Shift in attitude promotes inclusivity
During the press conference on May 1, David Burt reminded us that the Government is collaborating with the Opposition in response to the multiple challenges of the coronavirus pandemic. To reinforce that point, he invited the Leader of the Opposition, Craig Cannonier, to share remarks.
Responding to a reporter’s question, the Premier admitted, given the political history between himself and Mr Cannonier, that it had been difficult for him to shift to collaboration mode.
Mr Burt’s transparency hopefully inspires us all to explore our ability to shift and be open to others in negotiating these challenging times.
May 1 happens to be International Workers’ Day, which began more than a century ago — a shift involving American workers’ struggle for the eight-hour day. It subsequently became a global platform for promoting employment rights generally, fostering solidarity.
Over decades, this movement has widened to a shift that has the potential to lead to widespread human solidarity.
May 5 marked the 39th anniversary of a pivotal event in our history — it was a shift to include others.
That day, two unions — the Bermuda Union of Teachers and the Electrical Supply Trade Union — joined the entire Bermuda Industrial Union to support its hospital and government divisions. That general strike marked the first occasion that members of one union acted in solidarity with others.
The media announcement on May 4, 1981 that the BUT had voted to act in solidarity with hospital and government employees surprised most people. This was a breakthrough, involving teachers, who had rarely taken action on their own behalf but who were acting in solidarity with blue-collar employees.
When the BUT contingent, led by some older seemingly conservative members, arrived at Union Square on that Tuesday, they were greeted by hundreds of BIU members, who had been inspired by the obvious shift. They were followed by the surprise arrival of the members of Belco’s ESTU, led by their white president, Chuck Renaud, exemplifying another shift.
Mr Renaud, had acted unilaterally to promote solidarity. He met with Belco’s chief executive Alf Oughton, informing him that a representative group of ESTU members would march to Union Square, demonstrating their solidarity with the BIU without endangering electricity supplies.
This action implicitly facilitated a healing, given the thorny legacy of the 1965 industrial crisis involving the BIU at Belco.
These local examples of “shifts” are reminiscent of iconic global stories.
In May 1963 after the Reverend Martin Luther King led a successful movement in Birmingham, in spite of dogs being unleashed on peacefully protesting young people, there was a reaction to the positive transformation. The home of MLK’s brother, A.D. King, was bombed and subsequently the motel in which Dr King had been staying was also bombed; leading to a riotous reaction by movement supporters. Thankfully, A.D. and other clergy were able to calm the waters.
At the mass meeting the next day, Dr King categorically addressed the pent-up anger, pointing out: “This is not a struggle between black people and white people … this is a struggle between justice and injustice … we’re looking to enlist consciences, not skin colours.”
A few days after that tragedy, Dr King honoured an invitation by Ohio’s Episcopalian (Anglican) Bishop to a rally in Cleveland. So many, mostly white people, attended — 10,000 or more — that neighbouring churches had to assist. A record $15,000 was taken in collections. In spite of challenges, the movement had leveraged a shift in promoting the inclusion of others.
Nelson Mandela and colleagues were sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment at one of the world’s most notorious prisons — Robben Island. Those icons regarded that challenge as an opportunity for self and collective renewal.
They made use of possibilities for distance-learning for themselves and mentored those general-population prisoners. They exemplified a shift by encouraging even the wardens — the “others” — to take up the opportunity to reinvent themselves. The rest is history.
The press conference on May 1 demonstrated the inclusion of others during the present challenges. Here in 2020, it is obvious that we face existential threats to the global family. Our premier has offered us an example of a shift and we can maximise our collective potential by being open to include others, thus sustaining present and future generations.
• Glenn Fubler represents Imagine Bermuda
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