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Straws that stirred the drink

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“A flash in the pan sets the whole house ablaze”.

The recent Senate seat reversal by David Burt was a clear demonstration of people power. Perhaps the whole drama would have been avoided if left alone.

SJB for the win: David Burt’s change of heart on the appointment of Rolfe Commissiong as Government Senate Leader can be directly attributed to the pressure brought to bear by Social Justice Bermuda (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

The appointment of Government Senate Leader appeared to many as a poor judgment call. Because it was systemically outside of anyone’s reach to intervene, much less rectify, a critical dynamic was created.

Certainly, this was a double tragedy for Rolfe Commissiong, who, after stepping down to avoid being a political distraction for the Progressive Labour Party because of his own mistake, could have declined any such offer of appointment.

However, that was not to be and the Social Justice Bermuda group, One Bermuda Alliance and the twitterati became the straws that stirred the drink, sparking a swift about-face — albeit not a saving of face — from the Premier.

The super parliamentary majority was of no assistance in preventing a moral decision being made by the leader of the Government under pressure from an unhappy public. Rightly so, but in the process this has exposed an Achilles’ heel and, like a Rosa Park moment, the imbalance in Parliament has been supplemented by activism in the broader electorate.

Once awakened, presents the possibility that inflection point is discovered, and the taste remains and becomes a cohesive voice among the populous.

As a columnist, this is the first time in decades, perhaps as far back as the 1960s, that previous discussions about reform and empowerment of the electorate are seen as needed conversation. On the heels of an election when a political party with “movement” in its name failed to garner much support follows catalytic moment of movement, spontaneously orchestrated by the politically disenfranchised.

The Theatre Boycott of 1959 was such a previous moment for Bermuda, marking a point when things hoped for began to take radical form.

The political paralysis with what is seen as a parliamentary imbalance, with no foreseeable resolution and this early miscalculation, exposed the vulnerability of government and increased an alert for the need for credible oversight on governance.

The near-absence of another party with vibrancy and strength of leadership has empowered the electorate to respond individually and collectively — like no message could ever compel to take up that void. The electorate is finally getting it: it has been abandoned for decades, its voice has meant nothing to successive governments.

But no more.

Citizens groups today will be far more effective in gaining the support of backbenchers and the remaining Opposition and more likely get the ear of the Government than a budding opposition party. This is not the time for marches and protest movements. It’s a day when moral force with reason needs to be firmly presented.

This, too, is a very different time globally, particularly after the massive demonstrations in the United States and elsewhere in the world saw gatherings of diverse people marching together. In Bermuda, the push moving forward will not be of one race opposed to another; it will be a push by all people of every ethnicity fighting for an equal say and voice in their country.

The folly of the existing opposition is in its belief that it needs to attract people to its ranks. Even the Free Democratic Movement could, if not wise, could fall into the same predicament of believing it needs to build a strong party.

The issue today is not about building a strong party. Empowering the electorate with the tools that enables each person to have a true voice and then tying that voice systemically to governance should be the theme of this era.

If Bermuda can achieve that aim of fully democratising its electorate, the effects will be seen not only locally, but it will ripple out to other jurisdictions and help transform politics in all similar small jurisdictions, liberating them from tyrannies and fiefdoms.

It has long been said, “if a movement is not of benefit for the world, it’s not of benefit on a local level, either”. This is not people against the Government; in fact, for the PLP, this could be its finest hour.

With a super majority, this could be the time when the Government leads the entire country to the promised land, the likes of which many of our forefathers held hopes of seeing.

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Published October 13, 2020 at 9:16 am (Updated October 13, 2020 at 3:16 pm)

Straws that stirred the drink

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