BAD is acting badly. In the latest incarnation of its long running effort to abolish conscription in Bermuda, Bermudians Against the Draft have launched a campaign to persuade young black men not to cast their ballot in the next general election. Their rationale for adopting this stance is that neither political party supports their position and so, they want these men to disengage from the political process altogether. This makes little sense and will hardly advance their cause.
My position on abolishing conscription was made clear in my January 5 column and I stand in support of the core goal of BAD. Their strategy and tactics, though, are flawed and this has had the effect of minimising what should be a more widely embraced struggle. The forced labour argument is a non-starter from a legal standpoint and they have to know this: the European Union constitution sets that out clearly and they therefore cannot win at the European Court of Justice. And if the case for forced labour is made on common sense grounds then, logically, one would have to make the same argument about compulsory education.
With the legal setbacks confronting them, BAD has embarked upon what can only be seen as armchair activism: a call to do nothing, a call to reject the arena of politics altogether. There is a hint of political savvy in this since the call taps into the pre-existing alienation, apathy and discontent the under-30s already feel and who already vote in lower proportions than the older population. But there can be no measure of success of their efforts. In the absence of this, BAD will be able to claim success no matter what the turnout. It will, however, not advance their noble goal. How could the decision not to participate in an election strengthen their position? The answer is simple: it does not.
A vote boycott should be rejected not because our forefathers fought so valiantly for the right to vote and our current leaders won voting equity. And it should not be rejected because voting should be every citizens’ moral obligation. Rather, we should reject a vote boycott because voting is one very powerful tool for helping to effect change. Take away the vote and you take away power vested in people. What BAD may want to consider is how best to utilise the power of the vote reflected among its supporters to push forward its objectives.
If BAD is so convinced the political parties are weak vessels for the political change they want to see, they should test their support directly and publicly and run an independent candidate, or two. That would be a powerful measure of the backing they receive. This would send a message to young people that change is possible when you engage the political process; that disengagement keeps the status quo in place and renders you voiceless.
The abolition of conscription will come to this Island and that goal should be embraced by all. BAD’s approach, though, sometimes seems determined to reduce its public support by how it characterises the issue effectively creating straw men. One of its most visible faces, Jamel Hardtman, recently wrote on his Facebook page that there are three types of people who do not oppose conscription: (1) those who “lack intelligence on the issue” (2) those who are “just dishonest” and (3) those “who just don’t care”. This simplistic, almost juvenile portrayal of the range of views speaks to a wider level of intolerance in the group and, I think, has inhibited the expansion of their support.
By calling for a vote boycott, they may further constrain the public backing their cause deserves.