We March storms Bay Street
Guardian Staff Reporter
Published: Jan 11, 2017
Yesterday marked the 50th anniversary of majority rule, but for the hundreds of Bahamians who participated in the second We March Bahamas event in Downtown Nassau, there was little, if anything, to be jubilant about.
Participants used the event to highlight various issues they say are keeping The Bahamas from progressing, including low educational attainment, widespread crime, a government many view as unaccountable and an economy that is not growing.
They also used the march to send a message to those in power that they are not happy with the state of affairs.
The march attracted Bahamians from various socio-economic backgrounds. Labor leaders, religious leaders, business people, educators and many others were in the crowd.
Wearing black T-shirts with a pumped fist emblazoned on the front, they chanted, “The power of the people is greater than the people in power”, and “We want our country back”.
They sang the national anthem and other patriotic hymns like “This Land is Our Land”.
And they carried Bahamian flags and placards which called for transparency and accountability in government, and which highlighted their worries over their future and those of their children.
They again bemoaned spending on carnival, decried any move to allow foreigners to fish in Bahamian waters and demanded that the government say where the value-added tax revenue is going.
Many of the participants insisted that the country needs saving.
Among those participating in the march — which took a different route from the march organized by the government — were former President of the Court of Appeal Dame Joan Sawyer, whose voice was prominent in the lead up to the failed gender equality referendum last year.
For those who advocated a ‘no’ vote, Dame Joan emerged as a hero.
Former Cabinet Minister Janet Bostwick, the first woman to serve in the House of Assembly in The Bahamas, was also on the frontline of the march, along with iconic Bahamian entertainer Ronnie Butler, who was pushed in a wheelchair along the route, which started at Arawak Cay and ended at Pompey Square.
When the march ended, Butler was wheeled to the stage, where his hit song “Burma Road” was played. The song evokes memories of the 1942 Burma Road Riot, which was triggered over unequal pay for Bahamians employed at wartime air bases.
The riot was the beginning of social upheaval that intensified in the years before the attainment of majority rule in The Bahamas.
Butler believes Bahamians still have much to fight for.
“This is serious business,” he said. “Ain’t nothing jokey about this. Now I went down Burma Road 50 years ago. I [am] going back again. I [am] going back with all my Bahamian people.”
Butler said there are so many people in The Bahamas suffering.
Bostwick, meanwhile, said 50 years ago when majority rule was achieved, she stood at the center of Rawson and Parliament squares and celebrated because she felt the shackles of oppression were broken.
“We were fighting against inequality; we fought for justice and equal opportunity,” Bostwick said.
“Fifty years later, these are the things for which we still aspire.
“I have been feeling extremely burdened, because The Bahamas that I am leaving for my children and grandchildren is not The Bahamas I envisioned that I would be leaving at this time.
“Too many of the things which we fought for are still not attended to, and it is imperative we fight but it is also imperative that we fight together.
“Crime is still rampant; fortunately inequality is not there, and there are not sufficient opportunities available.”
Bostwick said she marched yesterday and 50 years ago for the good of the people.
“I marched against a D average; we cannot accept that in education,” she said.
“I marched against the misuse of our hard earned taxes.
“I marched against the unaccountability; you need to be accountable... and that’s I why I marched.
“I am so glad to see that this We March movement was not separated by economic class, by color, by age or anything, and I think in it is an answer for the future of The Bahamas.”
Dame Joan told the crowd that she cannot be jubilant “when people in my country cannot eat”.
She said she marched for her grandchildren and for the next generation.
“It’s not about me,” she said. “I’m on my way out. I am here for them and those middle-aged people.”
She praised the decision by Ranard Henfield, the main organizer of We March, to decline the prime minister’s invitation for a meeting to discuss the group’s concerns.
“This was all done in public. Why do you want to go behind closed doors?” she asked.
At the group’s first march on November 25, Henfield said he would not meet with Prime Minister Perry Christie at his office, despite Christie’s invitation for the march’s organizers to engage in dialogue aimed at “improving the quality of life of all our citizens”.
Dame Joan said, “We need to change our approach. We need to stop being cowered by those who claim to have power.”
When he addressed the crowd, Henfield said the end game isn’t to march.
“The end game is to put forth the people’s manifesto and by that you are able to say to any candidate, this is what is in the best interest of the people, the best interest of the majority, not in the best interest of whoever owns Baha Mar.”
He insisted that the We March movement transcends politics, socio-economic status and religion.
“I can assure you today that plenty people that are a part of We March are PLP, FNM, DNA, Baptist, Catholic, Anglican, rich, black, white, poor,” Henfield said.
“You know what we have in common? We are Bahamians. Every administration wants power. Me and you don’t care about power. We want to do more than survive. We want to do more than pay our bills and cry.
“We want to have savings. We want to have something to leave for our children. We want to enjoy life.”
Henfield also encouraged Bahamians to register to vote.
“We have to stand. We have to advocate. We have to keep pushing, but you have to register,” he said.
“It makes no sense if you march if you don’t get informed. You have to be informed.”