By AVA TURNQUEST
Tribune Chief Reporter
POINTING to the hundreds of protestors that flooded Bay Street chanting “enough is enough”, We March Bahamas lead organiser Ranard Henfield yesterday forecast that the movement was poised to “take over the government” at the election polls later this year.
Mr Henfield praised the event’s turnout, which he claimed was three times the size of the group’s Black Friday march in November, as a sign that “the people have found their voice”.
He pledged that the group was working on compiling information gathered through focus groups into “the people’s manifesto”, an election campaign tool that supporters can use to educate candidates vying for their vote.
We March intends to print and distribute 150,000 copies of the brochure at its next march, according to Mr Henfield, who said that organisers will not announce its date until they apply for Cabinet approval next week.
“I think it’s three times the numbers we had on Black Friday,” he said. “I was expecting the numbers to triple and we saw that today. It shows you that the movement is growing, more people are prepared to stand up, more people are prepared to offer solutions and not cower to an administration that is trying to shut us down or muzzle us.
“The people have found their voice, and they want to be heard and we want to register, we want to vote, and we’re going to take over the government.”
Notwithstanding setbacks that included a date change, and Cabinet’s
denial of their request to occupy Rawson Square, the group’s second protest on the historic Majority Rule holiday attracted moe than 1,000 supporters, who marched with passion from the Western Esplanade to Pompey Square calling for immediate relief to a myriad of social and economic issues, and decrying a lack of transparency and accountability in governance. The march got underway shortly after 10am and an estimate was provided by a police officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because officers are now discouraged from giving such estimations.
While organisers stressed that the event would be staged with decency and order, the march momentarily descended into chaos shortly before noon as calls grew for protestors to push on to Rawson Square rather than file into Pompey Square. Several persons moved through the crowds encouraging marchers to be defiant in response to the government’s denial of their request to occupy Rawson Square as they had done at the Black Friday march, pointing out that the space was not being used at the time.
Pastor C B Moss said: “Their permit is for Pompey Square but the size of the square is such that Pompey Square is inadequate, and as Rawson Square is free and available then the people should (go). I suggest that the people go to Rawson Square where they can be properly accommodated.
“I take the position that in April 1965, that they call Black Tuesday, I was on Bay Street just like this. The police at that time told us we couldn’t be there, to move, but we didn’t move, and that’s why we’re here today. We shouldn’t move, no, we should go to Rawson Square.”
Incensed by this sentiment, some 300 protestors ignored the calls of organisers to abide by the permit, and marched past onlooking police officers repeatedly shouting “Rawson Square”, “the power of the people is greater than the people in power” and “oh they scared, they scared”.
Among protestors in that breakaway group was Free National Movement Leader Hubert Minnis, and several of his party’s candidates.
“They march for a future and they want to be heard,” Dr Minnis said.
“This is the people’s time the people will be heard. What the people are showing and telling the government is they are tired of things being thrown down their throat. They are tired of secrecy they want complete transparency and they want to know what’s going on in their country.”
The break away group assembled at Rawson Square for about 15 minutes as protestors struggled to determine whether organisers were following them or remained at Pompey Square.
However, the crowd dissipated once organisers took the stage in Pompey Square.
“When we arrived at Pompey Square, someone suggested that we continue on to Rawson,” Mr Henfield explained. “I said no we have to do things in decency and order, so I went to the (police) inspector and I said we have permission to come to Pompey Square could we walk down to Rawson and make the block and come back, but he said no we can’t.
“So I told them no we can’t,” he said, “we can’t expect an administration to be accountable, to follow the law, if we’re not going to follow the law. John (Bostwick II) and I agreed, we can’t be breaking the law, you can’t be asking for the government to be law-abiding and accountable, because the crowd is angry.”
Once at Pompey Square, protestors settled in for a series of speeches from civil society, community activists to concerned citizens, and beloved music icon Ronnie Butler. The platform also featured leading activist groups like ReEarth, the Grand Bahama Human Rights Association, and Citizens for a Better Bahamas.
“This is serious business,” Mr Butler told the crowd. “Ain’t nothing jokey about this, I went down Burma Road 50 years ago, I’m going back again. I going back for all my Bahamian people.
“I am here really and truly on this day, the holiday, whatever day it is don’t mean much to me right now, when I know there are so many people in this country suffering. It don’t mean much to me right now when those who have [a lot] of money and they wouldn’t give a dime to help all these poor people.
“They are all for themselves,” Mr Butler said, “but I’m not going to take much of your time. Let me just say this, monkey was working in a machine shop and he skipping and skipping around in this machine shop, and he’s happy because he has everything in the world he want. “One day he stuck his tail in the machine and look around and say ain’t long now. So I say to you, how long?” Mr Butler asked the crowd.
The crowd replied: “Ain’t long now.”
Striking a more sombre tone, mother Sonia Kemp made an impassioned call for community action to combat crime. Ms Kemp spoke of the immense grief suffered by herself and her family after her 19-year-old son Shaquille, a promising Bahamas Academy student with three scholarships lined up, was killed by a stray bullet in 2014.
“I marched for a better future for my two small children,” said a 34-year-old protestor.
A 40-year-old protestor said: “I’m marching for my children too, but not just my children, my children’s children. I’m marching for the country to change, nothing is fair in this country. I want equality in this country and I want things to be fair. I don’t want the government to think they can run this country any way they want to do it, without consequences.
“And I need some people to be arrested,” the protestor continued, “this is the only place in the world where you don’t get arrested for white collar crime. The crimes that we have in this country, people need to get arrested, and until that happens I will continue to march.”
The group’s manifesto will address five pillars: social, political, economic, and labour reform and better management of natural resources and the environment, according to Mr Henfield, adding that it would also feature Family Island and youth perspectives.
“The end game isn’t to march,” Mr Henfield told protestors, “the end game is to put forth the people’s manifesto and by that you are able to say to any candidate this is what is in the best interest of the people, the best interest of the majority, not in the best interest of whoever owns Baha Mar.
“I’ve had persons say We March is anti-PLP I can assure you today that plenty people that are a part of We March are PLP, FNM, DNA, Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, rich, black, white, poor. You know what we have in common, we are Bahamians.
“Every administration wants power,” he continued, “me and you don’t care about power, we want to do more than survive we want to do more than pay our bills and cry.
“We want to have savings, we want to have something to leave for our children, we want to enjoy life.”
He continued: “We have to stand, we have to advocate, we have to keep pushing, but you have to register. It makes no sense if you march if you don’t get informed, you have to be informed.”