Wednesday, April 24, 2024

SEEN UP NORTH: The town hall meeting route

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There are few more enduring symbols of democracy in America than the town hall meeting.
Dating back to 18th century colonial days, the town meeting was always seen as the “purest form of democratic government” because, as one political scientist noted recently, it is government by the people, rather than by their elected representatives.
One such town hall meeting was held in Washington, DC, a week ago by Prime Minister Freundel Stuart. It was the first in the United States capital since the late Tom Adams addressed hundreds of Bajans in the 1980s.
Last Sunday’s meeting took place in the well appointed hall of the Church Of The Holy Comforter, an Episcopal parish headed by the Reverend Dr Kortright Davis.
Davis served in Barbados for several years before going to Washington, where, in addition to being rector of the church, he is a theology professor at Howard University.
“We welcomed the opportunity to host the town hall meeting arranged for the prime minister,” said Davis afterwards.
But Stuart is not alone when it comes to holding town hall meetings in the United States. A few days after Stuart’s session, Portia Simpson-Miller, Jamaica’s new Prime Minister, visited New York City to attend a reception for the “100 most influential people in the world”, as chosen by Time magazine.
She held a two-hour Brooklyn session at a Baptist Church. More than 2 000 Jamaicans attended.  
Last year St Vincent’s leader Dr Ralph Gonsalves held his own in Brooklyn and before that, Kamla Persaud-Bissessar, Trinidad and Tobago’s prime minister, held two of them in a single evening in Brooklyn and Queens.
In Stuart’s case, the playing of national anthems of both Barbados and the United States was followed by welcoming remarks by John Beale, Barbados’ Ambassador in Washington.
In his address Stuart paid tribute to the diaspora and its “extensive” contribution to Barbados’ development in the form of ideas, financial remittances and general improvements to the welfare of families.
He spoke about the impact of the global financial crisis on Barbados and Government’s response to it;  management of the nation’s foreign exchange; the country’s ability to maintain the level of social services during the difficult economic times; the sound educational and health care systems; and the excellent social partnership between Government, labour and the private sector.
He cited Government’s ability to avoid any layoffs of public workers while paying civil servants increased salaries and wages. But he was quick to say that there were people in Barbados who were employed and not working.
Here are some of Stuart’s other thoughts as expressed during his address and in a question-and-answer session:
• Despite the tough economic times, Barbadians were not walking around with an inferiority complex.
• Government was looking for ways to help single mothers who were unable to collect maintenance for their children from delinquent fathers.
• As the Caribbean region contends with rising crime, Barbados remained “safe” and attractive”.
• Qualified and experienced Barbadians living abroad would be considered for vacant posts in the public service. But the Diaspora should not expect every position to be filled by people living broad.
• Several businesses and projects which were in financial trouble were looking to Government to bail them out. In essence, many were trying to suck on Government’s financial “nipples”.
Stuart was hailed as “a visionary disciplinarian, and a friend and a philosopher” in a poetic tribute written by Michelle Atkins Gregg, and he was presented with a plaque by members of the Foundation School Alumnae Association.

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