“What do we want? Justice! What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now! When do we want it? Now!”
This was the chant that hundreds, if not thousands, of Bahamians did on Wednesday, February 23, in front of the Parliament of the Bahamas in downtown Nassau.
The unrelenting fervor of the masses brought the proceedings of the House of Assembly, which is the lower chamber of Parliament that performs all major legislative functions, to a complete halt and forced the prime minister of the Bahamas, Hubert A. Ingraham, to flee the House, never to return for the day.
The masses that assembled answered the call sent out by the Committee to save Bahamas Telecommunications Corporation (BTC) for Bahamians.
The Committee organized Wednesday’s March and Rally to support the workers of the BTC and is opposed to the government's decision to privatize it by selling its majority shares to the trans-national corporation Cable & Wireless.
BlackFood.org participated in this historic event and prepared a solidarity statement as well gathering together a number of chants; both of which were distributed to the protestors.
In its solidarity statement, BlackFood.org called on all sisters and brothers of the African Liberation movement in the Bahamas to join us as we stood in solidarity with the workers of BTC in their struggle to oppose the government’s decision to sell BTC.
We stated that conscious Africans know that this is not the first time that black people have been told that they are too "lazy" or are just not "smart enough” to control their own destiny.
Because this is exactly what our enslavers propagated during slavery in order to justify the cruelty and oppression of that system.
We also stated that the government’s decision to privatize BTC is in support of the agenda of the imperialist countries, and that Africans in the Bahamas no longer want to be exploited by Europe or North America because we know that the road to self-determination is the only way to true freedom and democracy.
That statement was prepared the night before the March and Rally, but nobody, we say nobody, knew that the people would shake downtown Nassau the way that they did.
A small group had gathered at Clifford Park at around 7:00 am, but by 8:00 am hundreds of people had assembled.
Some people caught the bus there. Some people came in cars filled up with five to six people in them. There were private buses filled with people and groups of men arrived on the back of trucks.
There were representatives from civic groups, workers from various government agencies, teachers, nurses, young people, BTC workers, BlackFood.org leaders, persons from the National Development Party (NDP), the Progressive Liberal Party (PLP), the Workers Party, Union leaders and members, and people from the Save BTC Committee—the group who had spearheaded the March and Rally.
Without a doubt, though, the majority of people who participated was just working class regular Bahamians who have had enough of a government and system that has no respect for its own people.
This mass left Clifford Park at about 8:45 am with a truck leading the way blasting freedom music.
When the protestors hit the streets the revolutionary climate intensified. There was singing and shouting.
As the procession passed the hotels across from the Long Wharf beach, the hotel workers and the tourists had already gathered to watch the protestors march down Bay Street.
Placards played an important role in the demonstration. They really expressed the general mood of the people. Some of the placards read: Don’t Sell BTC, Workers Rights, All Power to the People, Hubert Ingraham Got to Go!, and Touch One, Touch All!
As the procession passed the Hilton Hotel and moved further onto Bay Street, the downtown workers had already assembled on the sidewalks.
The marchers waved to family and friends and kept pressing on. The people sang and clapped as they marched pass the U.S. Embassy, McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts.
When the people arrived in front of the historic Straw Market it was like somebody had lit dynamite.
Rodney Moncur– leader of the Workers Party, screamed out to the Straw Vendors in the Market: "Straw Market Vendors, y'all build this country. This for y'all!"
Some of the elderly Market women joined in the March while all others cheered the protestors on.
As the March approached Rawson Square and Parliament, the police, who were a surrounding presence from the very beginning, tried to bring everything to a halt.
They claimed that they could not allow the truck, which was leading the way with the music, to enter Rawson Square.
Undeterred, the people just marched around the truck and moved on.
When the protestors finally arrived in Rawson Square, where our so-called "black leaders" and parliamentarians were debating yet another anti-people legislation, the rumbling began.
Protestors shouted for prime minister Hubert Ingraham to come out and face the people.
They also shouted that the government had to go and they chanted: "A people united! Will never be defeated!"
The police, who had turned out in massive numbers, had already barricaded Rawson Square and were intent on keeping the people pinned in.
But the protestors had other plans. At one point the police started pushing the protestors back, using the barricades.
The protestors responded by pushing back on them. The police then used their batons against people who had grabbed a hold of some of the barricades.
A call from within the crowd was then sent out for all men to go to the frontline to help push forward.
Then someone shouted for the protestors to surround "The House.”
As this was being done, other protestors struggled with the police and the barricades.
Droves of police were called in and then all of a sudden a group of protestors, women included, began to pull one of the barricades down and they threw it on the floor.
This intense stand-off between the protestors and the police went on for a couple of hours. As noontime approached many of the downtown workers and other concerned people had gathered around Rawson Square.
The police were in the public eye, which forced them to hold back on any attacks.
Despite a near uprising in downtown Nassau, the government leaders never came out to speak to the people.
Instead, they were whisked away through the back door of the House of Assembly with the help of the police.
As the number of protestors began to dwindle, the police tried to use this as an opportunity to stop the mass protest by allowing traffic to proceed through Rawson Square.
But, again, the protestors had other ideas. Some people sat on the road while others shouted that they would not move. The police were then forced to re-direct traffic.
This is when the rally began. A microphone was set up and people from the Save BTC Committee spoke. Union leaders spoke.
A brother representing a new organization called EGYPT spoke. BlackFood.org spoke. The NDP spoke. A Rastafarian brother spoke.
And of the course some members of the opposition—the PLP—spoke.
The PLP’s words did not move the protestors because the political party had also planned to sell BTC when it was in power.
The revolutionary climate was sustained well into the late afternoon.
As the group of protestors began to dwindle even more, announcements were made for workers to gather at union halls for re-grouping.
All group leaders publicly pledged that Wednesday’s mass protest was only just the beginning.