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You Cannot Silence Protesters

EDITOR, The Tribune.

Following the comments made by MP for Tall Pines, a small but mighty group has responded in various ways, including direct dialogue and a comprehensive email to Minister of Social Services Melanie Griffin and Prime Minister Perry Christie. They have both failed to respond, forcing us to involve others in the conversation and the push for government action.

The Call to Action listing our reasonable requests of the government is posted on bahamas.ihollback.org, and we invite all citizens and residents of The Bahamas to view it.

On Wednesday, March 19, HollaBack! Bahamas joined forces with Bahamas Against Sexual Violence & Child Abuse and Citizens for a Better Bahamas to hold a peaceful – not silent – protest in Rawson Square from 9-11am. We were pleased to have entrepreneurs, actors, artists, writers, and activists join us in the effort to gain the attention of Members of Parliament who seem to have forgotten about us and our votes since May 2012.

Leader of the Opposition Dr Hubert Minnis, Speaker of the House Dr Kendal Major, and Richard Lightbourne MP crossed the street to speak with members of our group.

We had a DJ, sound systems, speakers, placards, purpose, and contagious positive energy. Imagine our surprise when no less than three Superintendents of police stormed through Rawson Square, demanding that the music be turned down. Please note that I have heard louder music travelling up the street from a small house party. Apparently the music was disturbing the proceedings within the House of Assembly.

Police officers refused to advise us of an appropriate volume for the music and could not seem to reach a consensus on whether or not we need to turn it down more or turn it off completely. Our letter of permission from the Cabinet Office – copied to Commissioner of Police and PS of Ministry of Works & Urban Renewal – was ignored and, eventually, we were instructed to shut it down.

Unable to utilise the sound system, inclusive of speakers and microphone, we resorted to chanting and using goatskin drums. Even this was considered out of order to the police who then told us we could not beat our drums. Let it be known to all reading this newspaper that the beating of a drum is not permissible on the public sidewalks in this country. I will exercise great restraint by not pointing out what has been allowed in the House of Assembly.

With only our voices to carry our message, we used the call-and-respond method of chanting. Violence against women? Not funny! Government leaders? Act now! It was at this point that police pushed us back, further away from the street. We seemed to be blocking the path of (invisible) tourists, but about half of the 22 police officers sent to guard us then took our former places, blocking the same path they claimed we did.

We were happy to have passersby join us, encourage us, toot their horns in support as they drove by, give us high-fives, and nod in approval. Though many were not able to physically join us, we felt their support and concurrence with our requests as the sent text message, Facebook messages, and tweets.

Members of the core group responding to this matter have experienced backlash from the apathetic, unapologetic, and ignorant. We have been asked to be quiet. We have been asked to “just let it die”. Let it die along with more of our country’s women? We want to make it abundantly clear that we will not be silenced. To those who are constantly telling us that “he already apologised,” please note that this is not about one man, one incident, one comment, one political party, or one government. This is about the mindset that leads people of various religions, political affiliations, genders, and backgrounds to boldly make harmful statements, refuse to apologise with fervour, and let such things go without reproach. This is about breaking the silence and igniting conversation on an issue that has ripped through our nation and contributed to almost half the murders over the past 20 years. This is a dialogue between the people and their leaders – one inviting the other to come to the table, talk, and strategise.

Those who are happy to sit quietly are welcome to it, but I do not recommend standing in the way of those who are ready and willing to act. They may be tired of hearing about it, but that will never trump the women who are tired of being beaten, the children tired of watching their mothers cover bruises, or the people who feel powerless, or those carrying the burden of shame or guilt. Their exhaustion does not phase us.

We speak for the voiceless.

For those who are happily seated in the House of Assembly, we urge them to remember who put them there. They are not there for themselves, but to represent their constituents, many of whom are women. Many of them do not have a voice, and that is why HollaBack! Bahamas, BASC&CA, and Citizens for a Better Bahamas are here. We will not be silenced or ignored.

Their army of 22 uniformed police officers (including at least four superintendents) crowded around us, took away our speakers and deemed our drums a disturbance, but we were not intimidated.

We were not chased from our own streets, or turned into the silent monsters.

The battle continues. We will keep the conversation going, and welcome newcomers to the roundtable. We hope to meet the decision-makers – especially the Prime Minister and Minister of Social Services – on common ground before the tables turn and someone more privileged becomes the butt of a “joke”.

ALICIA WALLACE

Nassau,

March 19, 2014.

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