The times, they truly are a-changing
As a little boy, growing up and going into the City of Hamilton with my parents, way back in the 1950s, seemed like going to another country.
Despite all the things my grandmother used to tell me about how the old oligarchs or the “Forty Thieves” ran Bermuda and the city, I could not wait to go to Freddie’s snack bar down on Reid Street side of Walkers Arcade to be treated with a hot dog and a nice cool glass of mineral, as we used to call it back then.
Mr Editor, I have seen many changes take place in the city over the years and have learnt a lot since which; yet I had always wondered if the people of Bermuda had any real say in how the one and only major city of the country was run.
I have a friend who had run a business in the city for many years. Throughout that time, he never knew that he had the right to vote in the municipal elections. I was so surprised that I decided to take it upon myself to carry out a personal poll of some of the businesses and residences, especially in North East Hamilton.
That part of Hamilton is an area that is mainly dominated by African-Bermudians, a part of the city that for years was not getting much attention from the Corporation of Hamilton. Up until the time that I decided to take that poll, I had lived in Hamilton for a little more than five years and was a renter who had not done any deep research to get a clear idea of how the corporation worked and what it took to vote in the municipal elections.
Then I had that conversation with my friend. It was from that point that I went about asking questions. I then went to City Hall to try to obtain a copy of the voters’ list, only to find out that I could not obtain a copy. The only way that I could see who was registered was to view a book that was kept at the main desk at City Hall, which contained the electors’ names, and that was it.
I thought it very strange that in a country where democracy is supposed to have been so widely acclaimed that I could not obtain a copy of the city’s voting list. Yet, at the same time, I could go to Bermuda’s parliamentary registry and obtain a list of the names of the voters registered in my country. I found it to be abnormal for the city’s electoral system to be considered a democracy to the point where I could not obtain a copy of the voters’ list. Thus, in order to get a clearer picture of the make-up of the Corporation of Hamilton, I had to get a copy of the Municipalities Act.
In my poll, I found quite a few people who did not know that they had the right to vote, while others thought it was a waste of time voting because their vote did not count anyway. In the end, I had to come to the conclusion that the hierarchy of the corporation did all that it could to keep the electoral base as narrow as it possibly could to accommodate the privileged few — without having to tell some of the ratepayers that they were really not welcome.
Mr Editor, I have taken notice over the past 20 years or more of what seems to me to be a drive by the corporation to push blue-collar renters out of the city. I have seen many of the buildings and single units that used to house blue-collar renters either demolished or completely reorganised into office space. I even heard that there was also an attempt to buy out as many of those who owned property and resided in the city, especially in the north-eastern part of the city.
I keep hearing a lot of noise about how the people don’t want the Government to take over their city. Mr Editor, what people are they talking about because I don’t recall ever voting in any of the city’s elections?
I stand to be corrected, but I remember back in the 1960s when the United Bermuda Party abolished the elected parish vestries in favour of centralising Bermuda’s tax system and replaced them with appointed parish councils, after which they had intended to reel in the city. But they stopped short of carrying out that plan; I guess they thought it would hurt their support base, and they never made that move.
Mr Editor, what the government of today is doing for the first time is bringing universal adult suffrage to the city and including all the people of Bermuda to have a say in what goes on in Hamilton, which is something that should have happened many decades ago.
E. McNEIL STOVELL