Friday. 11th August 2000
To: All News Editors
From: Al Dillette
For further information, contact:  363-0333
Re: Speech by
Senator the Honourable Fred Mitchell
Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio U.S.A.
Total number of pages, including this header: 12
Note: Speech delivered today, faithful to text.
REMARKS BY SENATOR FRED MITCHELL
ANTIOCH COLLEGE SUMMER INSTITUTE FOR
ANTIOCH COLLEGE, YELLOW SPRINGS, OHIO
ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE WEBSITE
AS A POLITICAL TOOL AND A CALL TO PUBLIC SERVICE
My friend Kathryn Leary, officers, faculty and staff of Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio. I want to thank you all for this kind invitation to speak here at the school from which I graduated in 1974 some 26 years ago. The place brings back many memories of a challenging and fun time, and even a dangerous tornado. I have not been back to Antioch but for a brief stop here in 1984 to see Myrtle Brown a dear friend from the town who used to be my every day mother away from home. I am happy to be back.
I have heard from time to time of Antioch in the news, keeping up its cutting edge tradition. I remember a story about the rules of dating. I remember the story about the commencement speaker of 2000. Each of those events invited some controversy but that is how I remember Antioch, always challenging the status quo, pushing the envelope. I congratulate you for that tradition.
I am from The Bahamas, a country many many miles away from here, and difficult to get to from here. The question was always asked: how did I get to come here? I will address that in a moment but I wish to tell you a story about that visit to Antioch in 1984. I decided to accompany my friend Ms. Myrtle Brown to church at the Baptist church in town. So during the course of the service those who were visiting were asked to stand, and I did. It was therefore clear that I was someone from out of town. After church I was standing near the door and a old woman came up to greet me. “You from out of town aren’t you?” she asked. I told her that I was. “Where are you from, Springfield?” Of course, Springfield is just the town some 15 miles up the road. I was from some place far far away.
I tell that story because, it brought home to me in a real way how large a country the United States is, and how insulated it can be from the affairs of the outside world. And it is therefore my hope this evening to be able to encourage you as part of the next generation of leaders of the United States to develop a world view, to reject the narrow view. I want to encourage you to look at the big picture. That is the connection of this topic to the question of public service.
Antioch College has always encouraged civic participation. That is now more important than ever. Some of you should go on to become civic and political leaders in your country. The buzz word these days is developing a civil society. And that is, in part, why I wanted to come back here. I want to encourage American students to accept the call to public service whether at the state, local or federal level. And to build upon your experiences here at school to further develop the traditions of a liberal democracy, with the values of political pluralism, respect for the rule of law, and with a premium placed on the rights of the individual, limited only by an abiding recognition of the public interest.
I said I wanted to encourage American students. I did not mean to discriminate by nationality because the call to public service applies to any nationality that is represented here today. It is important for you to involve yourselves in the public life of your countries. But the address is particularly toward American students who live in a wealthy country, and have many privileges over and beyond those of other citizens of the world. This is very much the era of the Pax Americana—the ne plus ultra of American influence. That influence must be for good but it must be an informed influence, not a myopic influence. And too often those who now decide public policy for your country do so imbued with a great sense of a moral conscience and do so with great rectitude about solving the world’s problems, but often do so in an ill-informed, brutish and insensitive way. It is therefore important for me to stress the other way, the informed way.
One hopes that there will be some future Mayors, Congressional representatives; Senators both State and Federal and perhaps even a President here. One hopes that if you answer that call to public service you will remember this brief address in this remote place from another citizen from a country afar, and that your choices of public policy will be informed by this brief message here tonight.
But the call to public service in these days and times does not only mean that one must involve oneself in partisan politics. In the generation that has passed since I left this place, the world and your country has increasingly recognized that non governmental organizations, the so called non-profit sector in this country has an important role to play in public life. Indeed in my country, where we have small Parliamentary numbers as an Opposition party, the NGOs are sometimes more powerful that the Opposition party in Parliament. Given the traditions of Antioch, I am certain that many of you will end up in non-profits and other NGOs but the philosophy ought to be the same—tolerance, respect for the rights and views of others, the public good.
And further, those who go directly into the private sector must be informed by these views as well. The great inventors and businessmen and women must be informed by a need to make moral choices, to help and assist the poor and downtrodden, even as one looks to the bottom line. In short then, all of us in this era must answer the call to public service.
How did I come by these views? My views were first shaped by the history of Antioch’s activism. I remember manning the Radio Station during an anti-war demo at the Wright-Patterson Air Force base. I remember covering for the radio station a sit-in at the Antioch Inn, when students refused to allow Jim Dixon, then Antioch President to leave the room, in defence of a department created to study problems of social change. Then I honed those raw views at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and later at law school in the United Kingdom. But the basis was formed here.
And so how I did I come to be here, far away from the sunny shores of the Commonwealth of The Bahamas? How did I get to feel so connected here? I was sixteen years old, and I had just graduated from high school in The Bahamas. I went to a Benedictine school in Nassau, and it was my high school teacher Ann Cowper-Greene, from Huntington, New York who encouraged me to come here. Such is the influence of teachers. I applied, turning down places in Ivy League Schools to come here. My father lost his job shortly after I came here to school. So my being the first child of our family to go to college took an immediate financial toll on the family, since my mother had to carry that burden for two years almost single-handedly, despite the assistance that I gave by working at home and getting scholarships from the Government. I had therefore to succeed—failure was not a possibility.
In one of the last acts that we ever did together, my father and I flew up to Dayton; he deposited me here, and as I watched him disappear down the road, I thought to myself: what have I done? It was a lonely and scary first night.
Mickey Hawkins, a main man from Chi-town as he liked to say, spent the night pouring water over all the floors in Corey Hall. Again, I thought: what have I gotten myself into? But pretty soon campus life began and I was able to fit into a comfortable niche that gained me life-long friends in Kathryn Leary who herself turned out to have Bahamian roots; Clarence Stukes and his wife Diane Castro now of Washington DC; Louis and Pam Harris, now of California and many more.
From the day that I left high school, I knew that I was headed toward a career in politics. It has taken me too long to get there but I am still plodding along at the age of 46, trying to make a contribution. I am nowhere near where it is said that I should be, but democracy is a funny business and you cannot force your views on an electorate. One hopes soon to persuade the Bahamian electorate that this person will be a good choice, but even the attempt has been exhilarating. And it has been. In attempting to persuade the voters of The Bahamas to vote for this candidate and for our party that, I took it upon myself in the fall of 1998 to develop a web site, named fredmitchelluncensored.com.
The site has been enormously successful. We started out in November 1998 with some 12 hits on the site and last month we surpassed the 50,000 hit mark with some 54,205 hits for the month of August. The site is edited by Al Dillette and Sebastian Curry. We believe that we have the potential to compete with the newspapers, assuming that we can get the marketing just right. It is clear that the tastes of the public are changing. We believe that while newspapers will continue to be for a significant portion of the population a source for news, information and opinions, the real opportunity for influence is on the World Wide Web. This is particularly so because the new voters who are still making up their minds about how and for whom to vote are likely to access new technology before the established voters do. But it was interesting to hear in the discussion on Wednesday evening 9 August here in Yellow Springs, that in fact the largest group of new users, are older users. My party’s best bet is to try to reach those groups.
The Progressive Liberal Party for which I am the spokesman on Foreign Affairs, Labour and Immigration lost the general election badly. In a forty seat assembly we won six seats as against the Government’s 34. A year later we lost another and were down to five. Since then, one of our members has resigned to form his own party and so we are down to four. Not a good omen.
But politics is a fortuitous business, and those who have the interest of protecting the democracy of The Bahamas continue to work with the PLP as the only party that can form a Government as an alternative to the present Government of The Bahamas. I believe we can beat the FNM, and I believe that the web site that I have developed can in no small measure be responsible for such a defeat.
This town of Yellow Springs, Ohio was a stop on the Underground Railroad. That is the term used to depict the movement that brought slaves to freedom from the slave states as close as Kentucky just next door into the free states like Ohio and up to Canada . I believe that the Underground Railroad is instructive for the PLP.
The success of the Underground Railroad had to do with slaves and their supporters and defenders developing a secret language, secret codes, and ways of acting that were undetectable to the dominant group. And so the smuggling to freedom was able to take place right under the noses of the dominant group. The PLP, still reeling from the loss of 1997, must come to embrace that it has to develop its own way. The present Government and its supporters will not allow the PLP to have fair access to the media, will never allow fair access to resources. And so the PLP will have to revert to the ways of our African slave ancestors to undermine to the political oppression of PLP opinion in The Bahamas today.
In the days of slavery, the master thought that the smile on the faces of the slave, the alacrity with which one said yes sir, actually meant that you were happy and compliant. But soon the slaves were gone to freedom. It is that kind of political feint that will have to be worked on the present group in power.
The web site offers that opportunity. First the ruling group is so arrogant they think that they cannot be defeated. In fact many of the members of the Cabinet are confidently predicting that they will win all of the seats in the next General Election. That they should gloat over such a possibility betrays a fearful leaning toward authoritarianism, but it is an accurate description of their state of mind. My own view is that they ought to be encouraged to continue to think so, while the PLP simply works.
Our party fought the last General Election on $480,000 compared to some five to six million for the governing party. Money is again going to be a problem. We believe that we will need four million dollars to fight the next election. Remember we are a country of 300,000 people with just about 150,000 electors. That is about the size of a city councilor’s district in the city of Los Angeles here in the United States. But the difference is, of course, that we are a sovereign nation, with international obligations and responsibilities.
The Web site was developed in November 1998 when the Nassau Guardian became completely overtaken by the ideology of the governing Free National Movement. The Managing Editor is a card carrying member of the FNM. He is married into a prominent FNM family which includes the Governor-General and the Minister for Immigration. So despite official complaints it became clear that there was an ingrained prejudice against the PLP. There was censorship of material being offered by this Senator who was a columnist at the time for that newspaper. The column was withdrawn without notice or explanation. We went to the World Wide Web, and we have done well.
The site provides an eclectic grab bag of news, commentary and political opinions and even some gossip about matters of public policy. It is the only site of its kind available to Bahamians. We find that it is also of interest to visitors to The Bahamas, former residents and those who are potential investors in The Bahamas.
As the site has become more effective, the Government has had to respond to some of what it says. It actually influences voters. That is why it was created and it has served that purpose. Our challenge is to make the site more interactive to add sound and video, to make it pay for itself, to use it as a fundraising tool. The site requires more investment, and it is coming along slowly.
You will know from your American experience that money is the so-called mother’s milk of politics. This site costs about two thousand dollars per week to produce. It is an enormous expense. But as they say in politics there are two rules: number one is you need money; number two is; I can’t remember what number two is. Or as a man put it the other day on the public park when I refused to buy some beers for a group of Junkanoo revellers: “Fred Mitchell and those ain’t spending no money. They don’t want to win.”
What I propose for the PLP, my party, is therefore revolutionary. There were some 2500 votes that separated us from the governing party in the last election. Put another way, if we had obtained some 2500 more votes, we would have won 21 seats and the Government. So the majority of the governing party is not as secure as it look from the 35-5 count of seats in the House of Assembly.
The place to go looking for those votes is the new voter, and you have to find new and innovative ways to do so. My view was that one had to go directly at the potential leadership class. That meant speaking directly to the university students. I did not consult the party because decision making was too slow, and too encased in old ways. So one had to step outside the box, believe in the product and go ahead. It has been quite rewarding and I think after touring campuses across the world where Bahamian students go to school, we have seen some people start to listen. Before no one listened to what the PLP had to say. This was in part because the PLP had lost its voice. But now I think that the party is regaining its voice, but finds that every avenue for letting that voice be heard is shut to it.
The PLP must then develop its own method of communication. I go back to the example of the Underground Railroad. The web offers a cheap and easy way to provide public information to all of our supporters. The PLP must establish a web site. In fact, we have gone a long way to doing so and the site plpalltheway.com is awaiting the formal decision to go ahead. We have an archipelagic nation. But each island has telephones or wireless phones. These can interconnect with the World Wide Web and bingo the party’s national message is available. That is what my web site has shown. It must now go further, and be used as a tool to win souls, not just seek to get their attention.
I have told my colleagues to stop complaining about the prejudice of the media and invent your own means of communication, encouraging our supporters to learn to use the web and use it as a tool for distribution. It is slow because people are hard to change, and that is why young people are key. They embrace change.
So I would be happy to talk about my experiences with this valuable political tool during some dialogue after this address. But I would also say that I am happy for this opportunity to expose my work in The Bahamas and the politics of The Bahamas to the international community. I am convinced that we do not have democrats in the truest sense of the word in power in The Bahamas. They want more than ever to stamp the PLP and any opposition out. I am convinced that the local media cannot and will not do its job in exposing the abuses of our system and so as with all political change in The Bahamas, we have to bring the glare of international media on the corrupt practices in our country. While some of them try, one gets the impression that they can only go so far and stop because they each have a vested financial interest in maintaining the FNM as the government. The fact that the PLP will not undo licences granted to them under this regime does not impress them with fearlessness. The FNM must go as the Government of The Bahamas. That much is clear. There is widespread disgruntlement with the FNM but not yet an embrace of the PLP. I trust that my web will make the difference between victory and defeat. I predict a close election result at the end of the day with scale tipped in favour of the PLP.
Finally, I end where I began by renewing the call to public service. You don’t have to be a member of the legislature, the executive or the judiciary. You don’t have to be the leader of an NGO. But you should, whatever you become; you should be an active citizen in the affairs of your country. I hope by the example of my web site that you draw two lessons: never say die and by that example always find a way to make a contribution to the civic life of your country.
Thank you very much indeed.
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