Posted by: J Starling | July 1, 2009

Deepening Democracy

Over the last few weeks a number of issues have come up in local news that sheds some light on the workings of our democracy in Bermuda. In particular we can look at the issue concerning the Guantanamo detainees and the abolition of the municipal governments of St. Georges and Hamilton.

This article is not interested in looking at the constitutionality of the decision by Dr. Brown and Lt. Col. Burch. What is of more interest is the comments that have been made concerning this decision. In particular there have been a number of individuals, Government MPs, Party members and supporters that have basically said the same thing. What they said is effectively that the Government was elected in the 2007 election, and as such they have the mandate to govern, so the people do not need to be consulted on government decisions.

On a similar note, the Government has announced that it plans to abolish the municipal governments of St. Georges and Hamilton. The argument that has been given is that Bermuda is too small to have such various different levels of government, and that the centralisation of government is to the benefit of the nation.

These two issues are related in that they illustrate some of the key problems with our democracy. The form of democracy that we have in our country is what is called a representative liberal democracy. Under such a system the people have the ability to solely choose who will represent them and govern on the behalf of the people for X amount of years. In effect, this is a five second democracy. The people have democracy for about five seconds once every X amount of yeats, as long as it takes to mark the ballot paper. In between this time, we do not have a democracy.

Some might even say that this five second democracy makes a mockery of democracy – that is is a de-mockery. Others may say that its effectively a system of democratic dictatorship.

This de-mockery is not what the people have struggled for. For sure, it is an improvement over the past racial and wealth deformities. And a lot of the progress that has been made as a result of the progressive labour movement. Ironically though these very organisations that set out as the liberators of the people have today become facismle replicas of the very society they were supposedly challenging. This de-mockery of ours is based on the exclusion of the overwhelming majority of the population from participating in any meaningful way.

All the ruling groups of modern society, from Government to the workplace, encourage the belief that decision taking and management – self-government – are functions beyond the comprehension of ordinary people. All means are used to encourage this idea – formal education, the media, the Church and the Party emphasise this myth. The ‘rebels’ even within the dominant groups do not discourage this idea; they only argue that they could do it better than those who mismanage the world today.

This idea, of government ‘on behalf of the people’, of five second de-mockery, must be rejected. It is merely a replica of the plantation system, only with less obvious Massa’s. What is more, it encourages the growth of apathy and alienation of the people – conditions that powerfully reinforce this de-mockery system. No matter how well-intentioned these ‘representatives of the people’ are, this system rapidly results in them settling matters only in their own interests and becoming exploiting groups and bureaucracies.

In place of this liberal democracy, this plantation de-mockery, what we need is real, grassroots popular democracy. In place of a greater and greater centralised State we need to replace it with a system of Parish and Munical Councils where the smallest unit is the neighbourhood. Each neighbourhood is more than capable of meeting as an association and taking care of its immediate issues. From these neighbourhood associations can be elected delegates to a Parish Council – importantly these delegates must be subject to the right of recall should they fail to implement the desires of the neighbourhood. Beyond this it is possible to elect delegates from the Parish Council to a National Council, again subject to recall.

Some will say this is too cumbersome, that some decisions need to be made quickly and without consultation. That is true. But emergency decisions can be analysed afterwards and dealt with accordingly. As for cumbersome, perhaps it is more so than giving up your rights for all but five seconds every five years. But with modern technology surely it is not impossible to hold neighbourhood meetings weekly? Afterall, the birthplace of democracy, Athens in Ancient Greece, with a population of 30,000 voters (the slaves and women were not eligible) and much less technological assets than we have today were able to produce a vibrant and effective democracy. There is no reason why Bermuda today cannot build a truly democratic system and reject the de-mockery inherited from our ongoing colonialism.

How do we get from here to there? This article does not claim to have all the answers. What it sets out to do is to start a discussion about the inadequacies of our de-mockery and give an outline of true democracy. Future articles will build on this issue. What is needed is to further the critique of our existing de-mockery, while at the same time building the elements of a true democracy. There is nothing stopping citizens from organising neighbourhood associations and even working to federate these into a de facto parish council system. It will be hard work – the people have long internalised the colonialist system of de-mockery. All the same the development of this critique and of alternate power structures to the centralised state are pivotal to the liberation of our people.


  1. Congrats on getting on line so soon! Best of luck in fulfilling your objectives (which should be clearly stated).

  2. It could be argued Johnathan, and indeed is argued by many of African descent, that a Black Government working within a White framework can only produce this situation; hence (possibly) your point about “become facismle replicas of the very society they were they were supposedly challenging”.

    The games are well known, the rules are understood in a white society.

    In the final analysis, people are people and actually differ very little. Skin colour is but one difference.

    Greed, the need to hang onto power et al are common to all.

    And I suspect that it is this ‘white framework’ that creates the real anger from some black posters on CAF that we have all witnessed, exacerbated by what they see with Brown and Co.

    You see, it may be that even you are arguing for change from a white person’s point of view – even though you might not recognise it.

    That’s not a criticism – it’s just the way it is. The ‘general order’ of life (at least within a westernised society) is within a white framework as distinct from a black framework.

    I can’t argue with you that what we have is an autocratic approach – we have, and sadly, Bermudians (at least appear) to be happy with that, at least in their 5 seconds of democracy. In their homes, they might be seething with anger at the way they are treated…at the way, for example, the Govt said it would empower black people, and it hasn’t except for a chossen few.

    The alternative – voting UBP or otherwise – is too large a price to pay for many, so people will put up with it.

    It maybe that the formation of a new party at the same time as the disbandenment of the UBP could draw a line in the sand, and at least not be accused of historical wrong doing thereby removing that crutch that many rely upon in argument.

    I sense that everything that could be done, would be done, to ensure it did not succeed. Too much is at stake for those who currently benefit, to allow it to survive.

    And, like it or not, Brown knows that his model has not really worked for the overall good of Bermuda and specifically not for Black Bermuda, so why give a different model the chance to do so?

  3. I forgot to add…

    The real irony is that Black people thought that in winning the 98 election, they (Black people) would have the power. They are, afterall, in the majority.

    Have they got the power? Or, is just in the hands of a few?

  4. Excellent post Jonathan, and congratultions on providing this forum, I hope it achieves its lofty goals. I have said before that the two party system we have, while probably antiquated and dysfunctional in its own right as pointed out above, suffers from the additional problem of diving the country along racial lines.

    It needs to be recognized that as longs as the two groups remain polarized racially, which clearly Brown has fostered since his time in office, we will never make any significant progress.

    I am reminded of a painting I was saw in a legal office. It was that of a pasture in which there was cow, with two farmers each pulling on opposite ends of the cow, and in the middle sat a lawyer milking the cow.

    While this image may well describe the legal profession, it also describes where we are today in Bermuda. We blacks and whites are so busy fighting each and distrusting each other, like the farmers in the painting, that the likes of Ewart Brown have no problem milking the cow that is Bermuda.

    Until we can unite as a people, and see ourselves as Bermudians (and not black or white Bermudians) we will never make any headway with political reform. Brown’s spin machine keeps pumping out the racial rhetoric, to keep blacks in lock-step with him. Like a drug pusher giving you your daily fix.

    In my opinion both of these old parties (born out of the struggle over civil rights) are dinosaurs, and there is no place for them in the future of Bermuda.

    Blacks and whites need to start seeing themselves as a united group of Bermudians. Blacks will probably have a harder job at this because not only have they had real issues with race in the past, but have, at least for the past few years, been pommeled with divisive imagery and language, not intended to united but to keep folks solidly behind the democratic dictator.

    If we can lay aside this all the race crap, and be, and act as Bermudians, then I think true political reform can and will, happen. But expect as Martin pointed out, for there to be active and severe opposition to this. People’s careers and bank accounts are at stake.

  5. Time for reform in the form of a bottom up democratic run governing council, elected on a parish basis, with voters rights legislation online with party politics (political gangs) banned.

    any and all meetings aired on CITV on a LIVE basis.

    Thats a real democracy!!!

  6. I actually think that one of the planks that could help fuel the rapid ascent of a third party would be a promise to accelerate the enactment of FOIA/PATI. I think that would resonate very favorably with an electorate that has seen far too much secrecy and far too many fait accomplis.

  7. There is ‘speculation’ that the recent decision by Bermuda’s Premier Ewart Brown to accept the four Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees from the United States might be connected to the premier’s son, LA physician Kevin Brown who faces 33 felony sex counts and possible life in prison.

    The speculation is that the US government has offered either a presidential pardon, a reduced prison sentence, or extradition to Bermuda for the accused Kevin Brown in exchange fo r Bermuda accepting the four Chinese Uighur Guantanamo detainees.

  8. I think it would be difficult for the President to give a pardon – before Brown is (a) found guilty (b) served some of his sentence, and (c) Obama has figured out how to deal with the Anti-Rape groups in the US.

  9. It does’nt involve Bermuda Extradition ?

    Mabe a few recanted statements and the undercover officer is lying and /or evidence is lost/tampered with.

    Speculation? I need a double……

  10. One lying amongst 37? I know we all have our price, but sheesh – can’t get my head around 36 others somehow.

  11. Not much would surprise me these days.

    Although it would raise a sh!tstorm here and I imagine Cali, but hey, that too would pass…

  12. Agree with your thought. And I’d add, on the heels of the Bush administrations travails with accusations of political interference (, I’d be very surprised if Holder and Obama would want to take any risk of being subject to similar accusations.

    And, as another poster has observed, Dr. Kevin Brown is facing state charges, not Federal charges.

  13. Reading other blogs/forums, this Blankman asked if the Premier breached the Constitution.

    Of course he did. No need to type three thousand words. Yes he did.

    End of story. What are you doing about it? Whats your involment? Really, I want too know. Opinions are like blogs, everyone has one just depends on how you treat it. Having a meeting at 6.30am tomorrow Albouys Point. Lets see how many come out for exposure or will it all end up just ‘blank’.

    And I don’t want to hear crap about ‘personal attacks’. Put up…or shut up….. The country is at stake. ‘Stake’, don’t even go there………

  14. Jonathan:

    Your point about the greeks is well taken. It is pertinent that the voting Athenians saw themselves as a single group of people. They had disagreements and were politically ruthless but they acknowleged that the system treated all equally because that was their first definition of themselves : They were Athenian. After that, the tiny size of the city ( so versatile and nimble ), the freedom of its enfranchised men and their skills in seamanship made them an extremely innovative, clever people who could better their lives and humiliate thier enemies, even when that enemy was the mightiest empire the world had ever known.

    That sounds like what Bermuda could be. I think small nations work better if the political system is open and the polis is responsible and fully empowered. But we have to be Bermudians first. Once we agree on that, the rough play of democracy can actually be productive.

    I agree. The present system does not empower anyone but the elite. In Athens, they would never have put up with this.

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