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The PLP: Party of the people

Published: Oct 24, 2013

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Dear Editor,

In a few days the iconic Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) will be celebrating 60 years since it was founded in 1953.  It is the oldest formal political party in the nation, and rightly so.

Back in the 1940s and early 1950s, the economic and political aspirations of average black and so-called conchy joe Bahamians were extremely limited and in most cases unattainable.  They had no national voice and they could, at best, expect only the proverbial crumbs from the table of the then ruling white oligarchy dominated by a few families such as: the Bethels; the Symonettes; the Kellys; the Sands, and the Pritchards.

Black Bahamians were obliged to eke out a miserable living, in the majority of cases, as laborers, migrant farm workers in the U.S. and contract workers in places like Panama.  A large number resided on the then labeled Out Islands and engaged in slash and burn farming and fishing for a subsistence income.  Political representation in the legislative halls was scant and mediocre.

Economic changes and political evolution started in the early 1950s when a few pioneering black and light-skinned Bahamian mavericks got together and cobbled the caucus which came to be known as the Progressive Liberal Party.  Men like Cyril Stevenson; Arthur D. Hanna; William Cartwright; Arthur Foulkes; Clarence A. Bain; Edgar Bain, et al.

Of course, there were females like Doris Johnson; Eugenia Symonette; Beryl Hanna and Trixie Hanna, et al, who were in the trenches and just as involved.  These individuals were fearless and took their self-appointed missions seriously.

A youthful barrister-at-law, the late great and deeply lamented Lynden Oscar Pindling soon emerged as party leader by 1956 and led five other PLPs into the House of Assembly.  He was a master strategist, an orator par excellent and extremely focused.  His parliamentary team formed the opposition and was the first formalized political party in that chamber.  They raised eternal hell on behalf of the formerly voiceless black and conchy joe Bahamians.

The then ruling white oligarchy, a loose confederation, quickly saw the need to form itself into a political party, hence the emergence of the United Bahamian Party (UBP).  Its nominal leader, Roland T. Symonette, was overshadowed by the Titan of Bay Street, Stafford Lofthouse Sands, who was the de factor leader of that party.

The PLP and its leadership cadre were motivated to bring social, economic and political emancipation to the masses of ordinary Bahamians.  Its mantra was simple: one man, one vote.  Prior to the emergence of the PLP there was a system which allowed plural voting based on property ownership.  Of course, at that time, as is the case even today, most of the real estate in The Bahamas was owned by white Bahamians.

During the 1960s the PLP made rapid strides and the political walls of Jericho finally came down on January 10, 1967 under the leadership of Lynden Oscar Pindling and his leadership team.  The rest is history.

And so, within a matter of days (October 26) the PLP, the undisputed party of the people, will celebrate 60 years since its founding.  Its mission, however, still remains largely unfulfilled in that while we have achieved political ascendency, economic emancipation is still a distant dream.

Perry Gladstone Christie (PLP-Centreville), our prime minister, has been presented with a stellar opportunity to etch his legacy in steel, if he so desires.  It is the singular task of this gold rush administration to economically empower the ordinary Bahamian.

Land, at affordable prices, must be made available either for home construction or for business purposes.  It is as simple as that.  Ownership of marketable land is crucial if we are to eliminate the culture of political dependency and to jump start the economy in short order.

Historically, the PLP has always been seen and acknowledged as the party of the people, bar none.  Yes, the Free National Movement (FNM) has played and continues to play a pivotal role in our evolution as a democracy but it is, alas, even to this day, seen as the party of white Bahamians and black elitists.

We must keep in mind, however, that the majority of the founders of the FNM came from within the bowels of the Progressive Liberal Party.  Its only prime minister, to date, Hubert Alexander Ingraham, was a national chairman and Cabinet minister in the early Pindling administrations.

One of its most illustrious leaders, the late Sir Cecil Wallace-Whitfield, also was once a PLP member of Parliament and a Pindling Cabinet minister.  Sir Orville A. Turnquest and Sir Arthur Foulkes all hailed from the PLP.

As executive director of Common Cause and The National Republican Alliance (ARENA), I offer congratulations to the PLP on its historic founding some 60 years ago and wish it Godspeed as it completes this term in office.

It is my hope and expectation that it will continue to seek to wipe away the tears from every Bahamian eye.  The final chapter in the book called “The PLP: Party of the People” has yet to be written and the legacy continues to unfold.

To God then, in all things, be the glory.

– Ortland H. Bodie Jr.

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