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 democracy
More 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.
- 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.
**Photograph of dead reef in The Bahamas is taken from The Climate Change Initiative of the University of The Bahamas