, and we all have a place in this land together. We need to start building that new country.
OK, my fellow Bahamians. It's not enough simply to change prime ministers and parties and faces in the house of assembly. We have to change the structures too. We can't stop rolling now. Let's begin building the country we want to live in tomorrow, and leave this nation better than we met it.
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]
Educated FoolishnessLast Thursday, the Out Da Box movement introduced itself to The Bahamas. Ian Strachan, Alicia Wallace and I began the discussion about spoiling the ballot as an option in the upcoming general election on Guardian Talk Radio, and (to my considerable surprise, but not to the others') the discussion took off. What madness were we suggesting? Spoil the ballot? Why on God's green earth, at this critical juncture in history, would anyone ever think of doing something so stupid?And the discussion continued far beyond the morning show. It was taken up again at noon by the Revolution, and then at 5 on Freedom March, and it seemed to continue again into Friday, with more radio discussion on the weekend as well. Almost all of the discussion disagreed vehemently with the position that we've taken: that if, like us, you don't feel you have anyone to vote for, register anyway and spoil your ballot.The "stupidity" of the idea centred around two main points:
- the concept that anyone in their right mind would, or should, go to the polls and stand in line in the hot sun, wasting their time and energy and patience, to go into the voting booth just to choose no candidate at all; and
- the idea that doing this would change anything about the outcome. If 90% of the electorate spoiled their ballot, the next government would be elected by the 10% who did not, and the politicians would not care one whit about the rest.
The general refrain: this will achieve nothing, so why even suggest it?Method in the MadnessWhat much of the discussion seems to have missed about the movement is that its focus is not on effecting quick, immediate change in political rulership. Rather, it is on building citizen power.For too long, we have accepted the idea that "democracy" consists of going to the polls every five years--or, more recently, whenever a referendum is called--to cast a vote on a pre-selected slate of candidates or a pre-determined set of options. The result has been that we've developed the habit of treating election seasons rather like football playoffs--people have their teams, they wear their paraphernalia, they trash talk about the other guys. Like football playoffs too, we have evolved a binary way of looking at political options: it's an either/or scenario. And it's a spectator sport for the most part. We may study the plays and talk about them, but we do not contribute to them. The game is plotted out in the locker room, behind closed doors, between coaches and players. As with football, we seem to accept that this is the way things are done. All we do is cheer them on when we see how well they work, or groan when they don't.But democracy is not like football. Government FOR the people BY the people means, very simply, that the citizens of any democracy are in fact its governors. At the moment, we operate in a representative democracy, which means that at specific moments in time, citizens vote for the people they will send to represent them in the legislature. That's why the gallery is in the House of Assembly. These representatives are ideally supposed to be the voice of the citizens--the governors--when the time comes to make laws, and also one of the checks to the power of the executive, many of whose decisions should be reported to or ratified by the House of Assembly.The result of treating elections like football playoffs, though, means that we tend to assume that what happens in the House of Assembly is the politicians' business. We often miss the point that the politicians work for us. For a long time, we have given them too little oversight, too little direction, and they have developed a culture of entitlement, a culture of disrespect for the citizenry that is only now beginning to be checked with the advent of social media.The Out Da Box movement seeks, quite simply, to change the thinking of the citizenry. To shift the discussion away from trash talk to what it means to operate in a democracy. To recognize that a citizen's vote is the one bit of direct power that citizen has, albeit very small.We believe that there is power in withholding that vote, because democracy depends on the consent of the ruled. We recognize that withholding our consent will not change the immediate outcome of the election. We know that it may be ignored or discounted by the people who do get elected. We know that the government that is formed after the 2017 election will probably forget that they do not have the mandate to make decisions on behalf of the citizenry that they have come to expect.But showing up to withdraw our consent is the beginning of a new way of being governed. It will take more than engaging in the spectator sport that our democracy has become, but it will be worth it in the end. By showing up to spoil our ballots, to withdraw our consent to be governed, we, the citizens, will be pledging with that one small act that we will show up again and again, collectively. We will do the work it takes, as the true government of our democracy, to contribute to our legislative activity. And we will learn and exercise skills that our representatives seem to lack or to have forgotten: reasoning skills, the skills of dialogue, respect for dissent and dissenters, and the skill of constructive negotiation.Out Da Box believes that the very first step to that collective action can be spoiling the ballot--withdrawing our consent to be inadequately ruled--together. Stupid is as Stupid DoesSo back to the educated foolishness, the stupidity of the act of spoiling the ballot.
- Why register, go to the polls, stand in the hot sun and waste time, energy and patience, just to spoil the ballot? Because WE are the government. The people we elect work for US. The fact that they hold their allegiance to their parties--their teams--above their responsibility to be the voice of the citizenry is unacceptable to us.
- What will spoiling the ballot achieve? It is an act that citizens can take together to lay the foundation for a more participatory democracy that we have today.The fact that we take the time to withdraw our consent is a demonstration that we are going to show up for other, more visible exercises that reinforce the citizens' power.
So the foolishness of this movement boils down to one primary idea. Citizens acting together to withdraw their consent to be ruled will lay the foundation for a better, more participatory, future.
Elections are coming.They have to be. Constitutionally, they have to be held by the middle of this year. Between now and May, presumably, Bahamian voters will know which constituencies they reside in, who their candidates are, and what choices they will have at the polls this time.In response to this knowledge, the talk everywhere has turned partisan. The PLP convention has sparked a flurry of discussion of all kinds. People who oppose the current government have seized convenient, if meaningless, talking points like "Where the VAT money gone?", while people who support the government invoke track records and party stability.The thing is, much of this discussion is moot. No matter how much we enjoy the trash talk, only a minority of us are set to influence the outcome of this next election. Voter registration has been remarkably slow so far. According to the latest announcements by the Parliamentary Registrar's office, the number of registered voters still sits below 100,000—some 88,000 at time of writing, compared with around 125,000 in January 2012. Why this might be is a matter for another time. What concerns me at this moment is that voting for our MPs is the only way in which over 70% of the Bahamian population gets to participate directly in the democratic process. This year, about half of the eligible voters have decided to opt out of the process.This is a red flag. It signals something fundamentally wrong with our democracy. It also opens the door for an increase in governmental abuses. The less involved in the democratic process the population becomes, the less accountable officials and politicians have to be. And as of this moment, no matter what the turnout, the next government will be elected by a minority of Bahamian citizens. Minority rule, welcome back home.I'm going to propose that there is a possible solution. It's not one that will change the outcome of the 2017 election in any appreciable way. At the moment, that outcome depends on which party is most successful in getting its base out to register and vote, a simple numbers game. But it can change the measure of accountability we can demand of our elected officials. And it may well impact elections in the future.It's this. Go and register. As Bahamian citizens we have that right, and it was fought for and won by people far more more determined and principled than we are today. And then, if you're unhappy with the politicians or with the system or the country, don't fall for the least-of-two-evils rhetoric; spoil your ballot.I'll say it again. Go register. Go vote. But spoil the ballot.It's easy to do. You can mark your X outside the box, or you can write something other than your X on the paper, or you can draw a picture, or you can vote for your mother, or you can vote for your dog, or for the man in the moon.You're probably asking now: what's the point? The end result will be the same.And I'll say: Yes, and no.You won't change the outcome of this election if you register and spoil the ballot instead of sitting this one out. But you will send a message to whichever minority government is elected in May. And it's this:We are watching, we will hold you accountable. We reject the bad choices you gave us. Do better. Don't think the strategists are not watching. They are paying very close attention. Voter apathy will send the message that Bahamians don't care what they do. But a spoiled ballot, even if the counts are not released to the public, will tell a very different tale.Give me another post, and I'll explain why.
1) Majorities. Marching.Almost a month ago I started to write a post about the two marches being held on January 10. It didn't get finished for various reasons, none of them very good. What I envisioned for the post was a meditation on the value of both events. I wanted to recognize and honour #majorityruleday, the revolution of the past. Majority rule, for all our confusion and resistance to it today was a massive achievement in our country, one which has been overly politicized and wilfully misrepresented and misunderstood ever since it happened. For twenty-five years we revised Fawkes and Braynen out of the moment, and left the history to hearsay and memory. For another twenty we refused to acknowledge the moment in any positive, national way, for fear, I can only surmise, of offending our most powerful minority. For the past five we have been celebrating it as though it was merely the significant achievement of a single political party, ignoring the truth that some of the most vocal and active fighters for majority rule later became the founders of a second political party which was severely critical of the way in which the majority began to rule. We have never honoured the moment as it deserves to be honoured: as the first democratic victory of the Bahamian people in their bid to gain freedom and opportunity in their own land.But I also wanted to recognize the revolution of the future. The significance of #wemarch is greater than the sum of its parts. Although we Bahamians like to imagine ourselves as a model democracy—we have peaceful revolutions, we have high voter turnout, we change our governments quietly, and in the twenty-first century we have not yet allowed either major political party to gain ascendency over the other—we have grown dissatisfied with the limits of that democratic process. There is a growing sense that one vote every five years is not enough democracy. #wemarch is an expression of that sense, and the events of January 10, which saw two peaceful, good-natured marches taking place on the same day two blocks away, signalled that there is more than one majority to be considered. Among the majorities who found expression in #wemarch on January 10 were the majority of Bahamians who are under the age of forty, as well as the majority of Bahamians who are female. Neither majority is represented in the current House of Assembly (the average age of the Bahamian population is 30 years old, and the average age of the representatives in the House is 55; and the 13% of the MPs who are female is a poor representation of 51% of the Bahamian population who are women).2) Extending democracyMore recent events—the PLP's convention, for one, and the resounding failure of the third #wemarch initiative, last Friday's union protest, for another—have opened the door on a discussion that seeks to dismiss #wemarch as a mere extension of partisan politics, a manoeuvre on the part of those individuals who are opposed to the current administration. There's some justice in that position. We inhabit a time when the opposition parties to the PLP government are splintering. #wemarch has acted as a catalyst for anti-government protest. The case can be made that even though the Free National Movement is the weakest it has been in a generation, #wemarch has allowed dissatisfied Bahamians the opportunity to stand together in criticism of the government. No doubt this is exasperating to the party in power, which, all its shortcomings aside, is extremely well placed for a victory at the polls this year. Small wonder that the movement is looked upon as partisan. But this dismissal misses the core point: Bahamians are tired of the limited democracy they exercise. Bahamian citizens want more—more government BY the people, less government FOR the people. There seems to be a general lack of faith that the latter is truly for Bahamians' benefit, and I suspect this lack of faith, for all its current focus on the PLP, extends to all organized political parties. To attempt to discredit the movement by suggesting that it is a power bid by its leaders is to overestimate their power over the movement, and to underestimate the energy inherent in it.The problem is, that energy is currently poorly focussed. #wemarch is an indication of a broad sense of dissatisfaction with where we find ourselves, but neither it nor the opposition parties nor even the non-party opposing the opposition has given the Bahamian people anything to stand FOR. There is, I believe, a reason for this, and it's very simple. We are out of practice. We have become addicted to strong leaders and have lost the habit of charting our own courses. We are looking, in short, for messiahs. Like the Israelites of old, we seem to want to be ruled by kings. Let them do the heavy lifting, and we will place our "X"s accordingly.But that is in no way, given the challenges we are about to face, anywhere near enough to live by.In the first place, our “messiahs” are out of touch. They are out of touch with the majority of the Bahamian people, who were born well after 1973 (the average MP was born before 1962), and who make well under the $2.5 million average in assets declared by MPs upon their election in 2012. And perhaps equally disturbing, they are out of touch with the massive global shifts that will without doubt affect the generation of Bahamians who will be hitting their middle and later years towards the end of this century.These include the shifting of global power which has been happening quickly yet subtly over the past few decades, from the Americas to Asia; they include the global environmental shifts which will threaten the entire Bahamian archipelago perhaps even before my own life is over; and they include the shifting focus on energy sources, which will be “alternative” long before most of us are ready for that moment. They are also out of touch (this time by choice) with the global conversation about human rights that has been ongoing for some time but which will become central, and more urgent, as Trumpism gains momentum.Consider this.
- Not one politician has mentioned in any sensible, comprehensive way, what they plan for The Bahamas to do about Donald Trump’s stated intention to have his nation less involved in global affairs, more involved in its own.
- Not one has considered how we might weather any impending domestic crisis that might be precipitated by possible radical American decisions, such as the removal of pre-clearance facilities, or the withdrawal of permission to peg our dollar to the US dollar.
- Not one has talked about how we will respond if (or when) Trumpism leads to a tightening of all immigration laws, both legal and illegal, or how our economy hopes to absorb individuals who may be forced to leave the USA and return to The Bahamas because of new immigration policies north of us.
- Few have discussed in any serious way how we (not foreign direct investors) can move from fossil fuel-based energy sources to cleaner, contemporary, renewable power.
- Few have outlined a plan for the cleaning of New Providence’s air or our groundwater.
- Not one has talked seriously about the development of our archipelago’s considerable natural and domestic resources, although many appear ready to sell these to the first bidder to come along.
- Not one of them appears to have considered how our population of under half a million people might withstand a serious move by China, most likely the next superpower, to gain a physical foothold on the borders of the USA, for which the islands of The Bahamas are ideally suited.
- None has truly grappled with the issue of feeding ourselves, of generating enough food to feed 500,000 for three months or more, should Trumpist isolationism tighten US borders to imports or exports abroad (unlikely, but not impossible).
- Not one has even discussed with the Bahamian people what response our government is planning for us should sea levels rise even a fraction of the six feet predicted to happen by 2100. I am not even certain that they are measuring sea levels to test to see whether any rise is occurring today, though I could be wrong about that.
These are the issues that face the twenty-first century Bahamas, not jobs. Not tourism. Not the reform of Bahamian land tenure to allow us to sell more of our birthright to foreigners who can’t manage their own money properly. Not even (gasp, shock, yes I said it) crime, which is a symptom of social illness rather than a cause unto itself—and which, in most countries, is a problem dealt with by municipal governments rather than national ones. Yes, several may seem fanciful and apocalyptic; but they are not impossible futures. And the fact that not one politician, not one political party, not one individual seeking to run for office thinks enough of the electorate to discuss them is evidence enough for me to suggest that no political messiah is coming for us anytime soon.And so we need to enact a different kind of democracy—a different approach. Selecting candidates from one political party or another will just not cut it any more. Casting votes for the people who are offering themselves for positions is a waste of the democratic process. Once again, we need, and we deserve, more.#spoilthevote**Photograph of dead reef in The Bahamas is taken from The Climate Change Initiative of the University of The Bahamas