By Alicia Wallace
We are plagued by the desire for a hero. When anything goes wrong, we look for someone to save the day. When we are frustrated, we call radio talk shows and make angry posts and comments on social media until someone comes up with an action. Depending on who it is and how they position themselves, we may get on board. We are more prepared to follow than to lead and, when we have options, we follow the person who looks most like a hero. It is easier that way. Less is required of us. We can set high expectations and maybe even make a few demands, then wait for the hero to fight, conquer and deliver.
Inevitably, the hero becomes a problem, whether we recognize it or not. What they accomplish is their victory alone. There is little interest in collaboration or feedback because we were all comfortable with being on the sidelines before they took the throne. The hero is prepared to lead, but not to represent. Decisions are theirs to make and they can do no wrong. How could they, after doing so much and having such strong support all along?
Before the 2017 general election
During the campaign for the general election last year, Minnis was framed as an unlikely hero. While some saw an ill-prepared underdog, others saw characteristics that were unusual for a political contender and understood the difference to be positive. We did not need what we had been dealt before. He would bring a new attitude and a different energy to the position of Prime Minister.
He was a lacklustre public speaker, but people were convinced he was more personable, humble and reachable that those we had seen before. He would be more likely to listen to our concerns, be open to our ideas and lead with compassion. He would be open to counsel.
Minnis would be the change we needed, not because he demonstrated this to us, but because we chose to believe it at a time when we wanted a hero, different from the sort Christie was supposed to be. No one else who presented themselves had been able to get past the roadblocks of ancient intra-party politics. He was what the Free National Movement offered and we accepted.
Before the election, Henfield organized a march. He convinced the Bahamian people that he, like us, was sick and tired of business as usual. He persuaded droves of people to wear black and march with him, but with their own causes. This impressed people. They could choose an issue they cared about and march for it. It gave the illusion of unity, capitalizing on mass dissatisfaction.
The only consensus reached was that people were angry, wanted change, and would use the impending election to pressure all parties and politicians to listen to hundreds of demands. Those demands have yet to be met, but the march did accomplish a few things.
A few months ahead of the general election, the march gave the FNM reasonable certainty that it would win and this certainly affected its campaign (which hitched its wagon to the march). It also proved Bahamians have a general understanding of protests and what it communicates to politicians, but most are only willing to do so when the issue is their own — so not necessarily in support of others — and it feels like nothing else can be done. It did not, however, create a culture of shared responsibility, (appreciation for) activism, or collective action. It was a single event led by a perceived hero, powered by the people’s anger.
A year and a half in
Now Prime Minister, Minnis cannot even be bothered to speak to the press. He refuses to use the Press Secretary — a position of his own making — or keep his commitment to hold regular meetings with the press. When asked questions by members of the press, he deflects, insults them, or makes it clear he is more interested in his leisure time — from stew fish to Junkanoo parade results — than addressing the concerns of the Bahamian public. Yesterday, he was asked whether or not he was concerned about the possibility of a national strike. He said he was more concerned about the Saxons winning Junkanoo. Priorities.
Minnis did a terrible job of selling himself as Prime Minister, but the Progressive Liberal Party did a great job at defeating itself, his constituents like him and people chose to read his indifference as humility. We are now saddled with a Prime Minister who is not interested in leadership, representation, or even communication. We are treated like children who do not deserve explanations, much less to be a part of decision-making processes.
What we saw in 2016 is what we have now — a prime minister who is aloof as best, and disrespectful at worse. Many who found it endearing before now realize it is a problem.
Henfield has not been much better. There was heated debate when he accepted the position as senator. He had convinced supporters the march was not an FNM effort, he did not have political aspirations and would always be with the people, agitating for change from the ground.
It was not only disappointing, but insulting for many to see the swift change in position and prolonged silence about issues that matter since his appointment. He recently showed his ill-preparedness for the position he holds, not only as a senator, but as one many continue to regard as a hero. In addition to sensationalizing an event, suggesting that he saved people from harm, he got into an argument with someone commenting on a Facebook post he had made. He used a homophobic slur against the person and, after much rebuke, posted an “apology” that focused on his imagination that he was protecting someone else’s honor. He never acknowledged the harm caused to the LGBTQI+ community by using the slur meant to demean the person by comparing them to LGBTQI+ people.
Conversations about this incident in other spaces proved such behaviour cannot be excused and has real impact on marginalized people, many of whom already live in fear. Henfield has clearly been seduced by the hero’s fanfare and fails to care about the lives of individuals. His behavior has been no better than Minnis’.
What do we need?
What makes a person to fit to lead? Who is seen as a hero? Are these — leaders and heroes — what we really need? We need to reshape what we have come to think of as leadership roles. Our needs, along with our conditions, have changed. Our capacities for learning and participating are constantly shifting. Our willingness to collaborate and co-create need to increase.
We can no longer be dependent on one person to bring change. Heroes have failed us. They have proven that they are either incapable or uninterested in participatory decision-making practices, acknowledging the expertise we have, or receiving criticism. By putting our burdens on their shoulders and following their lead without challenge, we communicate that we are unwilling or unable to be a part of the change. We signal that we will not stop them any more than we stopped the people before them.
Heroes and leaders are just people, and they are likely given titles they do not deserve. There are more than the two mentioned here, one of less consequence than the other.
It is difficult to talk about virtues like honesty when there is not even the respect to answer questions at all. Perhaps that is our biggest problem today. We make kings of men who would sooner rush down Bay Street than face the reality of a potential national strike. Some see it as a harmless joke, but the unions do not appear to be laughing. Their issue is our issue — lack of respect — and they are demanding it now.