With Member of Parliament for Centreville Reece Chipman’s departure from the Free National Movement, there is been quite a bit of talk about loyalty. The prime minister took the opportunity, while speaking at the funeral of Tennyson Wells, to drive home the point that political parties require loyalty. This is no secret. We know that members of political parties are expected to toe the party line. They are supposed to think the same way, or do an exceptional job of pretending they do. There are to be no arguments, no differences of opinion - and definitely no public positions that oppose the party point of view. Since Members of Parliament are elected by their constituents, this presents a problem.
We have already seen how a party’s position can disadvantage a community, and difficult decisions representatives must then make. Do they stand with their constituents and point out the issues, demanding reconsideration of the issue, or do they stay in the good graces of their colleagues within the party and go along with the programme? Recall the debate about increasing Value Added Tax. FNM Members of Parliament were taken to task for opposing the proposed increase, even though they spoke on behalf of their constituents, as they are elected to do.
For whom do Members of Parliament work? Is it for us, the Bahamian people? Or is it for the puppet masters behind every move the political party makes? We know where the money comes from and who makes the final decision about who gets the job (or, more precisely, who doesn’t get the job), but those employers - Bahamian citizens - do not have direct, consistent oversight. Maybe we have the right to oversight, but do not exercise it, possibly because we have never taken the time to develop the tools that would enable us to do it within the existing political environment. We may have been lax in developing appropriate tools due to lack of confidence in the current system.
Are we saving our energy for the deconstruction of the ill-fitting neo-colonial system that, in more ways than we care to consider, is failing us?
Politicians are called to be loyal to their parties. In the last election, we saw an overwhelming number of independent candidates. This was exciting, and many of us were prepared to consider them. The issue many of us could not think past was their relative power in parliament if they were, by some miracle, to win their seats. How much influence would they have? If one party got an overwhelming majority of seats, what good would our independent Members of Parliament do?
We now have an independent Member of Parliament, due in part to the reality of partisan politics. He noted a great distance between parliament and the people of The Bahamas. It is unclear how this move will do more than demonstrate Chipman’s dissatisfaction with the FNM or the nature of party politics, but it will be interesting to see how it affects proceedings, decision-making, and public discourse.
Members of Parliament are elected by the people. There is, of course, a conversation to be had about the way candidates are selected and the exclusion of the general public from the process. We are presented with candidates, usually tied to a political party, and instructed to make a choice. From the moment they are announced, they become synonymous with a party, a set of colours, and a potential prime minister. Their representation of constituencies is already secondary.
It follows that their loyalty is understood to be, first and foremost, with the party and its leadership.
We have to go back to system, to process and to practice addressing the issue of loyalty and true representation.
Chipman might just show us what it looks like to have a true representative, focused on service to his constituency rather than an old machine and the people who insist it is working just fine. We have two and a half years to see how it goes.
A level playing field?
Conversations about Haitian migrants continue in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian and it is clear many see the disaster as an opportunity to expel people they consider undesirable.
It is interesting to observe frustrated Bahamians as they lament the inability of Bahamian climate refugees to enter the United States while insisting that Haitian migrants have got to go. The real issue here is not immigration itself.
We understand that people enter and exit countries for various reasons, and we are happy to participate in this activity. We intentionally travel to other countries to give birth in order to give our children access to another citizenship. We encourage our children to leave The Bahamas, get their education elsewhere, and try to stay.
We are happy to hire low-wage workers to do the tasks we do not have the time or the will to take on.
As long as they remain underfoot, it is fine. As long as they are humble, defer to us, and do not aspire to anything beyond the work and standard of living we consider suitable for them, they can remain. Cut the grass, mind the children, paint the house, sit with mama, and iron the clothes. That is all “those people” are meant to do.
A friend of mine shared a personal story a few days ago about his experience as the child of Haitian migrants.
They lived on the property of the parents’ employers who tried to keep them from leaving, impacting the children’s access to education. They were treated as tools for production rather than human beings.
It is important to note the similarities between slavery and the Bahamian micro-economy and its dependence on migrant (low-wage) labour.
We accept that wealthy people from Canada, the U.S., and the UK come to The Bahamas to take ownership and control of resources and get jobs that were never meant for Bahamians.
These are not the people we target with our “Bahamians first” rhetoric. We imagine they are somehow more deserving than migrants from the south. We are prepared to embrace people who have far less in common with us, and shun those who experienced the same historical violence, oppression and trauma. Is it an issue of race, colour, or class? What is it, exactly, that makes one group of people more eligible to come to The Bahamas to live and work?
What do they have to do to earn our respect as human beings or, at the very least, to be safe and have their physiological needs met, particularly in a disastrous situation like the one we face now? Who gets to be human?
Don’t wait to be asked
Most of us are fortunate enough to have what we call true, true friends. They are there in an instant when we call, they celebrate our wins as if they are their own, they tell us when we are wrong and they help us to meet our needs. We do the same for them and consider ourselves good friends too.
I have a few friends who give me their support whenever I need it. Perhaps more importantly, I have friends that do not wait for me to ask. I think about these friends and the way they pay attention, anticipate and show up, especially as I try to help others.
I think about how difficult it is, when under pressure or experiencing great discomfort, to assess one’s own needs and ask for help.
We cannot always expect people to be able to tell us what they need, and we should not make the assumption that all is well unless they tell us otherwise.
We all have strong friends, and we often forget to check on them. Ask them how they are doing and find out if they need anything, but go further than that.
Think about their situation, and offer the help you know they need. Particularly for friends who have experienced trauma, it is important to have visible support systems. Regular check-ins, planned events, and helping without being asked can go a long way.
Good friends, advocates, and community workers take the work out of asking for help.
We use the information we have combined with the resources we can access to meet needs because, in many cases, we see the need before they do.
Don’t wait for them to ask for help. Give it.