By Rev Canon Sebastian S Campbell
How fortunate to have been part and parcel of the campaign to Independence. To have witnessed it, heard the arguments for and against it, it helps me to know pretenders who today claim to have supported it then. The most defining moment in Bahamian history was viciously challenged on "stupid" political and selfish lines.
I heard ridiculous arguments advanced by opposing forces such as: Independence, yes, but not now. The Bahamas is not ready for so great a feat. Cuba will reach out its long hands and put little Bahamas into its big pockets. Don't get rid of the white man, for we know where our bread is buttered. Blacks are not ready to lead. The Bahamas has no army to defend itself against an attack. It will mean hard work we are not familiar with.
How can we forget the separatist movement in Abaco, with Errington Watkins prominent in it. Abaco, it was alleging, wanted to leave the Bahamas if indeed independence was ever realised. I am not for certain when they rescinded this position. Prime Minister Lynden Pindling opined that he always questioned the seriousness of those proposing this movement.
I personally remember misguided sentiments that had the potential to wreck our Bahamian ship of state as it sailed into uncharted seas. For some, independence meant smooth sailing, or better put, "a rose garden" environment. There was the belief that every foreigner was to be banished from these shores and the country seize their wealth. There was the fierce argument to switch from being a colony of Great Britain and becoming tied colonially to the United States. Others opined that we had already achieved this association from which, too, we must be freed.
In Cat Island, our thoughts centered on the basic sustenance of life that eluded us. We thought it meant all Bahamians would be equal in opportunities such as a high school education, which was not available on our home shore. And yes, we honestly hoped it would usher in running water, electricity and the likes. We had painted a rosy picture; we thought it was possible that at the stroke of midnight a new day of instant opportunities would arrive.
An intense campaign was necessary and was waged up until the September 19, 1972 General Election, which was used as a referendum to empower the government to go forward in this pursuit. Prime Minister Pindling blazed the trail, when in April 1972, he said, "We should always use our heads to make the most of our pride of being. Independence will mean work for us all, self reliance for all, dignity for us all, and reward for us all. But the mere fact of Independence will not promise us a rose garden."
We have still the Herculean tasks of our social problems striking at every breast. Some of us carrying more than our fair share - poverty, teenage pregnancy, poor health, squalid conditions, school non-attendance, domestic violence, substance abuse, suicide, divorce, homosexuality, unemployment, drug abuse...need we go on? But too many Family Islands have unique problems, unknown to city-slickers. Basic needs of life are still not addressed, like the running water in Cat Island, the population drain from our Southern Islands. After 43 years and three prime ministers we still wrestle for answers in attaining the simple, basic necessities in our Out Islands, as "one Bahamas" eludes us. Anger and despair are constant companions in many settlements and in our inner-city.
Not once must we ever be misled in even imagining these are government-only challenges. Our collective heads must bump together and our churches must come together with civic Bahamas. We must be more proactive in the fight for human rights and human dignity. Our clergy must play an essential role in strengthening communities and respond to endemic ills. Partnerships must be sought and become a living reality to rescue our perishing Bahamians who have fallen below the dignity lines. Our national independence can best be lived out through inter-dependence.
P Anthony White addressing this issue says, "Regrettable, distressingly, it is apparent that far too few Bahamians, even some of those who were ardent supporters of the later Sir Lynden Pindling, were ever familiar with that momentous counsel the father of the nation gave Bahamians more than a year before Independence. Too many Bahamians look for that 'rose garden; they will not find it until and unless they cultivate it themselves. But again many slackers normally get along quite well mostly to the tolerance and permissiveness of others, but as years go by and hairs go grey they would do well still to heed Sir Lynden's words and teach the young the true story of Independence."
The journey continues lined with potholes and booby traps. Only the brave will survive it, the less brave we must carry on our shoulders until they learn to be daring and bold enough to walk courageously in claiming this land as their own.