Labour

Protesters’ nine-hour blockade of House

  • You will not get past: MP Suzann Roberts-Holshouser finds herself denied entrance to the House of Assembly after protesters formed a human barrier (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Together we stand: Chris Furbert links arms with protesters outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Standing firm: demonstrators outside the House of Assembly as MPs continue to be blocked from entering (Photograph by Akil Simmons)
  • Feeling the beat: a saxophonist plays for the crowd outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)
  • Kept out: Progressive Labour Party MP Walton Brown, left, chats in front of a crowd of protesters linking arms and blocking entry to the House of Assembly (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Speaking out: crowds protesting against immigration reform on the lawn of the House of Assembly this afternoon (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)
  • United front: protesters link arms outside the House of Assembly (Photograph by Owain Johnston-Barnes)
  • Blocking the way: protesters prevent MPs from entering the House of Assembly (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Cross-generational support: young and old Bermudians are assembled at the House of Assembly this morning (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Residents arriving: people start to gather at the House of Assembly at about 9am (Photograph by David Skinner)
  • Crowd gathers: residents start to arrive at Union Square at about 9am ahead of today's march to Parliament (Photograph by Simon Jones)
  • Public protest: people begin to gather at the House of Assembly (Photograph by David Skinner)

Protesters shut down the House of Assembly with a nine-hour blockade yesterday, preventing MPs from debating the controversial Pathways to Status Bill.

Hundreds of campaigners linked arms to form a human barrier to stop MPs entering the Parliament building at 10am and continued their demonstration until shortly before 7pm, when Speaker of the House Randy Horton confirmed the House was adjourned for the day.

The action — described by Progressive Labour Party MPs as unprecedented in Bermuda’s history — means the One Bermuda Alliance will have to try again tomorrow with its bid for immigration reform, when it will once more be confronted by opponents aggressively backed by the People’s Campaign, PLP and the unions.

Michael Dunkley said the OBA had tried to break the impasse by putting “reasonable proposals” on the table, but that “our opposites could not get support from their respective stakeholders”.

In a statement last night, the Premier defended the intentions of the Bill — stressing it is not about diminishing birthrights, or cultural identity or the power to vote — and urged everyone to exercise patience, tolerance and respect for each other while the Bermuda Government searches for a solution.

Buses, ferries and the docks were out of action again yesterday, with no trash collection and the Marsh Folly Depot, Government Quarry and Airport Disposal Site all down. The Government did not respond when asked if public transport would be operating today.

Protesters, who numbered about 1,500, ended the day vowing to continue their demonstration outside Sessions House today, even with no parliamentary activity on the agenda.

The mood fluctuated throughout the day: while the presence of schoolchildren helped maintain a mainly family atmosphere, the protest also featured continued mutterings of angry rhetoric.

Police maintained a low-key presence during the proceedings.

At one stage, a group of about 30 people broke away from the House and marched to the private office of Attorney-General Trevor Moniz’s legal firm, demanding to meet with the embattled MP, only to be told he was not present.

Chris Furbert, the president of the Bermuda Industrial Union, and Nicholas Tweed, of the People’s Campaign, claimed they had received information that writs have been filed for their arrest.

Mr Dunkley has described the action of last Friday and yesterday as illegal, but the Government did not respond to requests for information on that subject.

The disruption also raises questions about the Budget, which MPs were expected to approve at the end of its two-week debate yesterday. That task, as well as the Budget debates on the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs, and the Ministry of Economic Development, have also been rescheduled for tomorrow.

The day began in a similar manner to last Friday, with about 100 protesters meeting at Union Square.

Led by Mr Furbert, Mr Tweed and Bermuda Public Services Union president Jason Hayward, they marched to the House, where several hundred people locked arms and circled the House.

OBA MPs were visibly frustrated, while PLP MP Michael Weeks told The Royal Gazette: “I think right now it is just a waiting game because the people are standing firm and now the next move is going to be on the Government — are they going to come and listen to the people and address the people?”

Meanwhile, protesters again explained their anger about the OBA’s attempt to push through the legislation, which would make it easier for long-term residents to gain both permanent residency and status, as well as a number of other issues.

Kennisha Nisbett, 32, from Warwick, said: “I’m here to see a change. I’ve got a daughter and it’s her future. I’ve seen so many promises and nothing is happening.”

Kovell Bean, 27, a waiter who said he had withdrawn his labour at the Fairmont Southampton, said: “I’m on strike until we resolve this.

“I’m here for equality, to stand my ground. I’m not against foreigners, but once guest workers come to Bermuda, they get what they get and they move on to their homes.

“I’m not against workers being here, but permanently, no.”

Graham Maule, whose police sergeant father suffered serious head injuries in the 1965 Belco riots, said: “I’m here to protect the interests of future generations of Bermudians and I believe racial inequality in Bermuda should be eradicated.”

A 47-year-old man, a Government worker from Sandys, said the proposed legislation showed “an ignorance of the history of Bermuda, especially the racial history connected with immigration in this island”.

“It’s not that I don’t want foreigners to get status — it’s that the process is being done the wrong way,” he said.

Jody Bean, a former employee for the Corporation of Hamilton, called upon the crowd to “shut this island down” in protest. The 46-year-old said: “We are proud black people that came from nothing. We have been oppressed in slavery for over 300 years, and every white man has gotten everything they have gotten off of the slavery of my back and my people’s back.

“The OBA cares nothing for us as a community of black people. But I will tell you white people, we are as strong as the weakest link.”

David Burt, holding his young daughter, told the crowd that he was “overcome with emotion” that morning when he saw the number of protesters waiting outside the House of Assembly.

“I am certain that the OBA thought that they were going to be able to march into parliament and have their way today,” he said, “but the people of this country stood up and said otherwise.”

Jamahl Simmons, PLP spokesman on tourism and economic development, told this newspaper: “When I woke up this morning, I felt sometimes you’re fighting alone.

“To come here and see the people have made a stand, it fills the heart with joy — you’re not alone in this fight.

“Maybe now the government will listen. This is unprecedented. I don’t think it’s happened in our history.”

The bulk of the protest remained in place until early evening when Mr Furbert revealed Mr Horton’s notice that the House had been adjourned for the day. The crowd ended the day as they did last Friday, with a march back to Union Square, as well as a promise for at least two more days of activity.

• <b>The day’s events as they happened </b>

8.20am: Outside the House of Assembly sound equipment is being set up for today’s protest. There are now a collection of five tents set up where Enda Matthie is staging her hunger strike, which is now in its seventh day.

8.30am: Education minister Wayne Scott tells The Royal Gazette: “As far as we know schools are open as normal.”

8.30am: More than 100 people are now present outside the BIU headquarters including Bermuda Public Services Union president Jason Hayward and the Reverend Nicholas Tweed, of the People’s Campaign.

8.45am: Some of the protesters — who now number around 200 — are beginning to make their way to the House of Assembly.

8.55am: The Chamber of Commerce issues a statement in support of the Pathways to Status legislation, as long as Government introduces measures to address the social needs of the community.

9am: Protesters prepare to march towards House of Assembly, led by BIU president Chris Furbert, Mr Hayward and Mr Tweed.

9.15am: Marchers arrive at the House of Assembly where all the entrances into Parliament have been blocked.

9.20am: Protesters have now circled the whole of the House of Assembly, locking arms.

9.25am: Crowds swell to an estimated 500. MPs including Health Minister Jeanne Atherden and Progressive Labour Party MPs Wayne Furbert and Michael Weeks are unable to get into the House of Assembly as the doors have been locked for the second time in four days.

9.55am: MPs are still stuck outside the House. A speaker appeals for more people to come along — especially schoolchildren.

10am: There will be no trash collection as a result of today’s industrial action, the Ministry of Public Works advises.

10.15am: PLP MP Michael Scott says: “The Government needs to come out and concede that this policy, this planned debate, should be suspended completely because the people don’t want it. It must be obvious people don’t want it.”

10.30am: Applause rings out again while dozens of children from Creative Touch Home Preschool, dressed in uniforms, arrive on the grounds of the House.

10.45am: Rickeesha Binns and Larrita Adderley provide entertainment by singing to the crowd.

10.55am: Protesters around the House join hands to pray as water supplies are handed out to the crowd.

11.10am: Large numbers of MPs remain locked outside the House, including the Premier. This morning’s session, due to begin at 10am, appears to have not started yet.

11.20am: BPSU president Jason Hayward tells protesters: “Today we put up our fists. If you want peace do the right thing. I am done with talking. We are here to stay.”

11.30am: Opposition MP Michael Weeks says that to his knowledge all parliamentarians have been locked out of the House of Assembly. “The public have formed a chain link around the building that is about five-people deep,” he says.

11.35am: Mr Furbert tells the crowd: “This is all about votes. The OBA are trying to hoodwink and bamboozle us.” More schoolchildren arrive and are greeted by cheers and applause.

11.45am: Student population at Berkeley Institute was adversely affected by the lack of public transportation today but the teachers were all present, says principal Dr Phyllis Curtis-Tweed. “All the teachers are in as normal. The students are hampered, I think, by lack of public transportation.

12.30pm: With the protest showing no signs of letting up, demonstrators begin singing “We Shall Overcome”. About 12 police officers arrive at the House, taking the total presence to about 25.

12.35pm: Organisers of the demonstration warn protesters to “be on guard” but remain peaceful.

12.55pm: Mr Tweed tells the crowd that they have received information that writs have been filed to arrest himself and Mr Furbert.

1.20pm: Spectators across the street are urged to join those guarding the House by protesters shouting: “All the spectators come up here.”

2.10pm: Mr Furbert, Mr Tweed and Mr Walton Brown make their way around the House again surrounded by their supporters.

2.40pm: Protesters and drummers circle the House led by a centenarian.

3pm: Gombey drummers perform for the crowd.

3.15pm: Mr Brown tells this newspaper: “We’ve reached a stalemate and it does not bode well for the country. We’ll stay here if we need to but hopefully the Government will come to some reasonable decision.”

3.20pm: A breakaway group of about 30 people heads down Church Street. Members ask Mr Brown whether he will join them, but he declines the offer.

3.25pm: The group arrive on Queen Street and wait outside the Moniz and George office, apparently hopeful of meeting Attorney-General Trevor Moniz.

3.30pm: After failing to get a conversation with Mr Moniz, co-workers at Moniz and George tell this newspaper: “We are a law firm. We are in the business of law here. No comment.”

3.50pm Mr Furbert addresses crowd, compares the build-up to 1981 (strike). Points to Oleander — “not one container came off that boat today.” He calls Bermuda “the laughing stock of the world right now”.

4.00 Mr Furbert says they have rejected a government offer as it wasn’t good enough.

4.30pm: Rev Gilbert Hayward of the AME Church calls for the withdrawal of the immigration bill and urges the government to consider making a commitment to comprehensive immigration reform through a bipartisan joint parliamentary select committee in consultation with all stakeholders.

4.40pm: Protester Mr Smith tells the crowd: “It’s getting up to 5 now. Brothers and sisters, you may have to stay here tonight. Get your umbrellas. Get your family to bring you some soup.”

5.25pm The crowd chant “withdraw the bill”.

5.40pm Portable toilets are being brought to House of Assembly grounds. A protester draws cheers from the crowd as he chants “shut the island down”.

6.20pm Rev Tweed tells the crowd that they have been told the Cabinet have gone home and the Speaker of the House, Randy Horton, has advised that Parliament recommences on Wednesday, but he warned that the news didn’t mean they had won.

Mr Furbert asks the public what they wanted, causing members of the crowd to call for the group to return tomorrow. He says there had been talk of the Regiment possibly coming and securing the grounds, but he says that it is just talk.

“We will take each situation as it comes, but you have to know,” he says. Mr Furbert says the group shouldn’t leave yet, but that once the House is closed for the day it cannot reopen. “It’s the Speaker that says the House is closed, and he said it is closed for the day,” he says. “We confirmed that from the police.”

6.21pm “We have decided to return tomorrow. You have decided to return tomorrow. There’s one condition. We double the number. We triple the number,” Rev Tweed says. Asked how long the demonstrators should remain tonight, the majority was heard to shout 7pm.

6.22pm “We are going to wait until the Speaker officially tells the Opposition that the House is closed,” Mr Furbert adds. “We expect him to reach out to the Opposition and tell them the House is closed. That shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes.”

Despite word that House may have been closed for the day by the Speaker of the House, some members of the crowd call for people to remain on the grounds overnight. Mr Smith confirms that the Opposition have been told the House will not be open until Wednesday morning, suggesting that the demonstrators form up in an orderly fashion and march to Union Square. The group are expected to gather again at 7am tomorrow at the House. Mr Furbert, however, questions the need to meet at 7am given the children in the group. “Those of you who want to make 7am, make 7am,” he says. “Those of you with children, make it here as soon as you can.” 6.45pm The demonstrators begin to organise themselves for a planned march back to Union Square to end a long day of protest.

7pm Speaker Horton confirms by email that the House is adjourned until 10am on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Raymond Hainey, Nadia Hall, Owain Johnston-Barnes, Simon Jones, Sarah Lagan, Lisa Simpson and Adam Zacharias

To read statements from the Speaker of the House and the Chamber of Commerce, as well as the Bill and the House’s Order of Business, click on the PDFs under “Related Media”

For more images from yesterday’s protest and march, click on the image gallery at the bottom of our homepage