No progress without change
The late Walton Brown Jr had it right. The impetus for major reform and social justice for the longest time came not from within the legislature, but from without. He catalogued much of that history in his book, Bermuda And The Struggle For Reform: Race, Politics And Ideology, 1944-1998.
Published ten years ago, it remains an instructive work on how and why protest emerged as a valuable and effective tool for change. Indeed, some might even go further: it was the only tool that worked for those who were decidedly disenfranchised and the object of not just political derision but outright racial discrimination.
But protests didn’t just happen. They required organisation and here the emergence of unions and the Progressive Labour Party were key. They fearlessly advanced and represented the views of those who had no voice and were without the access to power to put right that which they thought wrong.
Many of the things for which they fought are accepted by many as matter of fact today, and arguably taken for granted as well, now some 50-plus years on from the adoption of the Bermuda Constitution Order and the introduction of modern responsible government — and here read the commencement in earnest of party politics.
But what emerged was a kind of precedent or tradition, if you will, of bringing pressure to bear on the status quo by way of protest — and on this point we need to be clear: the status quo was predominantly White and those on the outside Black. I intend no pun when I state the obvious: this has coloured much of what has gone on and what continues to go on in discourse and analysis in Bermuda, whether inside the legislature, on social media or in the street. It is very much a part of, if not justification for, what we have come to know as the two Bermudas.
The confinement to Opposition ended when the PLP was first elected in government in 1998. The groundwork for that victory had been taking shape for some years prior, as foreshadowed in some detail by visiting Professor Frank E. Manning in his book, Bermudian Politics In Transition, first published some 20 years earlier in 1978 — and today worth a second read for keen students of political history.
Still the march for reform and for change does not end with electoral success. Neither should it. While it may be trite, it is true: there can be no progress without change; and if our history teaches anything, it is that not all change and reform will come from within.
Protest is but one means by which those seeking reform can give voice to their aims. That “tradition” has been the vehicle of Black Bermudians more than White, and for obvious reason: our history, a reflection yet again of the two Bermudas.
True, there are encouraging signs that this may be changing: keen observers will remember the make-up of marchers who took to the streets for the Rainbow Coalition and Black Lives Matter.
But marching is not always sufficient.
Thus emerges from time to time the occasional push for a new party or a new movement. We have seen faltering starts in the past, both here and in the United States; begun as attempts to make inroads into the support bases of the entrenched parties. But make no mistake, this sort of organisation requires drive, commitment, patience and money — money very much being the mother’s milk of politics. No easy task, friends.
Words are wonderful when assembled and assembled well, but they go only so far.
On the other hand, sniping anonymously doesn’t change a thing. In fact, I have learnt over the years that the battering-ram approach of “I’m right, you’re wrong” or “You’re stupid, I’m not” or “I know what’s best, you don’t” does not produce desirable results. On the contrary. Predictably, it often evokes an equally strong opposite reaction.
Translating ideas into action that works — now that is the challenge, and always has been.