A new era of volunteerism
Last week, in response to what he described as an intolerable level of crime and “the most pressing issue in our nation”, Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham addressed the country. It may be one of the more important addresses of his political career, and not for the reason some may suspect.
Though critical for various reasons including politically, the prime minister did something even more compelling and far-sighted. In tone and text, he demonstrated that he understood the national mood and deep worry at the level of crime and the need to address its root causes.
He addressed the soul of crime, speaking to the fears and hopes of Bahamians.
Only the most churlish and the inveterate Ingraham-haters would deny that he spoke from the heart, the latter point noted by a woman who lost a family member to murder.
Moreover, the prime minister elevated the national conversation on crime and violence from finger-pointing to shared responsibility.
And he did something even more compelling: He seized the national imagination by urging a new era of national volunteerism, inclusive of enhanced community service programs for thousands of students in the government school system.
Ingraham also called for a renewed civic compact to address the desire not only for safety and security, but more broadly for community and social peace. His call to action was issued to parents and teachers, civil society and the business community, as well as to the nation’s youth.
In the lead up and the immediate response to the half-hour address, the prime minister’s critics stumbled badly, misreading the deep concern over crime as a moment for political posturing, pandering and gamesmanship.
DNA Leader Branville McCartney, in typical publicity stunt mode, showed up for a press conference with a gimmick graph in the background. Unconvincingly, it showed the level of crime, long in the making and with multiple causes, falling precipitously under the DNA.
Also unconvincing was McCartney’s tough guy performance after the address.
He shot down the idea of a gun amnesty as if it was the only proposed measure on guns, and bemoaned that the prime minister’s ideas appeared not to have any teeth.
His assertion was at stark variance with that of the Police Staff Association, which praised the address and whose members are actually on the frontline, battling crime.
One measure with additional teeth is the expansion of CCTV monitoring in New Providence, a measure advocated and applauded by the high command of the police force.
So predictable was the post-address press release issued by the PLP that it easily could have been written before the prime minister spoke. Using the hackneyed phrase, “too little, too late”, too liberally, too quickly, the Opposition misjudged the public’s mood and overwhelmingly positive reaction to the speech.
In all likelihood, though few Bahamians may remember what the Leader of the Opposition said in his crime address just a few months ago, many may recall a general impression with which they were left. It was the suspicion that they were hearing familiar promises, few of which they remember being fulfilled.
There was also the suspicion that the Leader of the Opposition was offering a jumble of slogans. In an editorial the day after the prime minister spoke, The Nassau Guardian opined in reference to recent pronouncements by the Opposition:
“Coherent and plausible plans on crime and the economy actually do not need quirky names. They simply need to work and have the will of a competent government behind them.
“When a party announces multiple named programs at every speaking engagement, and it does not explain how they would be paid for, who would lead them and if they have been fully planned out, that party could come across as less than serious.”
Two days after the crime address, tech-revolutionary and Apple Founder, Steve Jobs died. Jobs leapfrogged his competitors with devices and software which went beyond tinkering with existing operating systems and gadgets.
In his own way, Prime Minister Ingraham has essentially done the same by proposing significant innovations in social policy. The Opposition proposed Urban Renewal 2.0 if returned to office. The ambitious and impressive range of social intervention measures offered by Ingraham is more like Community and Urban Renewal 10.0.
With the prime minister superceding the Opposition’s proposal by a wide magnitude, it looked foolish by calling his proposals “reasonable”. This is akin to the Sony Corporation calling the iPad a “reasonable” improvement on its Walkman introduced in 1979. The next generation of social intervention innovations proposed by the Ingraham administration offers a variety of key features.
They include: the development of an Outward Bound-type program; a National Volunteers Register; the expansion of community service-learning in government schools; support for additional initiatives in urban areas geared towards young men; greater support for alternative sentencing programs like that offered by groups such as the Peace and Justice Institute of the Bahamas Conference of the Methodist Church, among others.
Ingraham was clear that it takes more than government action to address the roots of crime and anti-social behavior. To support his administration’s initiatives, he proposed the expansion of public-private partnerships and collaboration calling on faith-based groups, NGOs, corporate citizens and philanthropists to help craft, manage and fund such initiatives.
His call for a new era of volunteerism recognizes the critical need for citizen-volunteers to help to bring about social change while addressing crime and violence. In essence, his was a message of “we the people”. One of the more novel initiatives proposed is for an Outward Bound-type program.
Outward Bound is an experiential outdoor learning program with great success in youth development, including for at-risk youth. Its well-tested model has helped transform the lives of thousands, inclusive of practical and customized courses “developed for struggling teens [and] groups with specific health, social or educational needs”.
Outward Bound or a similar program has the extraordinary potential to re-socialize and effectively intervene into the lives of young men and women, replacing destructive mindsets and behavior with healthier lifestyles and attitudes.
Its potential may extend to young people involved in gang activity, as well as residents of “the Simpson Penn and Willamae Pratt facilities with a view to improving the results being achieved in preparing these young people for reintegration into the community with skills to pursue productive lives.” It may also involve students enrolled in the Ministry of Education’s SURE program.
The National Volunteer Register “will enable Bahamians to sign up to be available to volunteer their time for mentoring our young men and women; assisting in community centers with afterschool programs; outreaches to urban neighborhoods to encourage parental and child involvement in school activities; to work with existing youth organizations in their programs; and a host of social activities that can positively impact upon our society.”
The revamping of community service programs in government schools with an emphasis on ethics, service learning and character development holds considerable promise. The Prime Minister noted that implementation of a more comprehensive community service model is intended to help, “more young people develop a sense of belonging in our community, and [a] deeper sense of responsibility for its well-being, while better respecting themselves and others.”
With the National Volunteers Register and a new community service-learning model, Prime Minister Ingraham has launched a new era of volunteerism redefining national service and fulfilling a dream long-held by various leaders.
Sir Lynden Pindling often spoke of a version of national service that was more paramilitary in nature and mandatory for youth between certain ages. Mr. Ingraham’s version is voluntary, more practical and extends to every age group.
It holds the promise of becoming a singular accomplishment of national development and one of Mr. Ingraham’s greater achievements, as well as a milestone of progressive governance.
Oct 11, 2011