By VOTE YES BAHAMAS
YESTERDAY, we as a people celebrated the 45th anniversary of majority rule in the Bahamas. This milestone is one of the many that helped strengthen the democracy we are still working to perfect.
Other battles waged by men and women of resolve also paved the way on our path to a more harmonious commonwealth across this chain of islands.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement, the Independence Movement and the toils of both the Progressive Liberal Party and Free National Movement have helped create a society in which more Bahamians are freer to choose how they live their lives.
On January 28, Referendum Day, we as a people will have a chance to vote and make a decision on a non-constitutional matter of direct public policy.
We will get to tell our government if we want to be free to choose to participate in the gaming sector, or if we want to continue the discriminatory practice that bars Bahamians from participating in gaming.
We can vote yes to be free to choose, or we can vote no and continue to be denied freedoms in our own land.
The advance of freedom
The men and women who struggled to form the modern Bahamas had as a vision creating a society based on the ideals of equality, justice for all and the advancement of common people in a chain of islands where many at that time were not allowed to advance because of class, race or gender.
Our founders strived to create, as is states in the preamble to our Constitution, “a free and democratic sovereign nation” in which Bahamians would not be deprived of the opportunity to choose how they would live.
That objective, and the resolve of those men and women to reach it, helped push down the barriers of oppression in our country.
Men and women of all colours now sit in our Cabinets, in our Parliament and in our boardrooms. Boys and girls of all colours and backgrounds now sit in our classrooms; and based on their efforts and abilities, they can reach the highest heights in any sector they are allowed to participate in.
In democracies, however, the fight is never over to expand freedom and fairness.
Further work is now necessary in order for us to ensure women are constitutionally equal to men when it comes to passing on their citizenship.
Further work is also needed to ensure that Bahamians are free to participate in the gaming sector in their Bahamas.
Currently, foreigners can do what we cannot. This archaic gaming prohibition gives rights and privileges to visitors we Bahamians do not have. Bahamians can be arrested, prosecuted and jailed for doing the same thing they are allowed to do in the Bahamas.
We are second-class citizens in our own country in this regard. They are free to choose. We are not.
On Referendum Day, we as a people have the opportunity to continue the process of strengthening our democracy and expanding the rights and privileges of Bahamians. We can do this by voting yes to Bahamians being given the opportunities so unfairly denied to us for so many years.
We Bahamians have always believed that hardworking men and women have a right to responsibly spend the wealth they earn on reasonable forms of recreation. Some go dancing at the end of a hard week. Some take friends or family on a drive. Some go shopping. Who has the right to say to a mother that she cannot buy a new pair of shoes if she so chooses with the wealth she has earned?
Respect for the freedoms of others
The principle we must advance on Referendum Day is expanding choice and fairness in our society while also respecting the differences of others.
Once we expand gaming rights to Bahamians, not everyone will participate. Many people have no interest in gaming. Some will play sporadically. A small number of our citizens will be regulars hoping that Lady Luck would be kind to them.
In a healthy democracy this is how it should be. Those with differing habits, differing views and differing interests should all be able to live together and pursue their hobbies without there being discrimination against those who choose one reasonable form of recreation over another.
In further developing a society based on mutual respect, we the Bahamian people demonstrate that we have the wisdom to further evolve the democracy our founders left us with.
Thus far in our modern history, we the Bahamian people have not yet voted in a referendum to advance our rights and our democracy.
All Bahamians should take the opportunity on January 28 and make such a declaration. We should say emphatically and definitively that we do not want to be discriminated against in our own country.
We should say that we want our children to be able to be owners in the gaming industry. We should say that we want to be free to choose how we live our lives.
In order to make this bold and historic declaration, we must vote yes on Referendum Day. We the people have the power to make our country more democratic, freer. Let us not waste this opportunity.
• The Vote Yes Bahamas is a coalition of Bahamians committed to working towards equal treatment of Bahamians in the gaming sector.
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