By Alicia Wallace
Our system of governance and political party structures and systems need work. We have been calling for reform of these systems, often without concrete recommendations, for years. They are not working for us and they haven’t for a long time. This is part of the reason Out Da Box started, and we ran a campaign to call attention not only to the shortcomings, but the possibilities, and the ways we, as citizens, could bring the change we need.
When the formation of the Democratic National Alliance (DNA) was announced, some were hopeful that it would help us to get us out of the two-party rut. Any merits of the new party, however, were overshadowed by other issues including the perception of the DNA as part of a temper tantrum by someone who was not getting his own way, questionable nomination and appointment practices and being yet another party break off from an existing party, lacking its own clear principles. There was nothing to indicate a real difference, or give hope for a future we wanted and believed possible through that party. Add to it the anti-woman positions taken by then leader Branville McCartney, and all bets were off for those of us paying attention to issues of social justice.
Is it enough weight?
During the last election season, people paid attention to the DNA, though uncertain about giving their support and risk “wasted votes” when it seemed obvious either the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) or the Free National Movement (FNM) would win, as usual. There was one standout candidate who seemed to know the issues, could speak to them off the cuff, was willing to participate in public dialogue, and did not reek of the politics of yesteryear. Arinthia Komolafe, pictured below, impressed us, and we wondered why she was not the party’s leader into the 2017 general elections. Finally, this week, it was announced that she is the new leader of the DNA. There is no one better suited to the position and, of course, it is great to see someone is a woman and under the age of 40 take on the role. Could this be a turning point in Bahamian party politics?
The PLP and FNM still don’t see the DNA as a real factor, but maybe the DNA is playing the long game. It is possible that the party does not expect to win, but is creeping toward greater relevance and, through its commentary on current affairs, gaining the trust of the Bahamian people.
The DNA had, by far, the highest proportion of women candidates in 2017. The PLP and FNM both had abysmal representation of women, and this is evident in the number of women currently in Parliament and Cabinet, even with nearly a clean sweep by the FNM. As long as we do not have a gender quota, it will be up to political parties themselves to effort to ensure their slate of candidates is representative. It is up to us to demand better representation, and we can do this by drawing attention to parties’ favourable behavior, recommending candidates, and putting ourselves forward.
Komolafe as a catalyst
Everyone interested in politics, working on specific issues, and offering commentary is not interested in frontline politics, but there are definitely some who can be convinced, or are waiting for the right moment. The announcement of Arinthia Komolafe’s leadership of the DNA could be a catalyst for other women to step forward. We need women who are experts in a broad range of fields. Our current Cabinet shows how important it is to think beyond constituency representatives, considering candidates’ potential to manage ministerial portfolios.
Given the number of development projects being discussed, waste management issues, and the consequences of climate change, we need environmental experts to be elected. Differently-abled people suffer discrimination and, even with the passing of the Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities) Act, still struggle to get people to understand why they should not park in spaces clearly marked for those who need them, and there is no recourse. Who is best able to address such issues? Our schools are never all ready to open on time following the summer break, and some are plagued with serious structural issues and health hazards. The union is constantly calling attention to these problems. How different would it be if the strongest voices were at the table, able to make decisions they have been pushing for from the outside?
Moving to the inside
In “Dismantling the Master’s House with the Master’s Tools?” (in “Feminist Post-Development Thought” edited by Bahamian Kriemild Saunders) Kathleen Stuadt makes a distinction between insiders and outsiders, highlighting the important roles of each group and the need for them to work together. Outsiders — largely advocates and practitioners — have long known that we need to be able to influence the people on the inside who are the decision-makers, but the insiders do not often view the relationship with the same fondness or reverence. They are there for their own reasons and often, even if they personally agree with us, don’t have enough invested in the outcome to go up against the system they are in. Assuming we move beyond difference in opinion, how do we address the difference in investment?
The obvious answer is for outsiders to move to the inside. We know what we need and, through study and experience, we know the process for making it happen. Why don’t the Belinda Wilsons, Sam Duncombes, Erin Greenes, and other well-informed, vocal people just get in there?
What we have seen happen all over the world is the consumption of well-meaning people by the system. Sometimes the outsiders-turned-insiders are outnumbered and become exhausted. Sometimes they are misled. At times, they start to make progress, election time rolls around again, and they have to start again from scratch (if they are lucky enough to still be on the inside). It isn’t quite as easy as it sounds, and sometimes outsiders choose to stay on the outside to be able to speak freely (unbound by party politics) and maintain a clear view of circumstances. We often say “power corrupts,” and this is a source of fear for many on the outside. How does an outsider know they can stay true to their cause? Before that, how does an outsider know they can get in?
Roles and responsibilities
All of us don’t have to rush to put our names forward at once. We don’t need to sign up with major political parties, or figure out how to run as independents. What we need to do is have the conversation. Who among us is willing to move to the inside, and work toward the change we all know we need? Who stands the best chance? Who has the most comprehensive and precise understanding of the inside world? This is as much about strategy and optics as it is about passion and skill. We need more independent thinkers, more practitioners, more women, and more people who have a greater commitment to our communities and ensuring members’ needs are met than to what frequently devolves into a race to the next election.
We need people who can win, and are willing to lose or not even be in the race the next time around because they did what they went there to do. Politicians often want to see certain changes, but they will not be the ones to advance them either because they want to win their seat in the next election, or they want to secure their candidacy within their parties, and neither of those is possible with unpopular positions, no matter how right they may be. We need people who put the common good above self-interest.
We have three years until the next general election. It is not too early to start thinking about names on ballots. Whose names do we want to see, and how can we best support them? Who may not be willing to move to the inside, but has the ability to train others for the job?
Some of us have to stay on the outside to agitate and support those on the inside. Some of us have to organise, encourage, record, and campaign. The shift can take place in many ways. Outsiders could join the political parties of their choice, determine which political party best aligns with their interests, start a new party, or run as independents. Some of these options clearly require a greater investment than others, and a decision can only be made through a meeting of the outsiders, outlining the shared vision, and determining the type and amount of investment each person is willing to make. Enough with the lawyers and doctors. That’s not working. Let’s change the way ballots look in 2022.