Well… I think most regular readers to this site would have noticed I’ve been slightly inactive the last week. Just been really bogged down with work and life in general. Barely had time to do more than scan the news headlines really. I’m going to try and slowly ease back into regular posting, but honestly, I’m still rather busy for the immediate future.
One issue I’ve been meaning to write about is the controversy over Alexandrina Hall.
The basic background of this, as I understand it is below:
It is owned by the Oddfellows, and was an important building for the Lodges at the time. The lodges as I understand them (Manning wrote a good study of them I think it was a book called black clubs of Bermuda) organised after emancipation and assisted with apprenticeship training, various social security issues, and served largely as a social networking centre. They were not all that different from the Freemasons.
Membership in the Lodges and Friendly Societies have dwindled over time, and in general they are in an irreversible decline. Much of their functions have been replaced with Government services and other sources. Despite this, they played an important role in our history, serving simulteonously as centres for political and social organisation and as centres for capital accumulation within the Black population.
There are many Lodge buildings, but Alexandrina Hall is perhaps one of the more obvious and important ones. It is directly across from the House of Assembly, has beautiful architecture and currently sports a vibrant torquoise paint with a trinity motif on its front.
It is privately owned, by the Oddfellows. It is being sold to the same developers as the neighbouring Canadian Hotel complex which, as I understand it, is slated to be redeveloped into a hotel and apartment condos. It is a separate, but connected development, and it is not yet clear what its destiny – if sold – is, whether it will be incorporated into the Canadian Hotel redevelopment directly or redeveloped separately but complementary to it.
Brother Larry Burchall has written on the issue in his column opposing the apparent imminent destruction of the building, and has blasted the PLP Government for at the least inaction, at the most, complicity.
Sister LaVerne Furbert has replied to his article, essentially pointing out that the affair is a private business deal, that the UBP is to blame for not listing the building as a protected building despite noting its heritage value, that Minister Dale Butle publicly opposed the sale and voiced his concerns and intention to bring it up with Cabinet, and also that the relevant Government board – of which Sister LaVerne sits upon – was planning to oppose the development as well. She ends this with an attack on Larry Burchall and fellow columnist Stuart Hayward, noting that neither have been Party members.
While Sister LaVerne brings up some valid points, she also raises more questions. While it is true that the UBP could have but did not act to make the building a protected one, one must wonder why the PLP hasn’t done this in the last ten years of its governance? This also leads into the valid question of where is the development plans, both for the City and for Bda as a whole? And while it is a ‘private deal’ and without getting into a whole debate here on private property, it does have some important historical and heritage value to the people as a whole. While it is hard to quantify this in economic terms, an argument could be made that due to this Government should take the initiative to intervene for the public good of preserving an important piece of our history.
While the UBP did lay the foundations for many of our continuing problems (especially in my opinion in regards to housing, education and race relations), those within the progressive labour movement, which extends beyond the Party – but Party members especially – must increasingly confront the fact that while some progress has been done in the decade of PLP power (improved public transportation, tourism, constituency rationalisation to name a few), much more could have and should have been done. It is true that an argument could be made that in the first term it was necessary to stabilise the country, allow transition to PLP power without rocking the boat too much, subsequent terms should have seen an acceleration of progressive and pro-labour reforms. Yes there have been internal strife that has handicapped the Party, but this alone is not a sufficient excuse. While it is true that the current leadership was elected on the platform of acceleration and bringing us to ‘the next level’ it was never articulated where we would be going, only that we would get there faster. It increasingly seems that the next level is not too different from the phenomena known as Mbekism in South Africa, essentially talk left, walk right. The current system seems to be very much an acceleration of Black Blairism, of elite pacting rather than substantive social transformation towards a more popular, particapatory and democratic society and economy.
As a side note, while it is possible that Larry Burchall has never been a Party member I do find this suprising in light of his brother being a former Party Chairman, and Larry himself being, as I understood it, one of the key architects of the 1998 election campaign that finally swept the PLP to power. I think what he is articulating in his column is a sense of betrayal that is increasingly being felt throughout the community, that while the Party has proven its ability to govern as well as the UBP – and in so doing has become, in my opinion, the natural Party of government for the forseeable future – it has failed to realise the vision of progressive change that most of its supporters envisioned this would entail. In part this is the fault of its base who demobilised following the election, feeling that now that their representatives were in power they would indeed represent the values of progressive labour. In hindsight this was a mistake. It has allowed the ‘representative’ to move away from progressive values, and they have become in the eyes of many, coopted into the system of patronage and power that they were elected initially to transform. The base needs to remobilise in order to put pressure on its representatives in order to bring them back to the progressive pro-labour origins of the liberation struggle. Mobilisation should not be used like a tap by the Leadership to be turned on and off at election periods. Instead it should be autonomous and pressure the representatives to stay true to progressive labour values, and if that fails, to wash away the hypocrisy of the Westminster liberal democracy and build a popular democracy in it place.
As for Alexandrina Hall, while it is a private deal, it is within government power to intervene, even to appropriate it (just as Tuckers Town was under the old Oligarchy). It would be advisable to convert it into a tourism site, a museum for the Lodges, and a heritage centre showcasing the rich Black urban history that has hitherto been hidden in our colonial past. Inaction is as good as complicity in this crime against our heritage, faux outrage notwithstanding.
As for the Party, it should heed the warnings being murmured within its rank and file. We had the triumphalism of the first term, the divided house of the second term, and now the apparent naked nouveax riche and authoritarian centralism of the third term. Talk left and walk right only works for the short term.