Quick Thoughts on the Demonstrations

I’ve only just now had the opportunity to really catch up on the various events of today, and I still have quite a bit to review.

TL Demo

However, I do want to give kudos to both the demonstrators for exercising their democratic rights, and for the Government, specifically Premier Cannonier and Minister Fahy, for facing the people, even if it was a rather hot baptism of fire.

As a matter of tactics, I think the demonstration made some tactical mistakes, and these will be jumped on by various pro-OBA partisans. These partisans would attack the demonstration no matter what, one expects, but that is one thing.  To offer them opportunities to attack on a silver platter is another thing altogether.

To the organiser’s credit, they did appeal for calm and respect.  But some of the demonstrators clearly disregarded that appeal, and that is, to be understated, unfortunate.

Xenophobia?

One thing that was expressed is that there is some genuine fears amongst certain segments of the population concerning their livelihood and futures, either for themselves or their families and descendants.  These fears are based some very real concerns.

Unfortunately, some of these fears are, it must be said, being expressed in what is correctly termed xenophobia.

In particular, based on some of what I could make out, there is some clear anti-Asian sentiments.

This is not particularly novel.  From my own personal experiences and involvement with some of our Asian community, and the recent phenomenon of anti-Filipino graffiti, this has been festering for some time now.

There are some, notably Minister Fahy, who would appear to desire to ‘wish it all away’ through policing the internet.  This will not work.  Ignoring the expressed sentiment, simply because we find it distasteful, does not eradicate the sentiment.  If anything it allows it to fester.

What Bermuda needs to do is to look at the cause for these sentiments, and see what can be done about that.  While there are some issues of cultural chauvinism or misunderstanding, as well as pure old-fashioned racism, one of the main animating forces here is purely economic.

There is a sense that many of these foreign workers, particularly those readily identifiable (Asians), while exploited themselves, are being used (purposefully or not) to divide workers, to depress wages and, as a result, push Bermudians out of certain occupations.

And with particularly the lower strata of Bermudians with limited opportunities to enter other occupations, this leads to a reserve army of labour, and, ultimately, an underclass.

All of which breeds resentment, which all too often is directed against the more easily identifiable foreign worker than the system which exploits them and Bermudian workers equally.

Nonetheless, Mr Cannonier was right to apologise for his Deputy Chairman’s dismissive and insulting use of the term in a very generalised way.

But it doesn’t mean xenophobia doesn’t exist in Bermuda and needs to be challenged – but we need to challenge the cause, not the symptoms.

Going Forward

It would be wrong to dismiss the demonstrations of today.

There are some, who I think it is fair to term OBA partisans, who are dismissing the demonstration either due to the sentiments expressed, the stated reasons for the demos, or the numbers involved.

To do this would be a folly.

On numbers, in general only a fraction of people concerned about an issue, actually attend a demonstration.

There are many factors that affect the exact proportion, but in general I find that the analogy of an ice-berg is apt here.  Only one tenth of the ice-berg breaks the surface, the rest is below the water.  The same may be said of demonstrations.

I’ve already touched a bit on the issue of sentiments.  In general though, to me it was always more an issue of how the OBA reversed it’s pre-election promise and then bungled its PR following.

I continue to have a generally neutral position on regarding term limits.  I am still waiting for the Government to release a convincing argument for getting rid of them – and for Minister Dunkley to fulfil his word on this issue.

However, I am hopeful that this has been an important learning moment for the OBA.  I am hopeful that they will be more careful with their handling of issues going forward, and involve the public with consultation from now on.

As for the organisers involved, I hope they are conducting a critical post-mortem of today’s actions.  I foresee the potential for a number of protests and industrial actions over the medium and long-term of the OBA’s tenure.  Today’s demo serves as a useful dress rehearsal to learn from.

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