Appeal to reason, not force, says activist
Young people who want social change should “try and convince people mentally and not physically”, one of the quiet heroes who ended segregation in theatres said yesterday.
The Reverend Erskine Simmons, of Bright Temple African Methodist Episcopal Church in Warwick, added the campaign 60 years ago that forced Bermuda’s cinemas to end segregated seating started with “a simple group of people on a nice summer evening”.
He said: “There was no need to make any show of strength. There was a collaborative atmosphere — it was not a charged atmosphere.”
Mr Simmons said: “You have to appeal to their senses. If we have people demonstrating over climate change, then there is a scientific approach you have to take. Some people will look at the science and say that they still don’t see it, but you have to suit it to the time in which you live.”
He added the Progressive Group “emphasised the protest should be peaceful” and that “some who took it upon themselves to make sure it did not get out of hand”.
“Would it work today? Yes, if you start on the premise that you are going to have a non-violent situation.”
Mr Simmons said: “We have had clashes in Bermuda on several occasions between police and demonstrators.”
He highlighted the December 2016 standoff outside Parliament, where demonstrators opposed to a plan to build a new airport terminal under a public-private partnership deal were pepper-sprayed by police.
Mr Simmons added: “Things become violent in Bermuda when the police intervene. In the Theatre Boycott, they did not. They never came out in force and tried to clear people off the street. There was harmony on everything.”
He said the anonymity of the 1959 boycott organisers, used to protect themselves from an establishment backlash, helped to fuel later campaigns for social change. Mr Simmons added: “It didn’t happen all at once, although many things happened around the time of the Progressive Group.
“One side effect of that event, since nobody knew who the people in the group were, was that anybody in the community could invoke the Progressive Group name.”
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