US politician praises PLP ‘trailblazers and torchbearers’
The Progressive Labour Party is “a beacon of light” that offers hope to nations round the globe fighting for democracy and the rights of minorities.
That was the message from Tennessee State Representative Justin Jones when he addressed a packed crowd at the PLP’s 60th annual gala at the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club on Saturday night.
The evening was a celebration of the party’s past and also marked the 25th anniversary of its election to office in November 1998 — a watershed moment in the island’s history.
Fittingly, Mr Jones, who flew in from the United States on Friday, gave his audience a history lesson in how the PLP had overcome adversity to bring democracy to the people since its inception in 1963.
He declared that Bermuda had “set an example” to his home state in the southern US by freeing the electorate from the shackles of colonialisation.
Mr Jones, 28, has had a high-profile career since entering politics a year ago. He was expelled from the Tennessee House after leading protests on gun control reform and joining protests in the chamber's public galleries while the House was in session.
On Saturday, Mr Jones said: “I’ve been thinking a lot about the similarities and differences between our countries. We’ve been seeing and learning about this deep bond between the struggles for liberation here, and I’ve been learning about the young people and the people who desegregated this nation in 1959.
“I was learning about the history of a place that challenged enslavement and colonisation, that to this day continues to fight and set an example. Bermuda is an island but has never been alone — that it has not been a tail light but a beacon of light in such a time as this.”
Mr Jones praised the PLP’s “trailblazers and torchbearers” who had fought and died in the battle against oppression.
Earlier in the evening, five surviving PLP veteran MPs who had won seats in the historic 1998 General Election that secured the party its first election victory, were honoured.
Wayne Perinchief, Walter Lister, Arthur Pitcher, former House speaker Randy Horton and former premier Paula Cox, were presented with plaques for their role in transforming the island’s political landscape 25 years ago.
Although he did not mention the One Bermuda Alliance by name, Mr Jones said that the PLP had overcome an opposition “that would rather have a government that serves special interests rather than the common interests of all people”.
He added: “We face an opposition — in my nation and perhaps yours — that would take us back in history to a time that we don’t want to go to. A time that, instead of racial justice, we have de facto segregation in our politics.
“In my state, they will ban books, they’re banning Black history, they tried to ban Black lawmakers, but they won’t ban the militarised weapons that are paralysing our schools, our grocery stores, our movie theatres, our concerts. And it’s why we stand in a legacy of a new generation of public servants, representatives — a tradition that says titles are nice but purpose is better.“
“We are connected across that ocean, and I know that we must give honour and praise and gratitude to the bridges that carried us over, to those who served in unpopular times, in times of not being a majority but who fought for what was right.
“When the opposition tried to execute two young Black men in this nation who fought ... we heard about what happened and we know the courage it took — that some members of this party were pepper-sprayed, who endured police violence fighting for their people. They fought for a legacy of liberation that we bow to and we thank you, the Class of 98 and those other elders here who paved the way.
“It’s important to see that if we have real democracy in a place like this, where we see democracy working, it gives places like us a hope, that we can become a state that does not expel people, that does not silent dissent, that is not threatened by opposing voices, that is about policies and not personalities.
“There’s light in the darkness, and the darkness cannot extinguish it. Each of us is the light and the world needs us to help light others in these tumultuous times. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.
“Sisters and brothers, let us continue to let the light shine on the 60th anniversary, not only in Bermuda, but to know that Bermuda is connected right across the globe.
“Let us not be fearful of what the opposition may say but let us ground ourselves in the truth.”
Mr Jones said it was “inspiring to hear about the story of this place”, adding: “We’ve seen that democracy can work. It’s inspiring to see a head of government that looks like me.”
He also took a swipe at the Establishment, claiming: “I know now that I won’t get invited to the Governor’s Christmas party or go to play golf with the Speaker of the House.”
Mr Jones’s speech received a standing ovation and was applauded by David Burt, the Premier.
Mr Burt said: “I would like to thank somebody who has joined us from overseas.
“He said that this was his first international speaking engagement and he was rather nervous — but I think that he did OK.
“Justin, thank you for your message, thank you for your courage, and thank you for setting an example.“
In what sounded like a pre-election campaign speech and an attempt to shore up support from his Cabinet, Mr Burt went on: “This evening is certainly a time of celebration but the Progressive Labour Party government knows that there are those here on our island and many hard-working Bermudians that are facing difficult times.
“The work that we’ve done since we came to office is a body of work that we can be proud of, but we also recognise that there is much more work to be done.
“Now more than ever it is imperative that we all come together and that we all join our efforts as we progress to the next election.
“Because, as our speaker said, policies, not personalities. Because despite how you may feel about some persons in the Cabinet, or maybe even the leader, I can guarantee you that that there is not a single person inside of this room today who are members of the Progressive Labour Party that want to see the One Bermuda Alliance in the government again.
“So it is vital and important that we continue our mission to deliver for the people of Bermuda and, let us not forget, the policies don’t come from me, they come from the members of this party. Our job is to carry them out.“