- One Bermuda Allliance Senator Jarion Richardson, who replaced Nick Kempe in the Upper House made his maiden speech in the Senate on Wednesday, February 26, 2020. Here’s the speech in full…
Bermuda sits in the eye of change. We can be assured that the Bermuda of our today will not look like the Bermuda of our tomorrow.
The question isn’t whether to improve healthcare or reform immigration. It’s not a question of whether we need improve education or diversify the economy. How we answer these questions, will reshape the face of Bermuda’s society and economy.
And we have to do these things in the midst of political discord, stubborn violent crime and racial tension. Insofar as where we’ve been, we’re definitely through the looking glass.
We’re on the strange side of things as they were. Everything from our method of taxation to the role of Government, is under consideration. But I’d like to draw your attention to the reactions I’ve encountered since being announced as a Senator, appointed by the One Bermuda Alliance.
These reactions come from people who I respect, admire and love. I hope no one takes offence but in a Bermuda beyond the looking glass I think we need a lot more transparency about our hard-held beliefs.
The two reactions I’d like to take the opportunity to speak about are:
- You’ve joined the wrong side; and
- You should go sort that party out
Before I address those directly, I’d like to speak about a few incidents that radically changed the way I see the world. I’m mindful they are only a few and I doubt they’re the most significant, they’re just want came to mind when I thought about those reactions.
The noise of the weapons firing is the clearest memory I have of a few weeks spent with the British Army in the Moroccan desert. This was not Arabian Nights. There were no magic carpets, no epic love songs, genies or any other romantic notion of the desert.
It was an incredibly cruel place. There’s remarkably little sand. You’d think there would be more sand, though to be fair when you checked your boot later; it seemed to have a desert’s worth of sand in there.
It was a cruel place because of the rocks. Even the farm fields were rock hard. The soil was baked in extreme heat and rocks formed everywhere, about the size of a fist. So, when you walked, my ankle rolled all the time. Having about 80 pounds of gear on didn’t make the sensation any more pleasant.
And anything that was green was generally bad. No vegetation that didn’t have thorns or something other unpleasant surprise.
When it wasn’t rocky like that, there were these huge boulders, massive things. It was as if God were shaping the landscape by balling up soil, then gave up halfway and dropped these boulders.
Shade was laughably absent.
The heat was so bad that in the afternoons we would crawl into a wadi, a dry river, draw a hessian fabric over our position, and hide from the sun. Whoa to the man who wound up near the edge of the fabric. My hand slipped out once. I left it out in the sun and felt it start to burn within seconds. It was fascinating that there was an environment as hostile to this to human habitation. And I was in it!
And for all that experience, it was actually the noise that I remember the most clearly. It’s normally quiet when you’re maneuvering around. Even with all that gear, you’re trying to preserve the element of surprise.
But then there’s a shout. Contact. And it sounds like the loudest music you’ve ever heard but way less entertaining. You can feel it in your chest. You can hear the words of command. Contact left, 200 meters follow my tracer. You sling the weapon into your line of sight, shift your weight and squeeze the trigger. The weapon pushes back against you, so you lean forward.
Within minutes, most of your hearing is shot. The sweat pours down your forehead. You’re running, standing, jumping and shouting. All the while the noise of those weapons drowns out the whole world. Squeeze, breath, run. Repeat.
In the dark you get really confused. Charlie fire team moved off to the right flank. Delta putting down suppressive fire. That means shoot more. What it really means is you’re about to feel as lonely as is humanly possible to feel. There are over a hundred other people out in this dark, loud desert and you can’t see anything but flashes from the muzzles of their weapons.
Squeeze, breathe, run.
I got up to a position where I was supposed to fire into pop up target. I could barely make it out. It was more a silhouette than anything else. So I start squeezing.
The weapon started overheating so I flip the cover, try to pace my shots. But I have to maintain a rate of fire because the rest of Delta fire team has been pulled to other duties. Squeeze, squeeze. The sweat got into my eyes. Didn’t matter. Squeeze, squeeze.
Then it dawned on me that I can’t really see anything other than the silhouette anymore. In fact, I can’t really hear anything either. I’ve in a kind of zone. And it came me to. I’m in what the British called ‘red zone’ or something like that. I’ve lost situational awareness. I’m not just focused, I’m ignoring my surrounding.
I release the tension on the trigger just enough to ‘clear’ my eyes, which means look out of the sighting mechanism, reorient my vision and look back down. There was a slight tension still on the trigger. When I looked back through the mechanism, it took less than a second to clear my eyes, I saw the distinct outline of a man I recognized run square through my sights. If I had squeezed any more, my bullet would have been squarely lodged in that man’s torso.
I was one deep breath away from living a very different life than I have now.
I’m a bit of reading nerd so I’ll beg your indulgence with the quote that comes to mind. Because when I returned home, everything looked very different.
TS Eliot wrote: “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where were started and know the place for the first time.”
I felt like when I got off the plane, I was familiar with the cost that may be paid for there to be a Bermuda. A cost that was paid in the past and God willing, a cost that will never have to be paid in the future.
I have a lot of stories. On 9/11 I was a reporter at the local airport, watching the planes coming out of the sky like so many flies. I was embodied that day and by the end of it, was standing with an unarmed rifle outside of cruise ship on Front Street. We were clearly so intimidating because the tourists just kept taking pictures with us. They didn’t seem to consider us a ‘real army’.
And just so you know, if you happen to be chasing someone through the backyards of Bermuda, as I did as uniformed constable on ‘B’ Watch, clothing lines are practically invisible in the dark. And dogs don’t chase the first person who runs through the yard and wakes them up; they chase the second person!
Thanks for bearing with me as I described some of the events that shape my opinions. I wanted whoever is reading this or listening to it, to know that I am authentically, genuinely speaking from experiences that are not political.
If you may recall, the first reaction was that I had “joined the wrong side”. I believe this reaction exacerbates the challenging situation Bermuda is in today.
I get that we have an adversarial system of government; that there must be an us-and-them.
Where I think this system goes from the nature of contention into inciting civil discord, is going so far as to make our politics a set of absolutes. That is, in order for my side to be right, your side must, by definition, be wrong.
This appointment, insofar as I will undertake these duties, is no different than being appointed a constable or a corporal. There is a thing to done. It is hard, it will be muddy and dirty and it is not likely that it will make friends. But it’s going to get done because it has to.
We seem to have reached a point in the Bermudian story, when the abstract definition of what it is to be Bermudian is no longer sufficient.
Our history of racial segregation and oppression, and its resolution, is not the property of any one of our political parties. Economic disparity cannot be the siren call to descend into the kind of society where our differences are highlighted over our similarities.
Much like US and UK, in Bermuda, we used coded phrases to avoid bringing transparency to our most dangerous thoughts. We fester ill-will for political gain and self-righteously proclaim our ownership of the answer to all problems. We are slipping toward the ‘Dear Leader’ approach of the North Koreans and soon we will be proclaiming that our political leaders are incapable of flaw or fault.
That backslide has to stop. Our debt, our healthcare and our immigration problems do not care if we attribute their causes, accurately or inaccurately, to be the fault of person or group of people, or another. They will, they have, infected our economy and civil discourse. Veiled threats and coy digs are not evidence of a brilliant, insightful mind.
They are evidence of at best a spiteful, vindictive motive. And that will be our undoing – nothing good can grow from that kind of soil.
If you may recall, the second reaction was that “you should go sort that party out”. Similar to the last reaction, I believe this reaction the challenging situation Bermuda is in today.
First, thank you for such a compliment. I’m incredibly humbled that those who said that remark have such confidence in me. I can promise that I will work as hard as I can to retain that confidence.
But it is not helpful to chastise the One Bermuda Alliance. The OBA is appropriately named because it is an alliance of very different people with very different ideas, but united in the belief that our similarities are more important than our differences.
We all saw it form. It’s birth was a public spectacle, in no short way because of the deaths that were necessary for it to come about. It’s first steps were watched. It made bold strides, stumbled over a few things and fell a few more.
It argued with itself, coming into its own. Who can’t identify with that? Who came into the world a self-assured adult, capable of withstanding the pressures of job, family, church and community?
I admire them that they would rather try and fail, be cold and timid soul:
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” – Theodore Roosevelt
The Alliance is juxtaposition to the Progressive Labor Party with a deep and rich heritage. It’s had our entire constitutional history to coalesce their views, consolidate their constituencies and prepare for governance. They have story, a narrative and a mission.
The Alliance’s black members have been stigmatized and its white members are regarded as either puppet masters or aged out politicians of a bygone era. And yet they made the hard play, the sacrifice play. The infrastructure projects, grand tourism events and budget constraints all made them lose the next election.
When it was time to work, with few tools and every skeptic on the Island shining a light on them, they stepped up. They didn’t do it perfectly, but they did it.
They remind me of that Moroccan desert. Or when I reported to B Watch in the aftermath of Hurricane Fabian. Things looked very hard at that time.
What we, as a country, will be called to do, for each other and the country as whole, in the next few years, will be nothing short of a tremendous exertion and radical change of thought.
No matter the challenge, I do believe that we will emerge in a better place. If we have faith in each other and in the Bermuda to come:
Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen”.
Madame President, thank you for this opportunity to introduce myself to a country that I have served in the past and that I will serve now. May God Bless us, this Senate, and show us what we need to do.