Remarks by the Hon. Philip Davis MP QC
Leader of the Progressive Liberal Party
Majority Rule Day Symposium
10th January 2017
University of The Bahamas
Thank you for your kind introduction moderator
I commend the efforts of the University of the Bahamas (UB) Chapter of the Progressive Young Liberals for organizing this auspicious event. To our gracious host, the University, I say thank you for participating in this morning’s symposium as this edification is an integral part of our history, heritage, culture and national identity. I also express my thanks to the scores of Bahamians who participated in this morning’s silent march in observance of the 51st anniversary of Majority Rule.
Friends and Fellow Bahamians, a pleasant good morning.
THE COMPELLING PHILOSOPHICAL ARGUMENT FOR MAJORITY RULE
It is generally accepted by historians that the significance of Majority Rule is equaled and some may argue surpassed only by the transatlantic slave trade and Independence for its transformative impact on the national development, ethos and national identity of this free modern democratic state we call The Bahamas.
An epic journey that began in 1942 and culminated fifty-one years ago on the 10th of January 1967, we, the children of the Majority Rule generation gather in solemn reflection and celebration of the enshrined moments in our history where the courage, principled conviction and bravery of countless unsung heroes changed the course of Bahamian history forever. They demanded social and economic justice for all Bahamians until the entrenched political and economic power structure conceded and we are all the beneficiaries of their ultimate sacrifices.
By a round of applause, let us again recognize our forebears, our parents and grand-parents, for their conviction and courage because make no mistake about, they made those sacrifices for us.
One half century later, Majority Rule stands as an enduring symbol of the promise of equality, a level playing, social and economic justice, the shattering of glass ceilings where ever they may be found and the enduring promise that through education, hard work, industry, determination and self-confidence, all Bahamians – be they city dwellers or family islanders – can realize their full God given potential, unencumbered.
We in this generation have a moral responsibility to our forebears and to generations yet unborn to be promise keepers – to vigorously oppose any and all barriers and vestiges of discrimination based on race, color, gender, class, religion or association. This experiment called democracy that we love and cherish is an ever-evolving phenomenon but the foundational principles and pillars that sustain and deepen our democracy remain inherent in the symbol and promise of Majority Rule. I submit to you ladies and gentlemen that philosophically Majority Rule is synonymous with democracy because of the inherent shared values in principle.
I make the point about this experiment called democracy to make the broader point about national responsibility. Firstly, democracy is universally accepted, revered and enjoyed by Bahamians. We as a people believe in the principles of democracy. Secondly, it is the sovereign responsibility of every Bahamian citizen to assist in the development or deepening of democracy. It is because of the philosophical congruence of Majority Rule and democracy that its promise remains as relevant today as it was in 1967 and I dare say timeless, therefore as we memorialize Majority Rule and its promise, it is incumbent upon all of us to deliver to the next generation of Bahamians a more democratic – that is, stronger, freer and fairer Commonwealth of The Bahamas.
As we celebrate and memorialize iconic and transformational landmarks in the modern development of The Bahamas such as the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, Majority Rule and Independence, we celebrate democracy, our heritage, our culture, the spirit of our ancestors and our national identity. We have a colourful and fascinating history with equally colourful and fascinating personalities that we must share, celebrate and memorialize.
I also note that the spirit of Majority Rule is contained in our sacred creed embossed on our Coat of Arms: FORWARD, UPWARD, ONWARD TOGETHER.
The Progressive Liberal Party is committed to telling this magnificent and epic story as we honour and memorialize the indomitable Bahamian spirit.
In the spirit of national unity and bipartisanship, I call on the government to cause for the appointment of a statutory commission
to superintend the official state functions that will mark this momentous occasion. The membership should represent a cross section of civil society to create the level of balance and commitment by the government and people of the Bahamas in preserving our history, heritage, culture and national identity. Those thousands of unsung heroes who sacrificed much, even their lives, deserve no less from us the beneficiaries of their sacrifice. I will write the Prime Minister to initiate this proposal and pledge the PLP’s support in this bipartisan effort.
THE HISTORIC ACCOUNT OF EVENTS THAT LED TO MAJORITY RULE
The historic accounts of the various events that led to Majority Rule are a requiem of indomitable spirit of the Bahamian people. Much of the details you would have heard during various presentations and discussions earlier today but for the record I wish to summarize these important events very succinctly.
The Burma Road Riots of the 1st and 2nd of June of 1942 as you know was the starting point of social consciousness and got the proverbial ball rolling. The Women Suffrage Movement began in the wake of the 1949 General Elections and an informal conversation between Rufus and wife Mary “May” Ingraham. The era of party politics began with the founding of the PLP on 23rd November 1953 by Henry Milton Taylor, Cyril Stevenson and Bill Cartwright among others and three years later, the party won six seats in the 1956 General Election. Who could forget the General Strike of January 1958 and the power of the labour movement. Women secured the right to vote in 1962, the country attains internal self-governance on the 7th January 1964 and the iconic Black Tuesday took place on 27th April 1965 over an electoral boundaries dispute. Notwithstanding a resulting split in the ranks of the PLP, by January 1967 The Bahamas experienced Majority Rule.
Each event was separate but connected philosophically and the glue was social and economic justice, a level playing field and a yearning for human dignity.
It belongs to all of us. White women got the vote when the women’s suffrage movement succeeded. White men who did have property were all disenfranchised when the movement abolished the property and company vote. I remember the story of my friend Patrick Bethel of Abaco. Mr Bethel is white Bahamian and the former head of the Bahamas Technical College. He could not vote in 1956 because he did not own property.
10th January 1967 was the ending of an era stained by an environment of segregation but the beginning of a journey out of the arms of Bay Street Boys towards an idea of a just, fair, and an inclusive Bahamas.
Successive Governments should spare no resource in uplifting this transformative moment in the chapters of our history. A generation of Bahamians came together to shape and change our country’s course that made us the benefactors of a deepened democracy. Young Bahamian must be educated about our magnificent, though imperfect, history and appreciate that the power to reshape our country is always in the mirror. Be change agents Bahamians; be the change you wish to see. Your forebears were change agents and you have the blueprint to shape your collective destiny.
This generation has a moral responsibility to perfect social justice, to eliminate poverty, hunger, and deprivation and continue the fight for universal access to education and healthcare as they are human rights – not privileges.
My brothers and sisters, the promise of Majority Rule remains largely unfulfilled in the lives of literally thousands of our Bahamian brothers and sisters today so we know that our work is not yet finished.
Let us commit our collective selves to broad based economic empowerment for all Bahamians through expanded ownership of our national economy and other social objectives that build up the common good. These celebrations are sober reminders that the struggle for equality in all of its forms is real and continues.