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‘What Can We Do?’

“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty” – Thomas Jefferson.

As Bahamians prepare to observe 40 years of nationhood, much of the focus has been on what has happened over that time period. Indeed, a recap of history has its place, and now more focus needs to be placed on what The Bahamas ought to become in what I call the post 40-year era upon us.

If you are a Bahamian who interacts on a meaningful basis with other average Bahamians, you know that we in growing numbers are agitated and pained. Bahamians are angry at what their government is doing to them and to the country and they are asking in increasing numbers “what can we do?”

It is the single most promising question a Bahamian can ask. It is a question that for many represents their weariness with submission to the five-year classical conditioning cycle Bahamians thus far have fallen in line with. They want to know what they can do now – not in four years time – to re-direct what they see as a treacherous tide in their country.

Yes, Bahamians are getting restless for their voices to be heard and for their government to truly listen to and follow through on demands for accountability and proper governance. Many genuinely want change now, but don’t know how they can help make that possible. July 10 marks the observance of one generation (40 years). It’s time to get ready for the faces and hearts of the post 40-year era.

Over Forty Years of Conditioning

In our parliamentary democracy, we are taught that we are to give a government a five-year “mandate”, allow them their time and if they don’t do what they are supposed to, we can simply vote them out. And in the general course of politics and governance outside the dawning of a need for radical change – that works.

But here is the rationale we now need to confront – what is the actual mandate voters are giving the government they elect? Is it five years to do what they choose to do, or a mandate to govern in the best interests of the people? The answer to that question could have important implications for our way forward as a nation.

What this five-year classical conditioning cycle has created in an already laid-back culture of people in The Bahamas is the mindset that if during that five-year period the government is messing up the country – there is nothing they can do. We have not explored our powers in a democracy beyond an Election Day ballot vote.

Bahamians have been trained to think that democracy in The Bahamas as it relates to governance is only required, but moreso only permissible on Election Day. We have been conditioned therefore to become spectators in our own democracy, believing that after we get the chance to have our say, our job as citizens is over because our government is now ruler and king and we are their subjects for five years.

Here is the fallacy in that conditioning though – there is no five-year set term for governance in the Constitution of The Bahamas. Constitutionally, a government can serve for a maximum of five years, but there is no minimum time – the Prime Minister can call an election anytime he wants to within that maximum five-year period.

Sir Lynden Pindling did so after he won in 1967, when he held a new election the following year in 1968 – just a year and three months into the term. The Constitution empowers a Prime Minister to do this and he did so for the political reasons he deemed expedient at the time.

So, if the Prime Minister can ring the bell on you whenever he wants to in accordance with the Constitution, why are we continuing to submit to the conditioning that we need to wait five years before we can ring our bell on the actions of a government in The Bahamas?

That telltale bell (circa Ivan Pavlov) in our culture has become the ‘permission’ our leaders give us to challenge them. Prior to that bell of permission, leaders are never fond of the people not wanting to ‘wait their turn’ to speak on how, and how long they should serve within that term.

I have never agreed with the notion that citizens in a democracy should passively allow a government an undisrupted term in the chair, even if their governance is threatening or ruining the very stability and viability of the country. In my view, that is insanity.

If let’s say hypothetically, The Bahamas gets truly fed up and demonstrates en masse as we saw in Brazil and most recently in Egypt, what is the problem with that? Voters in a democracy make up their minds to elect someone, and voters can demand their government not oppress them. And if citizens in a democracy want a government gone and want early elections, they have every right to demand that as well.

If an administration is governing in the best interest of the nation, fine. But if not, a people should not sit and wait for five years of destruction before they choose to stand up to their corrupt employees (their government) – who would have already gotten rich off their tax dollars. What punishment is it to enriched politicians to send them home on election night with bank accounts teeming, leaving behind a broke and damaged country?

Bahamians have become content to say of a government they are mad at, “election day ga be da end of you.” Well that mindset needs to change to asking yourself, “by election night, what will be left of this country for me and you?”

It is open season on our tax dollars. It is open season on our NIB dollars. And as this continues, our government has taken democracy and turned it into their brand of autocracy; with countless outright refusals to account to the people on anything it is doing with their money and in their name.

Now, for those whose hearts are burning within them about what they can do, there is one key dynamic you should keep in its proper perspective – because on the paths to seeking or demanding change, the standard place to look may not be heading in your directions.

Waiting on Political Parties

Depending on what you want for your country today – as opposed to four years from now – waiting on political parties may be a wait in vain, and I will tell you why. The focus of a political party is to win elections. There is nothing wrong with that – that is what political parties are generally formed for.

So their focus and the focus of Bahamians who are agitating for right-now changes as opposed to at election time, could in numerous ways be different. Politicians will have their reasons for telling Bahamians not to make too much of a fuss and to wait it out – it’s because they too are working on their own five-year plans and don’t want the people to get ahead of that by agitating for changes now.

Political parties hoping to gain power may not see themselves as being ready to mount an election campaign before five years, and so instead of being a source of inspiration and encouragement to Bahamians who want to become active in their democracy, politicians may either discourage them or encourage them to join their party – which may effectively silence such Bahamians, even if that is not the intent such politicians.

Now come campaign time, the agendas and paths of political parties and Bahamians becoming more socially active may wind up merging along the way. And movements that might emerge from such heightened social activism may also wind up crossing paths harmoniously with a political party. No problem.

But Bahamians don’t have to wait on a politician or political party to move in order for them to move on what they are passionate about. If anything, let the political parties catch up to your speed. Political parties will do what they do. You do what is on your heart to do and don’t be discouraged by the pace at which a political party is traveling. And remember: a leader or change-maker does not have to be a politician.

Here’s What You Can Do

For those who are serious about country over self or self-aggrandizement, here are some things you can do to become more active in your democracy, and press toward pressuring your employee (your government) to act in accordance with your will as the citizenry:

Get properly informed – no more sitting back waiting for people to drop information in your lap about what is happening in your own country. Read the papers. Read and watch credible news and blog sites. Research where relevant. Watch world news to better understand your space in the proverbial global village. Zeal without knowledge is most often counter-productive to progress.

Step up social media efforts – there are numerous and active Facebook groups where Bahamians participate daily in discussions about current affairs. Begin to form action groups where your members can come together face to face to dialog on pressing issues. You never know the jewels of ideas and untapped resources that can be unearthed as people of like mind come together for common causes.

Go as groups to constituency/government meetings – if an MP or the government is holding a public meeting, attend in groups to make your positions known to them face to face. Demand answers. And if they want to shut you down for respectfully voicing your views – don’t leave that situation empty handed. Almost everybody has a videophone these days. If democracy is being squelched anywhere, record it for the country and the world to see.

Organise your own events & support those of others – don’t be deterred about the typical Bahamian fashion of not showing up to things. Fires begin with a spark, and movements begin with a voice. Invite friends and colleagues to attend to discuss issues that matter to you as Bahamians. Rallies in the Alley are not just for politicians at campaign season.

Get in touch with the press – whether it is through editor letters to the newspapers or inviting them to attend meetings/events of socially conscious Bahamians, expand your public reach through establishing relationships with the press.

Volunteer in established groups – you may find a group that is already working toward your common interests. Volunteer and join the effort.

There may be those reading this column, who within the confines of the law, want to take their social activism further than these suggestions above. I say go for it.

What is critical above all is this – that each of us do the soul searching we deem necessary and decide how we want to do our part in demanding accountability and proper governance from our elected officials.

You don’t have to have a big name or big money to make a big difference.

Sharon Turner
Tribune Column

Posted in Opinions

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