A reset of the Quiet Revolution: Towards a new path
We have just marked (and for some, celebrated) the first national Majority Rule Day. Due to the lackluster treatment of the holiday, the significance of the journey to 1967 and the bravery of the faces of the Quiet Revolution must be understood and shared so as to gain a national understanding of why we should pause and reflect on that path in our nation’s struggle.
Much can be said about the successes and failures of our nation in the post-Majority Rule era. There is no denying that we have made tremendous progress. Since then, the majority has maintained control and has dominated the national political landscape.
This is a singular success of 1967. However, for many, 1967 was (correctly) more than just about the darts and arrows of party politics, or about Pindling for that matter. It marked the culmination of a revolution. Like most revolutions which generally focus on the overhaul of a system or the removal of dictatorial regimes or practices, the Quiet Revolution was grounded in a movement towards the upliftment of a people; of the institutionalization of equal rights and the charting of a national course for the collective advancement of a people, without boundaries, borders, fear or favor.
The truth too is that 1967 was not a struggle to attain black-power-like dominance. This may be startling in light of the fact that there was a prevalent culture of class and race inequality.
The Bay Street oligarchy — the minority — was the reservoir of both economic and political power. They “ran things” and in so doing they held the keys to the future of the majority. However, one glaring and compelling evidence of the cross-race movement that gripped the march to 1967 is the fact that the founders of the Progressive Liberal Party — Henry Taylor, William Cartwright and Cyril Stevenson — were not men of the negro race (arguably they were mulattoes). However, given the class-race culture in the islands at that time they would have enjoyed a pass to enter the socio-economic sub-middle-class.
Understanding 1967 and the magic of the revolution perhaps requires us to be in the bodies and minds of the Exumians and their heroic leader, Pompey. It is to be on the Burma Road revolt at the height of the fight for social justice. It is to join the marches with the suffragists. It is to stand with Clifford Darling and the taxi union in their push for fair standards and practices. It is to hear the voice of Milo Butler as he bellowed out the unfair and discriminatory treatment of working Bahamians. It perhaps is also to stand with Etienne Dupuch and Gerald Cash in their fight in the legislature for the passage of an anti-discrimination resolution. And it requires us to think of what led young minds like Lynden Pindling, Arthur Hanna, Orville Turnquest, Paul Adderley, Arthur Foulkes, Spurgeon Bethell, Oscar Johnson and Warren Levarity, and many others, to organize and join the “people’s struggle” to take on a system that held political power for decades by standing as candidates in the 1962 general election.
The fight of the “majority” was not simply a mission for the further “emancipation” of the former slaves. It was a movement deeply embedded in the spirit of the uniqueness, talent, industriousness and sheer discipline of our history, culture and people. Its central focus was the “final” liberation of the Bahamian soul.
The truth therefore is that 1967 and the ushering in of the first black Bahamian government was a victory for the creation of a more fair and just society. The myth that must be dispelled is the simplistic notion that the revolution was for the majority, being limited to the blacks.
The revolution was larger than that. It did not have a singular or non-representational agenda or concentration. It was a fight to usher in a sacred sanctity for the natural evolution of the Bahamian spirit. Its embodiment of a communal vision was expressed in the early days of the Citizens Committee which recognized that those blessed to live on these shores were not ordinary but were destined to be a great people, no matter one’s color, creed, religious and political persuasions, abilities and gender.
Simply put, it was a broad social “movement” that saw its constituents as all Bahamians, blacks and whites. It was not discriminatory (whether direct or reverse), but rather progressive and inclusive. It was not class or race conscious. It was liberal and forward thinking.
In today’s analysis of the events that lead to 1967, we must broaden our appreciation for its purpose and value to the development of The Bahamas. It freed a once dormant spirit and it ushered in a push towards a new socio-economic platform that saw the advancement of many Bahamians of the post-1967 generation. It is therefore undeniable that it has its singularly success in the many thousands of faces of Bahamians who advanced far beyond the boundaries of poverty.
The revolution was also transformative, yet in some areas of national life, we have lost our way. We appear (now) to place less emphasis on ensuring the creation of a nation that trends towards common goals and aspirations. We sometimes give the “air” of being a people without direction and focus, and with little national priorities. In areas of our national lives mediocrity is the order of the day. We are devoid of the old values that cemented our “village”. There is an absence of a “collective” national vision. The nation appears to be stagnant and there is a growing sense of hopelessness. Our national leadership seem to enjoy a deficiency of nationalism and we appear to be lost, lacking an agenda towards the further modernization of this nation state. We have lost our progressive edge.
We need to press the reset button to recreate that sense of national purpose, unity and singular call to arms. Our nation’s detour of that purist path must cease and we must restore that once compelling national psyche housed within us.
We must also abandon that elitist attitude that we have achieved all that abounds. We must embrace a new political dispensation that restores us to the paths trod by the revolution. This begs for a recognition that the revolution’s message is relevant and necessary in today’s “modern” Bahamas.
It appeals for a national recommitment to the core and sacred principles of that glorious era so that the new and growing “minority” can be freed from the chains that enslave them. These are the “new” chains of institutionalized poverty, rampant social dislocation and disorder, a glass ceiling that deprives them of social promotion, a system that appears to be ignorant of their plight, struggles and way of life and a society which is shrinking in intellectualism and dynamism.
There is no denying the reality that the tenets of the 1967 revolution can find much space in the modern Bahamas. We have not outgrown her core principles. We should still cry out for bold and progressive leadership which is glued to the idealism of social justice, equality and economic liberation.
We must fill the vacuum for an agenda and plan that is holistic and nationalistic and that has at its core the creation of a society grounded on the foundational pillars of shared prosperity and community. That sense of community though is not restricted to an egotistical definition of national heritage and identity. It is an all-embracing journey that ties together the virtues of productivity, industry, integrity, knowledge, love and peace transcending a narrow interpretation of who is Bahamian.
The modern revolution must find root in the development of a cosmopolitan society that has no boundaries, no barricades, no social or economic discrimination or segregation, and no lofty height that could not be attained by the hard work, sustained commitment and discipline of the masses. It must be a pedestal for the souls of the liberators of the 1967 revolution.
Our work is not yet complete. We must find our voices and courage to stand firm to secure the dreams of the future generations of Bahamians. Our country must be restored to that nobler path of prosperity, peace and love.
• Raynard Rigby is an attorney-at-law and former chairman of the Progressive Liberal Party.
January 22, 2014