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Political history reflects a life in politics

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One might say that Walton Brown Jr has been collecting information for his new book on the history of the quest for social reform in Bermuda since childhood.

In 1965 his picture appeared on the front page of

The Royal Gazette, marching with Belco strikers. He was just four years old.

He has just released ‘Bermuda and the Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology 1944 -1998’, an academic exploration of the topic of Bermudian social reform.

“My father, Walton Brown Sr, was a bartender all his life and my mother, Barbara, was a waitress,” said Mr Brown. “They were supporters of the strike, but they were working, so my brother Charles and I were their proxies, effectively. Afterward, my father’s boss said, ‘What are your sons doing in the strike?’”

Mr Brown’s grandfather, Walton St George (WG) Brown was also politically active. He founded the Bermuda Labour Party, and in 1964 appeared at the United Nations to ask for a Royal Commission to help Bermuda with its social reform. He was criticised by the political parties for going to the UN, but he was supported by the Bermuda Industrial Union (BIU).

“So I grew up in an environment where people were always talking about politics. I went to university (Queen’s University and York University in Canada) and studied politics for ten years. So it was a natural process to go from on-the-ground stories to looking at social reform more academically.”

Mr Brown taught politics and history at the Bermuda College for 12 years. He left to pursue a political and business career and was a Progressive Labour Party Senator. He now runs a market research company, Research Innovations, and also writes. He has been seriously collecting information for the book for 15 years.

“I wanted to explain how the quest for social reform unravelled in Bermuda,” said Mr Brown.

The book looks at the early history of organisations such as the Bermuda Workers Association (BWA) and the BIU, and the formation of political parties such as the Progressive Labour Party (PLP) and the United Bermuda Party (UBP) between 1944 and 1998.

“I see the PLP as the embodiment of the political aspirations of the social reform movement,” said Mr Brown. “The social reform movement won the right to vote, won racial desegregation, and won a lot of other social reforms. In 1998, political power for the people was embodied in the people. That is why I cut off at that time.”

But he said, 1998 is by no means the end of the story. He plans to write another book about what happened after 1998 from a more personal perspective.

So far the feedback to the book has been positive. Mr Brown is planning to host a public forum with Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda (CURB) in September, to talk more about the book in detail.

“This is the first book that really explains how the process of social reform came about in Bermuda,” said Mr Brown. “It also answers a few questions. It helps us to understand how racial divisions have structured the nature of social and economic development in Bermuda.”

He said a lot of Bermudians, particularly younger Bermudians, were ignorant of their history.

“The book outlines the power of ideology,” said Mr Brown. “We sometimes think of politics purely in terms of getting the vote out and using the state to generate and maintain support. The old guard, the ‘40 Thieves on Front Street’ which transitioned to the UBP, were brilliant at ideological arguments. They were able to accomplish something that was very important; they were able to hold onto power in the transition into democracy. How could a party that represented a minority of the interests of people hold onto power? It was through the power of ideology.”

Mr Brown said Henry (Jack) Tucker [founder and leader of the UBP] was a brilliant political strategist for doing that. He said until the 1990s the UBP demonstrated a superior understanding of the power of ideology.”

“I see [former Premier] John Swan as the quintessential ideological creation, because he did everything that one needs to do as a leader to get power,” said Mr Brown. “He got rid of the glasses [he once wore] and got contact lenses. He got speech therapy lessons and went out and talked to the public, shaking hands and making everyone feel good.

“He was the first modern politician in Bermuda. It worked because he held on to power for a long time. He was our longest-serving Premier. The book helps people to understand how modern Bermuda was made. There is no contemporary equivalent of John Swan in Parliament today.”

Mr Brown ran unsuccessfully for election in December, 2007 in the Pembroke West constituency. He hopes to run again for the PLP in the next election, but possibly in a different constituency.

“I don’t think we will see many changes caused by the UBP’s switch to the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA), other than what we will see from both parties some new faces,” said Mr Brown. “We need some new faces and new blood. More than that we need people who actually care to do the work to make the Country stronger. One of my concerns is that we have too many people who sit in Parliament or who aspire to be there, who don’t really care about the Country. They care more about themselves and their position and that is just not a good thing.

“I hope the public becomes a little bit more demanding of those who seek to represent them.

“We have too much armchair activism. We need to have people who want to get involved. It is hard work, but you don’t have the right to sit back and complain if you are not prepared to do anything about it. We should be open to different views. I wish the public would take their responsibilities more aggressively. We have the potential to create a beautiful, peaceful, prosperous country but we have too much infighting. We are setting a bad example for our young people.”

Mr Brown said he is a strong supporter of the PLP, but not a blind supporter. He likened being in a political party to being in a family.

“When things are done wrongly or inappropriately we should say so,” he said. “It is like being in a family. You love your family, but sometimes family members do bad things and they need to be called out on it.”

‘Bermuda And The Struggle for Reform: Race, Politics and Ideology, 1944-1998’ is available at the Bookmart, Bermuda Bookstore, People’s Pharmacy, Robertson’s Pharmacy in St George and the Bookseller in St George. There will also be an e-book coming out in early September that will be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites.

Walton Brown Jr speaking on the documentary 'Lion and the Mouse' about Bermuda's history.
Modern politician: Former Premier Sir John Swan
Strategist: Sir Henry (Jack) Tucker
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Published August 22, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated August 22, 2011 at 9:40 am)

Political history reflects a life in politics

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