In a somewhat rare occurrence, back to back town meetings in a single week were held on Grand Bahama to discuss matters pertaining to the government’s response to Hurricane Dorian — the first was held by Eyewitness News and Beyond the Headlines and the second by the Disaster Reconstruction Authority the following evening.
Perspective attended both meetings.
As residents at the first town meeting anxiously approached the microphone, a sincere and well-meaning attendee who listened intently to the cries and concerns of storm victims leaned over to us and asked, “But is everything really all bad? There is some good too, isn’t there?”
Understanding where the attendee’s heart was in asking the question, we turned to him and said, “What you need to appreciate is that for the most part, Bahamians in this room have hurts and frustrations and fears and disappointments that they don’t feel are being acknowledged, respected or treated with the sense of urgency they deserve.”
“Bahamians,” we offered, “just want to be heard, and if they feel they are in a venue where their feelings will be acknowledged and appreciated, they will take the opportunity to speak their mind and heart.”
At the second meeting, the mood was noticeably more tempered, which was not unexpected given the presence of multiple government ministers and officials, as well as a large number of police and defense force officers.
Cultural norms still weigh heavily on the consciousness of many Bahamians that in the presence of authority they must yield, submit and “sit small” or face the consequences.
Nevertheless, what was unmistakable was that emotions in the room ran deep and distrust ran high, though more concealed than at the first meeting.
Having one’s voice truly heard and one’s humanity truly valued is not a unique desire, and in the context of the Bahamian experience is an increasingly thwarted desire if you remove political blinders and indifference long enough to hear the heartbeat of men and women all over this country.
While Hurricane Dorian has knifed an exceptionally deep and perpetually fresh wound into the psyche of Abaconians, Grand Bahamians and their loved ones that storm victims feel is not being given the attention to heal, Bahamians throughout the nation will tell you that what is most soul-crushing about being Bahamian today is that your voice is not heard and your desires for advancement continue to take second place to contrary political interests.
Without question, Bahamians are prideful people, which can often translate into them not speaking up and being honest about the help they need.
So if Bahamians, in this case storm victims, are prepared to bare all on live television and declare how destitute they really are, it should be an indication to us that the suffering is so great that even cultural norms of secrecy and silence are losing their hold.
Are you hearing me?
Young Bahamians who feel devalued and underestimated, want to be heard.
Bahamians working hard to make ends meet but who are faltering under the weight of a cost of living that is too great to manage, want to be heard.
Bahamians who are investing in their skills and their education only to be held back and passed over by nepotism, political favoritism, cronyism, misogyny and the “black crab” syndrome borne out of subconscious self-hatred, want to be heard.
Mothers who are struggling to raise their children in a society that can be harsh, judgmental, unforgiving and unwilling to lend a hand to help other mothers succeed, want to be heard.
Fathers who are struggling to maintain their dignity in an ever-changing economic climate, and who are pressured to deny their fears and hurts in a society that often downplays the kinds of sacrifices men make and the pains they experience, want to be heard.
Children whose voices, opinions and feelings are most ignored in our society because our culture teaches that children are not supposed to have a point of view outside of what their parents tell them to think and feel, want and need to be heard.
Our elderly and older Bahamians who in many cases are the pillars of wisdom and knowledge in our society, but who are being continuously discounted and tossed on the trash heap of ageism, want to be heard.
Bahamians who are longing for change but do not know how to bring it about, want to be heard.
It is a lesson that all members of Parliament can do well to remember, which is that even if you cannot deliver on all or much of what your constituents want or expect at a given point in time, many just want to know that you are hearing them and respecting what you hear.
And they want you to respect them enough to understand that many of them can properly discern whether you truly have a heart for the people, or whether you are simply viewing the people as a means to an end.
As we told last week’s town meeting attendee, the truth is not good or bad, it just is what it is.
It is lies and deception that we should always call to the carpet.
What is true is Bahamians want to be heard, and what is equally true is that more of us need to be willing to speak so as to be heard, recognizing that it is our power and authority our elected officials are supposed to submit to and not the other way around.