Something has changed in the air.
Today, I took part in a peaceful march from Arawak Cay to Rawson Square in Nassau. I can’t easily articulate why, though. It was not a protest on my part. It was most certainly not a partisan gesture; I have come to consider Bahamian party politics (the only kind I can honestly talk about) a petty, visionless affair more concerned with personal vendettas than with any exercise of statehood. It was partly curiosity that took me out, partly the desire to see and take part in a Bahamian social movement, partly wanting to be there for myself so that I could make my own memory of the moment and not have others define it for me.
But mostly it was for the expansion of Bahamian democracy. And to take a step in a new direction, to be there on the ground as we Bahamians, for so long dependent on whatever saviour-leader we can identify, begin to pick up the reins of democratic action for ourselves.
For we have not been raised as a protesting nation. We have for a long time been a deeply partisan one, and successive governments run by the two feuding political parties have deepened the divisions in our society. We have for too long treated our democratic duty as little more than the right to take part in popularity contests. We’ve refused to analyze what has ailed our society, but have rather chosen to scapegoat and shift blame around as though we are engaged in a giant game of shuffleboard rather than the business of running a country. We have used our MPs and party affiliations as avenues for favour, and have ignored the incompetence, the visionlessness and the cupidity of those for whom we voted because of the kind of loyalties people attach to sports teams. We have used our party acronyms and colours as reasons to hurl invective at one another and somehow that has made us feel better about ourselves.
And we have closed our eyes as our nation—which, though little, could be great—grows smaller and smaller and poorer and poorer in every way possible. We’ve been content to let it happen because we have political stability and peaceful elections and leaders we an approach and gladhand and cuss out as the feeling strikes us.
But none of that has changed anything real at all.
Now, I’m not saying that #wemarch today can change anything on its own. That was the main reservation I had about it: that it stood for too many things, that the list of grievances was too long, that this was a catch-all demonstration that lacked focus and real propulsion for change. I turned up and walked the route not only to be part of the march and to participate in this democratic moment, but also as an anthropologist, to observe, to analyze the moment. To see whether it was something truly revolutionary or whether it was something else, something as dismissible as some supporters of the current government have suggested.
I believe that something basic has changed in the way we do politics. I am not saying that it is a deep-seated change or a permanently new way of doing things; only time will tell that. But I believe that today #wemarch inspired :
- A deep sense of patriotism. The march was supposed to be a silent one, and presumably a solemn one. But we are not normally a solemn people. Visitors to our country have always remarked on the warmth of the Bahamin people, something I’ve usually taken with a heap of salt; we are so very often angry and bitter these days. But what stuck out most about the march was just that—warmth. And a deep love for our country. The song we sang as we rounded the corner to Navy Lion Road was “March On Bahamaland”—our national anthem.
- The achievement, through social media, of a bottom-up One Bahamas. For many years leaders of various sorts have tried to impose a sense of unity on Bahamians, but it has been a false unity, one which has been deeply partisan—witness the golden colours that abound on Majority Rule day or the crimson ones that were linked with the One Bahamas celebrations. There was no sense of false unity today. Perhaps it was the sense of awe at the numbers of people who marched, or the even larger numbers wearing black, but there was some measure of solidarity in the marching and the occupation.
- A sense of empowerment. I am not saying that it is not a fragile one, but it is critical. One of the things that has been prevalent in Bahamian society for too many years is a deep sense of helplessness, a sense of being out of control, of mistrust of those in power (and this goes for the FNM as well as the PLP), a sense of being out of place, being unwanted in one’s homeland. Not so much today.
- A sense of possibility. People were friendly, people were communicating, people were stepping out of their silos and making contact with people from other domains. Active and hopeful politicians were on the march, but they were almost incidental. They were following the people, which is the way it probably should be in a democracy.
So. It was a start. For those of us talking about the revolution, this was not it: but it was the beginning of a turn in a different direction. There’s a saying, or a rumour, about the flamingo, the Bahamian national bird. It’s said that when one starts marching in a particular direction, the others will follow. This is what happened today.
This was step one.
Step two: to figure out where we’re going from here.
**featured photo by Rosemary Clarice Hanna