Tomorrow the Bahamas celebrates 50 years of Majority Rule. But, Rashad Rolle asks, will recognition of an historic milestone be overshadowed by modern day dissatisfaction and marches?
TOMORROW the Bahamas will recognise the 50th anniversary of Majority Rule, one of the most transformative events in the shaping of the modern Bahamas.
Majority Rule institutionalised “black power” - “spelled with a small ‘b’ and a small ‘p’,” the late Sir Lynden Pindling told Black Enterprise Magazine in 1973.
For him, that characterisation differentiated the country’s new order from movements in the United States more closely associated with “violence and disorder”.
“(Majority Rule) means a country in which the majority of the population is black (and has a black majority government),” Sir Lynden said.
On January 10, 1967, both the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) and the United Bahamian Party (UBP) won 18 parliamentary seats during the general election, with the remaining two going to Randol Fawkes, of the Labour Party, and Alvin Braynen, an Independent.
Both sided with the PLP, helping the party to form the first black-led government. Mr Braynen became Speaker of the House.
This achievement was a culmination of years of struggle that stretched across national events and movements like the Burma Road Riots of 1942, the creation of the PLP in 1953, the General Strike of 1958, the Women’s Suffrage Movement of the 1960s and Black Tuesday, which occurred on April 27, 1965.
The General Strike, for instance, helped pave the way for Majority Rule which led to key constitutional reforms.
The upheaval caused by the strike led to the end of the property and company votes in 1959, taking away a tool the UBP wielded to hold on to power.
That same year, the freedom to vote was extended to all men over 21 and four new parliamentary seats were created.
As another example, the events of Black Tuesday in 1965 also helped pave the way for Majority Rule by arousing the imaginations of Bahamians, increasing the PLP’s popularity and stirring the kind of black nationalistic fervour that sustained the party in the subsequent general election.
During a debate in the House of Assembly on boundaries, then opposition leader Sir Lynden picked up the mace, the ultimate symbol of the Speaker’s authority.
“The mace is supposed to belong to the people of the country and the people are outside,” he said, tossing the mace through the window to the crowd below.
Sir Milo Butler followed him by tossing the hourglass through the window.
Ultimately, when it was achieved, Majority Rule was a promise, a symbol that a level playing field had come to The Bahamas.
In reality, it would take time before all the modern facets of the Bahamian democracy, such as reduced gerrymandering and the reduction of the voting age from 21 to 18, were established.
Yet for all the symbolic and substantive significance of Majority Rule, for all made-for-theatre drama of Black Tuesday and for all the tales of Bahamians walking off their job sites in 1958, one question about Majority Rule remains open-ended as the country heads into tomorrow’s holiday: do Bahamians care?
The signs hardly suggest many do. The Ministry of Tourism is organising official ceremonies commemorating the event, but there have been no signs of organic, grassroots celebrations intended to take place.
Tomorrow’s protest by We March Bahamas will be disruptive to the celebrations, a political statement highlighting dissatisfaction with the direction of the country, not a celebration of “one person, one vote” or racial equality.
Likewise, the PLP’s Majority Rule march takes place against the backdrop of a party wanting to highlight the support it has ahead of the next general election.
The sentiment of “Majority Rule means nothing to me” came from several people interviewed by The Tribune last week when asked about the historic day.
For some, the milestone has been re-imagined too much as a PLP accomplishment for which Bahamians are indebted, despite the fact that some of the people who fought on the frontlines in events and movements that paved the way for Majority Rule did so without a political motive or later became associated with the Free National Movement (FNM) or other parties.
One person told The Tribune: “I have no connection to the holiday because I think the importance has been replaced by a political ideology that separates and divides more than it unites; this ideology that says the PLP saved us all so we should be grateful.”
Another person, who wanted to be identified only as Adderley, said: “Once the majority black people got in and they saw what the system was like, they realised it benefited their family, lovers and friends just the way it was, and they said, to hell with them out there.”
Yet another, who only wanted to be identified as Carlton, said Majority Rule “taught us to hate the white man”.
He added: “I think Majority Rule hurt us more than it helped us. There’s some good things that came out of Majority Rule. We knew and found out that there is a strength and togetherness but after that all our political leaders did was divide and conquer.”
Indeed, one’s perspective on Majority Rule is likely to be coloured by one’s perspective on politics more generally.
For many Bahamians, the significance of having an equal say in determining the composition of their government is not an achievement to be viewed for its own merit, but instead is evaluated through the prism of whether political parties have lived up to their promise since that time.
The struggle embodied in Majority Rule, after all, was not racial equality for the sake of racial equality; it was a struggle for greater outcomes for the majority of people, with racial equality a necessary precursor to achieving that ultimate goal.
Whatever Majority Rule means to each person, the day will always objectively symbolise progress towards equality when it comes to the ability of most Bahamians to determine their country’s future, regardless of the performance of political parties.
“Fifty years later we recognise there are problems and obstacles along our journey,” Latrae Rahming, press secretary for Prime Minister Perry Christie, told The Tribune.
“We recognise the imperfection of our human progress. The voyage to a better Bahamas came at the expense of human suffering and discomforting endurance. The cause of building a promising future for all Bahamians is not a partisan one; it’s a fundamental responsibility for us as citizens to work in a national interest.”
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