In 1969, just a year from graduating from The Berkeley Institute and a year before the famous Sports Day boycott for “Black Studies”, I joined the Progressive Labour Party that was filled with Founding Fathers like Wilfred Allen and Peter Smith.
Some would say it was inevitable, because my home was a mere 100 yards away, on Angle Street, in a very working class neighbourhood. Okay! But the truth of the matter was that my home was filled with political discussion about the ills of Bermuda and how they could be resolved.
My aunt Una, was active, along with St. Paul AME Choir members, Aureila Burch, Wycliffe Stovell, and R. Austin Wilson, Randolph Hayward to name but a few. And church folk like Mrs. Lorraine Fubler and Mrs. Alice Brown taught us the Roberts Rules of Order, and how to debate and lose without shame or crying.
Within weeks of joining, I stated in a Pembroke Branch meeting that I wanted to run for Parliament. Members applauded and wished me well. The late Austin Thomas, stood to his feet and stated that if that was to happen, at the age of 21, the legal voting age at the time, I would have to undergo immediate training. I thought he was referring to socialist or communist teachings only to learn that I was wrong.
It was the feeling of Mr. Thomas, and the members at the time, that this training was essential in order to be successful. One can clearly see why now, if we look at the current crop of MPs in the House. Upon the election of Nandi Davis, MP, she was asked what her political background was and she stated “my parents were involved in politics”.
Since the election of the OBA in 2012, I have waited to hear the key issues that each MP stands for and it is wanting. At least when Gina Spence was in the Senate we knew we had an advocate for youth. With Louise Jackson we knew she was an advocate for seniors, and the list goes on perhaps because they had a similar training to what I had.
So what went wrong?
What went wrong was the new method of putting young people in the Senate because they might appeal to young voters. While some had forceful views like David Morris and Cindy Trimm they soon petered out.
Recently, I was at a political meeting and was told that I was old at 63, and should move on the side for younger members to climb the ladder. Why? Because they are young or because they have completed the only political process that can be successful for Members of Parliament to be our advocates for change, policy, and programmes? Was that the reasons? No! I should disappear and take my experience and just let them enter, was the answer.
So what are those three words?
Apprenticeship. That is when you join, attend meetings, help make the Branch successful whether it be cleaning, handing out flyers, or raising funds. You do the grass-root things by attending, and helping, and listening.
The second word is stewardship. If you have survived long hours of wasted discussions, motions that go nowhere, and criticisms that abound, you are ready to move to the stewardship stage where you start to take stands on issues, speak up, canvass with a candidate, learn what your party stands for, fight for issues, engage in meaningful debate and discussions, learn how to canvass and learn what it takes to fight for what you believe and also when to compromise or change tactics. If you survive that stage you are then ready for leadership.
Yes, three key words to political success remain to this day: Apprenticeship, Stewardship, and Leadership. If you fail to do well or skip any stage you will remain as an unknown in the House of Assembly, as my recent survey of 100 Bermudians indicated when shown a photo of ten MPs, they did not know who they were, what they were fighting for, or if they accomplished anything. It was like they were Nonexistent, thus highlighting that Mr. Austin Thomas was right.
By Dale Butler
Dale Butler is a writer, researcher, historian, playwright, and publisher who served in Parliament 1998 – 2012, and held a variety of Ministerial posts which allowed him to develop numerous programmes in culture and social rehabilitation. He can be reached at 5053409 or firstname.lastname@example.org.