"Africa is, indeed, coming into fashion." - Horace Walpole (1774)


we the people

I love to vote.

Really. There's something so amazing, so equalizing about this thing we get to do once every couple of years. We get to choose our leaders. And when you spend a lot of time with people and in places where that isn't (or hasn't always been the case), you realize what a precious right it is.

Ten years ago I was studying abroad in Kenya. Kenya at the time was still a dictatorship with very little political freedom. You couldn't talk about politics, at least not in public, and certainly not with people you didn't know very, very well. A few months earlier, people had died in election-related riots, just as they had died five years before and would die again ten years later.

One day we met a Swedish doctor who'd married an opposition member of the Kenyan Parliament. She spent her days evaluating torture victims for Amnesty International, documenting all the human rights abuses that were committed in the name of political oppression. They woke up one morning of an important parliamentary vote to find their house surrounded by government troops.

I love to vote, and I usually cry in the voting booth. As Jill Lepore puts it in her excellent history of voting in America (Which you should absolutely, positively, without-a-doubt read. Did you know Americans used to vote in public, and that you used to have to bring your own ballot?!?), I "mark my ballot, awed, as always, by the gravity, the sovereignty, of the moment. With the stroke of a pen, we, mere citizens, become We the People." This year, I've been crying all day at the stories of voting people are sending in to Andrew Sullivan. A thousand people in line in Atlanta. A 95-year-old African-American woman voting for the first time at D.C.'s Foundry United Methodist Church, one of the most amazing churches in America.

I voted early this morning, after about 25 minutes in line, due not as much to volume (20-30 people in line) as to the incompetence of one of the clerks who was yelling out personal information in clear violation of election regulations and not letting the other clerks do their jobs. (Since I'm not a fan of identity theft or voter fraud, I called it in to the election commission, oh, yes, I did. The guy there just sighed. Apparently it's hard to keep poll workers from breaking the rules.) And, yeah, I cried when I got into the booth. Cried at the significance and weight of the moment in history, and that I get to exercise this privilege that so many of my friends haven't always enjoyed.

"Freedom isn't free" is such a cliche, but it's also true. We're pretty good in this country about honoring our soldiers for their sacrifices on behalf of our freedom, but we forget that many other people worldwide pay the ultimate price to have a right we take for granted. We are the people, and this is our government. We're responsible for what it does, and for what it fails to do. May we take that responsibility seriously, and exercise our right to vote with caution and judgment.


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