With celebrations of independence, come familiar outpourings of love and pride in one’s country, as well as expressions of concern, angst or disenchantment about the state thereof.
Patriotism is generally defined as deep devotion to and support for one’s country, and in this context, many Bahamians would unreservedly describe themselves as patriotic.
While there is typically no shortage of yearning for the aquamarine, black and gold among Bahamians young and old, there is an apparent disconnect in the consciousness of the average Bahamian between loving one’s country and understanding that love of country comes with duties and responsibilities as a citizen.
When disenchantment about the state of one’s country is expressed, it is often a top-down sentiment of government not doing what is necessary to advance the citizenry.
Equally justifiable a position, however, is that too many of us as Bahamians fail to take personal responsibility for the state of our democracy.
Bahamians can at times be reluctant to appreciate that the promise of self-determination, which came with independence 47 years ago, cannot come to fruition unless Bahamians determine that they will demonstrate the power of the people by fulfilling duties of citizenship that are well within the people’s power to achieve.
A citizen who is lazy about his or her duties in their democracy is just as much of a threat to freedom as elected officials who are undemocratic in their approach to governance, because it is the people who are to be the gatekeepers of those freedoms, and who help to create the society politicians will lead.
Iconic activist and revolutionary Marcus Garvey once said, “Liberate the minds of men and ultimately you will liberate the bodies of men.”
Heralding education as “the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world”, former South African President Nelson Mandela declared, “The power of education extends beyond the development of skills we need for economic success. It can contribute to nation building and reconciliation.”
It is the duty of the state to ensure the citizenry is properly educated about their system of government and civic responsibility, so as to ensure a healthy continuance of democracy, and it is also the duty of Bahamians to pursue this education even if that pursuit must happen outside the traditional classroom setting.
You cannot effectively challenge a system you do not understand, and you cannot engender the kind of collaboration and unity necessary to progress The Bahamas without understanding why each individual’s role in the nation is important, and how that role factors in to the way the country is supposed to function.
If more Bahamians would take the initiative to become educated about their system of government, they could learn how best to come together to both be and create change.
And the knowledge Bahamians glean from taking such ownership in their democracy, can enlighten them to possibilities for growth they could not contemplate in the absence of that knowledge.
Unlike over a decade ago, most of the information Bahamians need to educate themselves on the Westminster system of government and the structure and function of government in The Bahamas, is right at the fingertips of internet users.
Internet penetration per capita in The Bahamas is among the highest in the world and according to the Commonwealth Secretariat, is the third highest among commonwealth countries.
Many Bahamians say they feel their rights and entitlements are routinely disrespected by those in authority, yet they cannot articulate what their rights and entitlements are as citizens.
A large segment of the Bahamian population has never read the Constitution of The Bahamas, for example, nor have they taken an interest in doing so, even though it is freely accessible online.
When presented with information that can aid in personal or national development, too often is the complaint of “I don’t want to read all of that” offered by Bahamians, who otherwise spend hours on social media consuming material that adds little to the quality of their thinking and ultimately, their quality of life.
The most effective way to take matters into one’s own hands as a citizen, is to take hold of information, because information is key to unlocking doors of change.
Patriotism holds government accountable
One of the primary duties of a citizen and a patriot in a democracy is to rigorously defend one’s country by holding elected officials accountable.
Regrettably however, the country continues to be the collateral damage of loyalty to political parties above loyalty to the critical role of holding government’s feet to the fire for the good management of public affairs it is sworn to undertake.
Part of this dynamic stems from Bahamians seeing the primary responsibility of building The Bahamas as resting with elected officials, while another part stems from Bahamians seeing government as being the ultimate power in their democracy and hence, the group to which devotion must be given if one wishes to thrive and have opportunities for upward mobility.
Patriotism also necessitates support for government when it is deserving of it, but in our society, such support is invariably given based on politics as opposed to performance, which keeps the country in a perpetual state of social insanity — that is to say, doing the same thing again and again as citizens, but expecting a different result.
Though no laws currently exist that enable voters to remove a non-functioning member of Parliament before a general election is called, the prevailing mindset of esteeming of politics over performance could likely result in such a legislative provision being left to collect proverbial dust if ever enacted.
The familiar refrain of “I haven’t seen my MP since before the election” is one many Bahamians lean to, but where members of Parliament hold regular office hours and constituency meetings, citizens should take the initiative to show up, come together and make their voices heard.
And where MPs are failing to hold regular office hours and meetings, few things move politicians more than “naming and shaming”, and social media provides an outlet to do this that is unmatched among resources freely accessible and very widely used by the public.
In as much as it is true that far too many elected officials become relaxed after winning their seat, the citizenry is as much to blame for that posture by adopting the position that its work in a democracy is done once it marks its X on election day.
On the contrary, the work of citizenship begins after election day, and that work involves taking an active role in pressuring government to uphold and advance the interests of all Bahamians, regardless of who a Bahamian supports in or outside the voting booth.
Patriotism and civic responsibility
Governments do themselves and their country no favors by politicizing crime and social ills, because it ultimately feeds into the narrative that government is wholly responsible for violence and the deterioration of our communities.
While indicators of crime such as poverty, lack of education and joblessness are connected to government performance, personal responsibility also plays an integral role — a role that is often downplayed in a consciousness that government is chiefly responsible for one’s quality of life.
Countless Bahamians are likely unaware of how they disempower themselves by buying into the idea that they do not have the resident power to affect the course of their own lives and that of their communities.
Over the years, a sense of civic responsibility has all but evaporated from our communities, with residents seeking to rely on politicians to bring about even the simplest of community initiatives that members of the public can achieve on their own.
As fewer and fewer people get to know their neighbors or care to know them, community development becomes more difficult, but a desire to change this does not require political intervention.
Political intervention ought not be needed to keep one’s personal environment clean, or to help a neighbor who is in need, or to care enough about the safety of others to contact authorities when the vulnerable in one’s community are being abused.
If community members bring together their ideas, resources and talents, much of the suffering that exists in society could be addressed more efficiently, and there would not be as great a need to rely on an MP or his or her surrogate showing up to one’s doorstep bearing alms.
It is true that some of those we elect are guilty, by way of their governance, of bringing about added hardship in various sectors of society, but it is not true that Bahamians are powerless to positively impact these circumstances.
To the extent that we cloak crime in our homes and in our communities, the seeds of criminality will continue to spring into suffocating vines of violence that cut down our men and women, subduing residents to a life of perpetual fear.
To the extent that we make personal life choices that damage the viability of our homes and relationships, and that compromise the safety, security and emotional well-being of our children, we will continue to suffer the kinds of hardships that politicians cannot be blamed for and cannot be expected to fix.
The African proverb, “the ruin of a nation begins in the homes of its people” is apropos at this juncture.
Our top-down thinking says bad politicians are The Bahamas’ key problem and good politicians will be the nation’s key solution.
But every Bahamian politician, whether we deem them good or bad, comes from a Bahamian home within a Bahamian society that creates the kinds of men and women who go on to become those who will govern this country.
And if our mindsets about how to bring about change in our country do not make appropriate shifts, we will invariably fight against those who may be categorized as good for political leadership, and will not appreciate what they bring to the table sufficiently to join hand in hand with them to help bring about change.
This is why it is vital for Bahamians to liberate themselves by rearranging the top-down way of thinking, and by placing first things first — the first being that what this country is and can become starts with the choices and mindsets of its people.
Finding an individual or group to blame for all of our problems is a learned behavior that shifts responsibility for one’s condition away from self, and shifts our energies away from recognizing the power we have to change our condition.
If we want governments to respect the power and voice of the people, we have to respect our power enough to invest in understanding that power, and then to use what we know to make the kinds of choices that not only can help us avoid certain hardships, but will pressure our representatives to build on our work to take social progress to newer heights.
“Bahamas is not for Bahamians”
It is impossible to ignore the rising crescendo of those who deduce that Bahamians are devalued and forced by governments to accept a second-class status in their own country.
From policies that are viewed as preferential to foreign investors, to a perceived preference for foreign over Bahamian labor, examples cited as evidence of the belief that The Bahamas is not for Bahamians, are diverse.
Legitimacy of these examples accepted, what we as Bahamians also need to evaluate is the extent to which we value ourselves and one another in our country.
Underlying factors contributing to a lack of ethnic, racial or national esteem within a post-colonial population are complex, and Bahamians need to consider how much easier we make it for governments to devalue Bahamian ownership and advancement when we persist in tearing one another down.
When we block another Bahamian from succeeding, and rush to celebrate the downfall of a Bahamian rather than lending hearts and hands to help our brothers and sisters get ahead, we tear the nation down brick by brick.
The faithful would recall Galatians 5:15, which states: “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”
It takes little discernment to recognize that decades of Bahamians tearing into one another for politics, personal advancement or lack of self or racial esteem, has resulted in our quests for nation building being consumed in the hurt and division this destructive practice has created.
Bahamians, regardless of color, creed, gender or social standing, have got to come to the realization that the answers to fixing our country do not and cannot rest solely in a political party, regardless of how effective its leader may be.
Governments in a democracy have their essential role to play, and as we continue to see, that role is in many ways not being fulfilled.
But if we are honest as a people, we have also collectively failed in many respects to fulfill our essential role in our democracy, and that collective failure has given errant politicians and political leaders comfort with playing fast and loose with the country, and with the lives of the people who elected them to high office.
Where we lack knowledge, let us take the initiative to acquire it and act upon it.
Where we lack discipline and the desire to work together for the common good, let us work to fix what we have broken as a result.
The power of patriotism is in its ability to spur us to be better citizens, and the kinds of men and women who build firm foundations for future generations.
Love of self and love of country demand no less.