Opinion

Airport debate a milestone in our diverse society

  • Coming prepared: police presence at the House of Assembly as the airport debate gets under way. Barricades were later taken down as BIU president Chris Furbert sent union members back to work (Photograph by David Skinner)

Bermuda’s ability to move through the impasse over the airport redevelopment project in a way that was both peaceful and implied a reasonable degree of mutual respect — in spite of those differences — represents something of a milestone. This marks a level of maturation in our relationships as a diverse society and is evidence of an acceptance that even close families will have differences on even mundane matters.

No government project in our past has been so extensively reviewed as this one. There have been numerous forums, town hall meetings and reviews on whether the unique approach for the project was in the best interests of the island. It seems that there has been a shift in our community regarding this project and this has been owing to a variety of factors, including the findings of the Blue Ribbon Panel.

There were those who questioned the panel’s objectivity, given that it was appointed by the Government. However, the individuals who composed the panel have a track record of integrity. They are persons who have demonstrated a great degree of independence over the years; individuals whose skill and experience spoke for itself.

The conclusions of the panel were published only last Wednesday and one wondered if their findings would reach the wider community. However, in this age of online media, the public have ready access to their press conference tape, including a comprehensive review of the findings and even a grilling of the presenters by Ayo Johnson, who has been a media gadfly, challenging this project for some time.

While a recently published opinion poll suggested a significant shift in opinion regarding the airport project, it was challenged as being “biased”. However, there was other evidence of change.

This was graphically demonstrated in the response of the membership of the Bermuda Industrial Union to the call of their president, Chris Furbert, to protest at the House of Parliament last Friday. When fewer than 200 of a membership of more than 2,500 turned up at Union Square, it was evident that members and others were voting on the matter “with their feet”. In his wisdom — knowing when to hold them, when to fold them and when to walk away — Furbert sent those in attendance back to work.

This outcome represents something of a milestone in that the membership were exercising their independence. As Steven Covey pointed out in 7 Habits, retaining a sense of independence is vital for successful persons. In an organisation as large as the BIU, it is difficult to assess the wishes of the whole, so the union relies on its general council, which comprises 50 or so representatives from the various divisions — 2 per cent of the membership. This may speak to large organisations, such as unions, exploring the use of online means of opening conversations on key issues.

That said, it is clear that any society benefits when its citizens are prepared to “think for themselves”. History is littered with evidence of when people “follow blindly”. Covey reminds us that when people are “independent”, they can be best able to be “interdependent” — meaning that out of that clear sense of self, only then can one have the capacity to act in true solidarity with others. All of us have had those personal victories in our past when we refused to just “go along with the crowd”.

In the “Age of Trump”, this factor becomes even more important. It will be more important that matters of public interest be considered with the utmost of careful reflection — by all of us. In this mode, we can accept having differences in perspective on matters with others who may not be “on our team”. However, with a mindful approach, we will be able to avoid being caught up in an emotional reaction to matters and respond to circumstances in ways that consider the big picture.

Our ability to handle the challenges around the airport project demonstrates to Bermuda that we can achieve that goal.

Glenn Fubler is a social commentator who represents Imagine Bermuda