To vaccinate or not to vaccinate?
“When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”— Nelson Mandela
The Government has one of the biggest challenges that it could ever face. The leadership style that it has used to win elections is finally knocking on its door, asking difficult and challenging questions.
The seeds planted by the Progressive Labour Party to score political points by stoking racial emotions instead of actually solving problems are bearing fruit. It campaigned and reminded us at every turn to distrust everything that comes from the colonialist.
You may remember that every issue in Bermuda usually is reduced to its lowest common denominator: race.
The PLP blames economic hardships on the White ruling class or foreign workers. The issues of the America’s Cup, immigration reform and December 2, 2016 received special attention by fanning racial flames. However, which of these issues and the many others has it truly solved beyond the rhetoric, political posturing and stirring up people’s emotions?
The PLP simply goes back to making poor decisions and living lavishly off the taxpayers.
As fate would have it, in Bermuda we have a hot potato in our laps, as does the rest of the world — it’s called Covid. The magic bullet to our country achieving herd immunity is vaccinations, we are told. Bermuda is fortunate, compared with other nations, to have more vaccines available than there are people willing to take them. Coincidently, in the last data I viewed, there appears to be significant racial divide on the takers of the vaccine and the non-takers. Under normal conditions, this would be manna from heaven for the PLP to exploit.
However, this time the Government has taken the position that the vaccine is the only way forward. This stance is putting it at odds with a significant segment of the population. The PLP tells us that the vaccine is unquestionably good for everyone and the country.
The Premier led the way by being the first in line to take the jab. It seemed as if he thought that he would significantly persuade the masses to the vaccination stations because of his actions. It did not take long before the numbers stalled and he had a problem on his hands. Since then, there has been a shift to strong-arming, bullying and threats of economic hardship in an effort to intimidate Bermudians into accepting the vaccine. Now we have a new and dangerous divide — the vaccinated versus the unvaccinated.
The political narrative is that the unvaccinated are irrational and irresponsible because they are endangering not only their own lives but also the lives of other unvaccinated people in our country. Likewise, the vaccinated are sheeple following the script.
Bermudians as a whole are educated, thoughtful, resourceful and informed. If there ever was a time to respect democratic values, constitutional rights and individual liberties, that time is now. The leadership of the country should be sufficiently cautioned not to make this a vaccinated v unvaccinated state of affairs like it has done with race. A Bermudian choosing to be vaccinated should not be held in a higher or lower regard than the unvaccinated Bermudian, and vice versa.
When a person’s health and the wellbeing of their families’ health are considered, there is way more at stake than historical political allegiance. If a person categorically trusts authority, has built a collective relationship and embraces its directives, it is likely rooted in a good experience with that authority. In contrast, a person who is distrustful and sceptical is also justified in their position. This is why we must respect individual choice.
If the Premier and his team were in tune with the people, he would appreciate this and be more effective at understanding. The PLP, formed in 1963 to fight discrimination, should not be the party to create a new class system or economic divide because a person has chosen to vaccinate or not to vaccinate.
This reminds me of the social experiment that Jane Elliott performed with the children in her classroom in 1968, the day after the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. She separated the children, all White, by their blue or brown eye colour over a two-day period. By the end of each day, the children that had more incentives and opportunities were on top of the world while the others that were segregated and discriminated against were disgruntled and even violent.
Therefore, it concerns me when I hear our political leadership and some members of the Opposition advocating for incentives, rewards and punitive measures for one segment of our population. Even more so when we can clearly see what has occurred with the opportunities and the lack thereof as a result of the racial divide. It is also a travesty that none of our political leadership has spoken out in support of personal choice without punitive consequences.
At this critical time in our history, leadership should be more understanding of the reasons for hesitancy and address those concerns without the perception of economic punishment, segregation and coercion as the tools to accomplish their goal of herd immunity. This very strategy will only incline one segment of the population to take their chances with the virus over the vaccine. People do not want to be manipulated one way or the other. Human nature tends to resist coercion especially when it is disguised as being for our own good.
It is ironic that the PLP, which has used the slogan “Two Bermudas”, has launched its own 2021 version of that catchphrase, which will have a devastating socioeconomic effect on the unvaccinated. These are the same voters that have supported the PLP by sweeping it into power. Surely, this government should be protecting its supporters and not making their lives worse because they have chosen not to vaccinate.
The more our government and people in positions of authority fail to appreciate the effects that their decisions will have and the increased burdens they will cause to those who can least afford it, this situation will continue to devolve into each side standing their ground. Unfortunately, the obvious consequence of going this route will bring conflict, eventually.
Surely the PLP government, which has stirred up racial emotions over the years should understand if its support base is hesitant. Clearly, David Burt is either completely out of touch with the voters or simply does not care how incentives or discrimination will severely impact them.
Mr Burt and his team will have to decide whether it is better to punish the non-vaccinated with the same tools as the colonialist did or whether he will respect individual liberties and constitutional rights to freedom of choice. The PLP needs to change its strategy to respect the concerns of everyone. The stakes for each one of us and the country could not be greater.
• Vic Ball was a One Bermuda Alliance senator from November 2014 to July 2017, and more recently a candidate in the General Election in Smith's West (Constituency 9)