Column: Bermuda’s ‘Grass-Roots Revolution’

March 31, 2016

[Opinion column written by Larry Burchall]

Between Friday 11th March and Thursday 17th March 2016, Bermuda experienced a grass-roots revolution.

During those seven days:

  • A woman began a first time ever ‘hunger strike’ in the grounds of Parliament.
  • In a first time ever display of raw people power, thousands of Bermudians, shut down Supreme Courts and locked Bermudian Parliamentarians out of Bermuda’s Parliament.
  • Forced the Speaker of the House of Assembly to both call off and abruptly end meetings of the House.
  • Forced the Government-of-the-day to withdraw a Bill that the Government-of-the-day had insisted it would debate.
  • Saw Bermuda’s normally concealed racial divide erupt into full view when, on Sunday 13th March 2016, a more than 95% white group of demonstrators assembled in the grounds of the Cabinet building to support a Bill that the more than 95% black group of demonstrators in the grounds of Parliament opposed.
  • In acts of civil disobedience, the group of demonstrators breached laws, at least four times, by marching through the streets of Hamilton blocking and disrupting normal traffic
  • Saw this entire seven day period of national disturbance involving thousands of people pass without even one arrest connected with the demonstration.

The biggest and most fundamental fact that has been freshly uncovered is that a huge segment of Bermuda displayed unawareness of the depth of feeling and the legacy issues that black Bermudians attach to the right to vote – which is the outcome of any grant of Bermuda Status. This ignorance was either deliberate, and therefore generated by racial bias; or it was unintentional, and therefore borne out of a genuine lack of racial understanding.

The quiet heroes during these seven days were the unarmed men and women of the Bermuda Police Service. Unlike the almost alien police forces of the USA that quickly rush into SWAT gear and show up with military style assault rifles; the dozen or so unarmed men and women of the BPS simply stood on the grounds of Parliament, ready to do their duty, but never required to do so – except once.

That exception was on Wednesday 16th March when a well-known ‘town drunk’ turned up – drunk – at the demonstration-on-the-Hill. Organizers requested that he leave. Police assisted the man to rise to his feet, and under his own alcohol fueled steam, maneuver himself off the grounds.

It was ironic that the US Consul should create a travel advisory warning Americans to stay away from the demonstration. Perhaps that springs from her American life experience where a similarly balanced crowd of over a thousand – mostly black – demonstrators would have been faced with a large number of heavily armed shoot-to-kill American police persons.

The seven day grass-roots revolution should remind all Parliamentarians that they serve the people. That the fact that they won a Miss World style popularity contest in what is called a General Election, does not elevate them to a Mount Olympus where they become Gods in a Pantheon. That they serve at the will of the voters. All the voters, not just their favoured segment.

During these seven days, Bermuda’s electorate matured some more. In 1998, the electorate changed Governing parties [UBP out/PLP in]. In 2012, they again changed governing parties [PLP out/OBA in], but this time only after taking a critical look at the performance of the party that they voted out.

Now in 2016, this still maturing electorate has told a Governing party that still has two years left in its electoral life, that it must change its mind and method. This action is the direct outcome of an electorate that has finally become aware of more of the real power that it actually does possess.

This seven day grass-roots revolution has brought Bermuda to a new and higher level of people participation. In terms of national political maturation, this revolution has been a good thing.

No longer, the old patronizing style of: “We know best and we’ll tell you what we’ll do.” Instead, this and future Governments-of-the-day will know that they must always, always, always fully consult with all of Bermuda’s electorate; not just their support base.

BIU President Chris Furbert and Reverend Nicholas Tweed were at the forefront of this grass-roots revolution. Their leadership kept any of the revolutionaries from ever tending towards violence.

The presence of so many multi-generational groups showed that Bermuda’s older generations of blacks were showing today’s generation of blacks what it is that they must be prepared to fight for, and why.

One question remains. Why did it take six days – 144 hours – and the intervention of Sir John Swan to bring the Governing party to make the decision that it should have made on Monday 7th March when the PLP motion was put; and again when the House was disrupted on Friday 11th March?

Why did it take 144 hours to make the decision that, in a democracy, became increasingly inevitable? Why?

Let’s not forget the revolution. But let’s join up again and get moving forward out of the mess that we are in.

Let’s remember to be open and honest about what we must do – and one thing that we must do is increase ResPop.

- Larry Burchall

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Comments (45)

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  1. Justin says:

    Larry, you forgot to show us the numbers which you often never fail to miss. The basic stat is that the majority approved the bill and the minority were against the bill. In this case the minority won. Very tragic.

    • Larry Burchall says:

      Justin,

      Please, for your edification, read, re-read, and fully digest the summary set out in the third paragraph which starts
      with: “The biggest ….. ending with … lack of racial understanding.”

      I am not asking you to agree with that paragraph. I am asking that you understand the importance of that paragraph and the experiential gulf, more like chasm now, that it refers to.

      Your polls may well indicate a majority in support of the PTS bill as thought to be drafted. I am highlighting the strong, deep, and powerful antipathy, in Bermuda’s whole black community, to any dilution or perceived dilution of the strength of their hard-won votes.

      I will never ask you to agree with me. I will ask only that you understand. You can then take any stance that you like, but you would then understand why certain actions will precipitate a strong generic response from deep within and from across the whole spectrum of Bermuda’s black community.

      Also, when trying to understand the 95% black response, you should tackle the matter of the 95% white counter-demonstration on Sunday 13th March.

      Understand both and you will have a better understanding of real – not ideal -Bemuda.

      Seek understanding. Then take your stance.

      Larry.

      • Starting point says:

        While I agree with your general post, the 95% stat is incorrect, the pro gathering was far more diverse than then anti legislation gathering, that is not even debatable. It does not take away from the thesis of your post in regards to the deep rooted feelings within the Black community but to say both rallies has the same diversity is simply not true.

      • True Lies says:

        So the reason they were protesting is because they want to make sure that black Bermudians control all future votes? Who’s racist, here?

        I was at the vigil supporting Pathways and it was not 95% white. We were there not because of race, but because if someone has lived in this country for 20 years, contributing to the economy and society, they deserve to have an equal say in how the country is run.

      • Toodle-oo says:

        ** I am highlighting the strong, deep, and powerful antipathy, in Bermuda’s whole black community, to any dilution or perceived dilution of the strength of their hard-won votes. **

        Larry , I hope I get the wording right on this and it goes through , but as True Lies has already said
        ** So the reason they were protesting is because they want to make sure that black Bermudians control all future votes? Who’s racist, here ?** I hope I won’t offend anyone .

        Are you suggesting that blacks feel their vote is more valuable than anyone elses ?

        There is no doubt that this fear of dilution is only because of the perception that these new status holders would not vote for the PLP , but what if we were talking about a near totally black group of new status holders ? Would there be any fear of ‘dilution’ then ?

        Remember , this group who is so offended by this whole process of vote dilution comprises the PLP’s monolithic support base . A group that is far larger than that group of whites who are always chastised as unswaying UBP/OBA voters .

      • Justin says:

        Larry,

        I’m still struggling to connect the dots here. I’ve reread your third paragraph and I think what you are suggesting sounds a lot like extortion – are you saying that Pathways To Status cannot happen until we’ve conquered the legacy issues we are experiencing from racist policies of the past? My mother used to say ‘two wrong don’t make a right’ so I don’t understand why we should repeat what happened in the past by blocking people from gaining status. Instead we should allow these people who have been in Bermuda a long time to be able to fully participate in a country which they love and call ‘home’.

      • Edmund Spenser says:

        I have one question for Mr Burchall. If I were to take your third paragraph,
        “The biggest and most fundamental fact that has been freshly uncovered is that a huge segment of Bermuda displayed unawareness of the depth of feeling and the legacy issues that black Bermudians attach to the right to vote – which is the outcome of any grant of Bermuda Status. This ignorance was either deliberate, and therefore generated by racial bias; or it was unintentional, and therefore borne out of a genuine lack of racial understanding.”
        set the time machine back 100 year and change this paragraph to…
        “The biggest and most fundamental fact that has been freshly uncovered is that a huge segment of Bermuda displayed unawareness of the depth of feeling and the legacy issues that white Bermudians attach to the right to vote – which is the outcome of any grant of voting rights to black Bermudians. This ignorance was either deliberate, and therefore generated by racial bias; or it was unintentional, and therefore borne out of a genuine lack of racial understanding.” how long would it take for you to find the tar and the feathers?

        Doing what is right, no matter who it might disadvantage is always the right thing to do. A pathway to status to all who have earned it, no matter the colour of their skin, is the right thing to do.

        • Larry Burchall says:

          Edmund,

          You suggest an interesting perspective.. I’ll follow through and start with the property voting qualification; and I’ll add this important numeric fact – since 1833, black Bemudians have always out-numbered white Bemudians.

          100 years ago takes us to 1916. In 1916, the total number of votes that could be cast by a white man who owned property in all nine parishes was 36, because he could cast a vote for each of four candidates in each of Bermuda’s nine parishes.

          A black man might also own property in each of the parishes. However, each of his properties might not be valued at the sixty pound tax value that was the threshold for acquiring the vote. Since, in 1916, there were no blacks in decision-making appointments in the ‘tax office’, that black landowner might have zero votes because the ‘tax office’ rated each of his properties at fifty pounds per piece.

          One hundred years ago, that was the norm. Voting records confirm that up until the 1950′s, the number of votes actually cast in a General Election always exceeded, sometimes by a multiple, the number of persons actually registered as voters. That happened because Bermuda’s white community used their political power and plurality of votes to reduce and out-vote the mostly single vote capacity in Bermuda’s black community.

          in 1916, Bermuda’s white Bermudian community manipulated the rules so as to maintain their ascendancy, and this continued right up to 1968, when the vote finally became nearly equal.

          Full voting equality, with ‘one man, one vote, each vote of equal value’ did not arrive until 2003.

          That, in a conch shell, is the history of voting here. The memories are not ancient. 2003 is a very recent year.

          I hope that helps give you a better understanding of that third paragraph.

          Larry

          • Edmund Spenser says:

            Mr Burchall,

            Thank you for getting back to me.

            I believe I understand your point, and I think when you think about it you may understand mine. 2003 is not ancient history as you put it. It is in fact far too recent for the full voting rights black Bermudians have strived for and deserve to have been granted. It should have happened decades before.
            I take exception to your characterizing 2003 as the year of “full voting equality”. There are a number of people that have lived, worked and contributed to Bermuda and Bermudian society for a number of years, that do not have the right to vote in Bermuda.

            • why tho says:

              So you care about foreigners more than born Bermudians?

  2. Family Man says:

    “Grass roots revolution” that took the weekend off because they weren’t going to protest on their own time.

    What a joke.

    It was a union/plp organized mob, not a grass roots anything.

    • Spit Bouy says:

      Family Man,

      Bingo.

      Grass roots my @r$e. Half a dozen previous ‘peoples campaign’ protests (yeah right & lmao) that barely got 200 people at a time to come out so the PLP/BIU organizers did the only thing they could do, seek the help of the union members through ignorance, obedience & intimidation. Same old same old really.

      The grass roots People (IOW’s grass roots Bermudians) don’t protest unless the union calls them out, haven’t done so since the theater boycott so calling this a grass roots movement or a labour issue as the media incorrectly did is laughable.

  3. smh says:

    So you’re OK with a minority stealing the democratic rights of the majority (every poll has shown that pathways was supported by the majority)? If you don’t agree with giving long term residents a pathway to status, how then should Bermuda increase our res pop? Aliens? Test tube babies? Cloning’s always a possibility I guess

  4. Jeremy Deacon says:

    Good column.

    • IslandTeacher says:

      The ‘Bermuda Spring ‘ is yet to deliver any answers and Larry seems to have been swept along.

  5. Vincent Vega says:

    Larry,

    Your article finishes with “…one thing that we must do is increase ResPop”. Did the bill presented not aim to achieve this?

    Regards,
    Vincent

    • Bermy says:

      yes it was… but that wasn’t the point of the column. It was that the government should be sensitive to the concerns of the entire population. This government failed miserably in demonstrating any sensitivity.

      Before you jump all over me, I’m a black swing voter (no I don’t enjoy feeling compelled to state my race but it is what it is in this day and age in Bermuda). I support this bill and will likely continue to vote OBA in the next election. However, I am disappointed in them not for what they’re doing but how. They should anticipate the backlash and not try to steamroll over it. They should lead the people by building consensus and unifying us.

      I believe they are doing the right things in entirely the wrong way. If the protest serves as a wake up call to this government that makes them continue to do the right things only now in a unifying, consensus-building, leading, bringing the PLP into the fold and making allies of them (or at least being able to demonstrate that they tried), kind of way then the protest will have been a great thing for this country regardless of how many laws were broken and the inconvenience that was caused.

      • smh says:

        On this I agree. The OBA showed a clear lack of sensitivity or understanding as to the profound wound that racism has left that still very much needs to be healed in our community. Again, I throw out the question, how do we increase Res Pop and create jobs without making Bermuda attractive to foreigners?

  6. Question says:

    Good day,

    May someone please explain how simply increasing our population will lead to more economic opportunity for Bermudians? My initial thought is that we need an increase in jobs which will stimulate a need for more bodies, thus increasing our population…

    If we simply add 2,000 unskilled workers, that will not increase the economic prospects of anyone.

    Hence, my thought process is that we need to increase the number of jobs and wealthy individuals who will invest in our island.

    Can someone provide some insight

    • Family Man says:

      I think you’re looking at it from the wrong end. Nobody creates jobs if the business isn’t there and it’s people that drive business. No-one will open a restaurant if there aren’t enough people to support it.

      But, if we had (as you suggest) 2,000 people here, they would need housing so Bermudians would receive rent. That’s extra money Bermudian landlords can spend. They’d need food so Bermudian grocery stores would do more business, which would lead to more business for wholesalers, and truckers and dockworkers and shippers. They would need electricity which would need to be generated by Bermudians at Belco and the Bermudian civil servants are paid by taxes everyone pays on property, food, electricity etc. They would need to get around so there would be more bike/car sales, more work for Bermudian mechanics, gas stations, license fees, parking fees etc.

      Then some of those 2,000 people would want to go out to eat occassionly and that might just be enough extra business for the Bermudian entrepreneur to open their own restaurant and employ Bermudian chefs and wait staff and managers ….

      Get the idea? The restaurant won’t open until there are already people here to support it.

    • Portia says:

      Very true. And this is one of the main reasons why many protestors mistrusted Government’s intent with the Bill. Yes, if you bring in 2,000 workers (whether skilled or unskilled) they will need to buy groceries, electricity and rent a place…but you need a pay check to do those things. So where would these 2,000 people be working to earn that pay check to buy said groceries, electricity and rent? Clearly, more businesses are needed to produce those 2,000 jobs, which was not the intent of the Bill.

      Yes, some PRCs and LTRs have started businesses here that have employed Bermudians…but that is the exception, not the rule. Most PRCs and LTRs during their time here have been working jobs provided by companies that existed when they arrived – hence the argument that they “wouldn’t be taking jobs from Bermudians because they are already working here.”

      Wealthy individuals and businesses will only invest in a place when it makes financial sense to do so. Other jurisdictions have shown that they can do business much more cost efficiently than we do, which is why we are struggling to get back. For them, it is always about the bottom-line, especially in times of global financial uncertainty.

      • LiarLiar says:

        Do you see the correlation in Bermuda’s local unemployment issues.

        Between 2008 and 2014 the number of foreign workers declined by 3,391 people. In your and others logic that would simply free up 3,391 positions for Bermudians to take over.

        Instead over the same time period 3,347 Bermudian filled positions disappeared.

        Less people = less money = less economic activity = less demand for employees.

        “Clearly, more businesses are needed to produce those 2,000 jobs, which was not the intent of the Bill.”

        That is the exact intent of the Job Makers bill which you and the PLP have vehemently spoken out against with the latter stating that they would repeal it if returned to Govt.

        • smh says:

          How true! The Job Makers Bills is one of the most important pieces of new legislation we have. We need to bring in wealthy job makers and what are they going to want in return? Status What are their key staff going to want to pick up and move here? Status. Why would they move to Cayman instead? Status Why are we not competitive on the world stage for investments? Status

        • sage says:

          During the worldwide recession from 08′ on 6738 jobs were lost, all the locals jobs lost were not lost as a result of the foreigners jobs being lost, that is ridiculous.

          • Zevon says:

            Do you mean the recession that lasted 12-15 months everywhere else, and lasted 7 years in Bermuda? That worldwide recession?

  7. Terry says:

    Is that lady still up there on the hill?

  8. Cow Polly says:

    With all due respect Mr Burchall, the 95% white demonstrators showed their support because they believed in the bill. Theirs was a non-combative, peaceful demonstration that disturbed no one. The 95% black demonstrators came out on strike and brought the Country to its knees at the behest of Messrs Furbert and Tweed regardless of what bill was being debated. One has to question how many actually knew what they were demonstrating about this time, as many of the faces were the same as other Furbert/Tweed demonstrations.
    Far from being a grass-roots demonstration this was a demonstration of muscle by Messrs Furbert and Tweed, one which is only the beginning of a much larger, very frightening agenda.

  9. Starting point says:

    ‘Let’s remember to be open and honest about what we must do – and one thing that we must do is increase ResPop.’

    So can Larry elaborate on this in the context of his opinion piece, if this is a MUST then is he saying;

    a) that ResPop increases should be of black decent only and only aligned with the current majority black political party for us to ever get legislation approved?

    b) we need to recognize and acknowledge the feeling within the Black community around ResPop and then educate that community around the process…?

    my real question is that the reality of ResPop increase is going to be predominately white, asian etc. and as such, is the black community not going to always look at this as a vote issue and continually protest anything that sees an increase in any other population other than back?

    What would Larry suggests are the first steps to take on this process as I to believe that substantial ResPop increase is needed?

    Thanks in advance for further thoughts on this.

  10. IslandTeacher says:

    It always comes back to the central issue of Res Pop. The “grass roots revolution” is impressive but that’s not really the issue.
    How do we intend to grow the res-pop? No one wants to stay on message and bang out an alternative.

    One group of the population cannot withold demographic participation rights based on historical events from almost 50 years ago. This approach is causing a paralysis in our ability to own our threats.

    How do we intend to grow our population?

    • Cow Polly says:

      Well, if we can’t welcome foreigners then we’ll have to follow Dame Lois Browne Evan’s suggestion and go into the bushes and fornicate like rabbits!

    • IslandTeacher says:

      You maybe onto something here. In Europe things are going to get much worse before they get better.

    • Zevon says:

      They’re probably going to live in places that welcome them.

  11. Larry , Allow me to tell you why it took 144 hours to get things right, “NOBODY IS LISTENING .” All the questions have / had already been put to the OBA, but they know best. SO NO ONE LISTENS. I said to Mr. Fahy at the NO NO meeting, to call Walton Brown to the front and have an open discussion. HE REPLIED, NO.!!!!! This event might have never happened if Mr. Fahy would have just invited Walton to talk to his own supporters. BUT NO ONE IS LISTENING.I sit in the room, and to protect my party and my Premier, I put the hard questions to them, BUT NO BODY IS LISTENING. For his part in this whole mess, Mr,. Fahy will have to be sent to the political wilderness. The OBA must engage black Bermuda, BUT DON’t TELL THEM THAT I TOLD YOU SO.I really think the OBA needs more BLACK ADVISORS. BUT WHO WILL TELL THEM ?

  12. question…people working contribute to economic stability through their salary …their salary deductions…our blue collar are our blue collar but white collar make up higher deductions ennit?

    curious myself but our economy is based on more people working…ennit?

    this is an interesting question and really requires a proper address from those more adept at figures and explanation than I can avail knowledgeably.

  13. steve says:

    Larry, I will give this more thought and try to be more understanding(not easy,i have a hard head)
    I enjoy your offerings, perhaps you could scribe a piece delving into your views on the substance and particulars of the proposed pathways bill. You have my attention.

    Thanks

  14. Takbir Karriem Sharrieff says:

    Common Bermuda habit,,,,,Open Mouth,then Insert Foot.,,,,,,The natural human sequence when you see a wrong,is to hate it in your heart,the next step ,is to speak against it,the final step is to put your hand against it and all that follows that action.To do nothing is to remain hating something in your heart so long that it eats you up and you die eventually disgruntled and dissapointed. This is the ,weakest of faith.Congratulations Bermuda you moved against it and you changed the annals of History.Peace.

  15. M.C. Beauchamp says:

    Other than those persons who have already spent the greater part of their lives living in Bermuda and hope to achieve status, after recent events, no sane, wealthy individual has any interest at all in coming here. No interest in setting up a business here, and no interest in having anything to do with Bermuda. Why would they? So many other happy, welcoming choices. Increase “ResPop”. Too late. That ship has now sailed. Mission accomplished.

  16. Walter Burgess says:

    Mr Burchall in general your articles in the past tend to be balanced. This one was not. While I’m in full support with those taking to the H o A to voice their concerns. The step to far for me was when they decided to block MP both OBA or PLP from entering the H o A to conduct their democratically elected function. With this action they trample all over democracy that represents all of us.

    Just my view………….

  17. Had Minister Fahy engaged Walton Brown at the NO NO meeting, this 6 day shut down may have never happened. BUT NO ONE IS LISTENING.

  18. The people have always had the power, even if they give it over to politicians from time to time. They never forget, though the politicians do. PEOPLE POWER.