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Tribute to Barack Obama

DION FOULKES

Published: Jan 04, 2013

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The re-election of America’s 44th president is a profound accomplishment for our great neighbor to the north and a good omen for the rest of the world.

This is part of a broader trend in which the arc of history continues to bend towards greater equality and inclusion in the universal human family.

That arc must be bent by every generation, in every age, and in every place where exclusion and inequality smothers the human spirit and shackles progress.

As a student at the University of Indiana more than a few years ago I was privileged to participate in a campaign that successfully pushed for a U.S. federal holiday to honor the life and witness of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Those efforts included organizing hundreds of students for a modern March on Washington, ending at the National Mall in Washington D.C. where Dr. King led an earlier historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

Because of the power of the dream expressed at that protest march at the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, just 40 years after Dr. King’s death the world witnessed the first inauguration on the west steps of the U.S. Capitol Building of an African American as president of the most powerful country in the world.

That was four years ago.

On the 21st of January 2013, Martin Luther King Day, President Barack Obama will take the oath of office for a second time.

Both Dr. King and Mr. Obama understood that progress only comes when enough people feel the need to move “Forward”.

Here at home, The Bahamas long ago met the challenge of the forward movement when we ended the property vote, extended the franchise to women, achieved majority rule and opened up the highest offices in the land to all Bahamians regardless of race, ethnicity or gender.

Both major political parties in our nation count among their members and founders those who fought for human dignity and the expansion of human rights for every Bahamian, no matter their color or creed.

For any one party - then or now - to claim this legacy as an exclusive possession would be an act of amnesia, or gross arrogance.

I share with other second and third generation Bahamian politicians a personal connection to this national movement for freedom and progress.

My father,  H. E. Sir Arthur Foulkes, in the late 1950s collaborated with others to create the National Committee for Positive Action, the NCPA, which transformed the face of Bahamian politics.  To those who were saying, “no we can’t” or “maybe we shouldn’t”, our fathers said, “yes we can”  and they moved forward.

Both King and Obama would recognize in the NCPA a kindred spirit, a movement for change that grew out of the audacity of hope, a movement that combined high principles with grassroots organizing, idealism with pragmatism, thoughtful action with extraordinary courage.

I am proud that the party of which I am privileged to be a member, and which bears the name “freedom”, has a rich legacy of expanding democratic freedoms, be they political, economic or social.

The Free National Movement (FNM) moved forward with freeing the broadcast media and expanding civil rights.

The FNM moved with greater transparency and accountability in government.

The FNM moved forward with more progressive labor and inheritance laws.

We moved forward with a social safety net for the vulnerable and created empowerment and training opportunities for the economically displaced.

Barack Obama is a product of both the African Diaspora and European settlement, a convergence of which helped to mold the histories of both The Bahamas and America.

And, lest we forget, this child of a mother with deep roots in America is also the son of an African immigrant.

His story reminds us that while we must be ever vigilant regarding illegal immigration, we must be equally vigilant against the scapegoating of those from other lands, including those with so-called unusual names -- such as Barack Hussein Obama.

Part of the appeal of America is the ability to inspire and assimilate others into the enduring power of the American Dream, a dream rooted in the pursuit of a singular ideal:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights.”

America’s election of a black man after a brutal legacy of slavery and racism is a testament to those ideals and a continued test for America, despite this historic election.

This struggle for justice and equality has never been confined within national boundaries.

In our 21st Century world older, imperfect democracies like The Bahamas and the United States of America have a shared moral obligation to ensure that those fighting against injustice and inequality within state boundaries find global allies.

Mass hunger, genocide, the spread of nuclear weapons and the effects of global warming are challenges for all states, whether they have a population of 330 million or a population of 330,000.

In The Bahamas and throughout the world there is tremendous hope that President Obama has the life story, vision and temperament to continue the work with the global community to re-energize international institutions and practices that are needed to confront a host of transnational issues.

President Obama’s experience living abroad, his openness of mind and spirit and his communications skills has helped him to live up to his stated commitment to seek common solutions over unilateral adventures.

Just as President Obama recognized that his election was a new moment in America, he appreciates that his re-election is a renewed moment for the world.  Today a country’s domestic concerns cannot be separated from broader international challenges.

The Bahamas, the Caribbean and the world look forward to a new era of cooperation with the United States of America and its president to promote human prosperity, to ensure energy security and to craft a sustainable future.

The journey that led to the historic election of America’s 44th president suggests that these goals can be achieved if we never lose the audacity of hope and a commitment to the conviction that all of God’s children, whatever their ethnicity, gender, color, creed or economic status are entitled to the fruits of justice, opportunity and freedom.

• Dion Foulkes is a former minister of labour in the previous Free National Movement administration.


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