The Bahamas has come a long way since it gained its independence in 1973. It was a few years before my time, but I have a sense of how exciting that period in our history must have been for Bahamians across the length and breadth of this country. It signified a new start for this archipelagic nation. A chance to level the playing field and for opportunity, equality, economic empowerment and social justice to thrive.
Now, I must make a confession. I was one of those persons who believed that because the Bahamas gained its independence through legislation-- as opposed to “fighting” for it like many other post-colonial countries - that it wasn’t something we had earned. My own ignorance caused me to discredit the hard work and sacrifice many Bahamians made in the years leading up to that pivotal moment in our history.
There is a statement I love that says “a people that does not learn from its history, is bound to repeat it.”
In the Bahamas, we tend to downplay the role everyday Bahamians played in the fight for justice, equality, economic empowerment and fair play. Often, it seems that we lack the interest and concern to educate ourselves about our past, which is unquestionably a prerequisite for progress. In doing so, we find ourselves repeating in principle some of the same things we fought so tirelessly against not long ago.
We did not gain our present-day freedoms in The Bahamas by simply lying on our backs in hopes of a brighter future. We fought, we protested, we made demands, we held strikes, we organized marches and took part in sit ins and sit outs to move our country forward.
Events like the Burma Road Riots in 1942, the Women’s Suffrage Movement that lead to women being given the right to vote in 1962, the General Strike in 1958 and Black Tuesday, are all moments in Bahamian history that remind us how ordinary Bahamians mobilized themselves to lead causes bigger than themselves.
Today, scores of Bahamians are becoming involved in civic groups, non-profit organizations and community volunteer programs - doing their part in keeping the flame of hope, justice and equality lit within our communities and throughout the country. Groups such as the two civic organizations that I’m involved with – The Organization for Responsible Governance (ORG) and Our Carmichael - who have been making a significant impact within the community.
While in principle these organizations rest on two different platforms, they possess a mutual purpose; which is to educate, advocate and empower. Both organizations are helping to advance and strengthen our democracy. And in doing so, are giving rise to a new wave of Bahamian activism
My decision to join these two organizations came after a deep reflection of the state of my country and being uncomfortable with the direction in which it is headed.
I believe the existence of ORG presents an opportunity for Bahamians to realize the part they play in ensuring that the government is held accountable, and that they know it is their right to understand how policies and decisions made by their government impacts their livelihood.
Our Carmichael is a community initiative birthed from a desire to empower the community to mobilize itself, by combining the tools and resources already available to them.This community-led group is changing the way people think, and encouraging individuals to empower themselves through education, entrepreneurship and social outreach.
As history has repeatedly shown, the fate of a country cannot rest in the hands of the government alone. While a government’s job is to work in the best interest and on behalf of its citizens, we know very well that sometimes that intention gets cloudy. And when that happens, corruption, abuse of power and distrust begins to fester.
So, what point am I trying to make here? Being a Bahamian is more than just being born here or holding a passport that says I’m a Bahamian.
Being a citizen of this country is to be concerned about its future. It means to be interested and engaged in conversations and the debates that advocate for change and accountability. It means to being committed to service.
It starts with becoming involved with groups such as Our Carmichael and ORG Bahamas. It starts by finding opportunities that promote volunteerism, civic engagement and community development.
It starts with participation and demonstration like the #BlackOutBahamas protest which happened November 25th, where Bahamians from all walks of life marched to parliament to voice their concern on a myriad of issues currently facing our country.
ORG, who participated in this peaceful protest via their engagement arm Campaign for The Bahamas, galvanized support and called on the government to make the proposed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) a priority on its agenda.
If we as Bahamians are serious about the future of our country, we must all join in and make our voices heard, at all levels of democratic participation. Black Friday was not a political march, and it was not a march against the government.
Rather, we wanted to send a clear message, to let our leaders know that we are no longer going to idly sit by when it comes to matters affecting the livelihood, safety and sovereignty of our people and country.
Our forefathers knew the importance of standing up for the rights and privileges they deserved as citizens of the Bahamas. They understood that progress is only possible when we are willing to face down corruption, favoritism, bigotry and cronyism.
They knew that the policies and decisions of the government of their time impacted not only their future but that of future generations and they also knew that sometimes you must take a stand. As difficult as that decision might be, now it is imperative that we again take a stand.
So, Bahamians everywhere, I admonish you to look deep within yourselves and ask yourself the question: Am I doing enough to help the push the Bahamas in the direction of progress?
If your answer is no, then decide to get involved. We need all Bahamians to become active participants; in government, in social justice, in community development and in volunteerism, if we are going to affect real, lasting change in our Bahamas. Not all of us were able to come to the Black Friday March. But wherever and whatever you stand for… take a stand for something. Step up and act, now is the time.