Wednesday, 8 October 2008

Our true north strong and free?

I actually felt sick to my stomach the other day listening to a local news report. As a federal election looms, I am preparing myself by learning about each party platform, familiarizing myself with my local candidates, and getting to know the party leaders. I am doing what I can to make an informed decision to cast my vote. I am proud to live in a free country where I can make my voice heard in our political system. I am not one who would consider not voting, even if I am disillusioned and disheartened with elements of the process. I do think it would be interesting to have an "abstain" option on the ballot (ie: I am voting, but do not support any of the above candidates), but until then I will wade through the often messiness of elections and decide how to exercise my right to vote.

I strongly believe in voting, because I strongly believe in democracy and accountability. My goodness - can you imagine the power we would have if everyone actually got out on election day and voted in accordance to their beliefs? Can you imagine if every mother voted to make their city, province and country a better and safer place for their children to grow up in? Can you imagine if every small and local business owners voted to sustain local economies? Can you imagine if every artist voted to assure the importance of culture to a society? I'm not talking about some, or most of these people. I'm talking about all of these people. The politicians want us to believe that the common man or woman couldn't ever really understand the business of running a country, and that only these few, select people actually know what's best for us. That's the biggest lie of them all. They know how powerful we can be together. They are scared stiff of what we think of them! The proof is in the pudding - how many times do candidates "withdraw" or are "let go" from their party? They know they have only a few weeks to impress us and win our votes. They will do almost anything to secure enough ballots to propel them into the house.

(A great scene just popped into my mind - for all you parents out there, remember the film "A Bug's Life"? The grasshoppers know that if the ants were ever to combine together against them the grasshoppers would be easily overthrown. For them, it's all about optics and scare tactics so that the ants never really the power they have).

Back to the news report I was watching. Supporters in Toronto of one of the major political parties have had their property vandalized over the last few days. Lots of spray-painted messages opposing the party leader, but also many cars had their brake lines cut - an action which could potentially be extremely dangerous. One mother reported getting in the car with her young children and, not realizing she had no brakes, starting to drive the car. Luckily she was able to run aground without injury, but it could have been a disaster for her and her children. The vandals have been randomly targeting people with lawn signs for one specific political party.

While reactions to this story have varied from sympathy to outrage, what immediately came to my mind was the recent election in Zimbabwe. Many countries condemned the farcical show of democracy taking place under President Mugabe. The opposition leader pulled out of the election, stating that "it's not an election. It is an exercise in mass intimidation." There were reports of violence against those in support of the opposition party, and also of people being forced to the polls to vote in support of Mugabe. Words like "perversion of democracy" and "difficult and distressing" were used to describe the situation. Many Zimbabwe people feared for their lives if they were choosing not to vote for Mugabe, or even to abstain altogether.

Granted, cut brake lines are a far cry from the violence in Zimbabwe. But I find it deplorable that in our free country, where we prize democracy and freedom of speech, that someone should find it acceptable to try and intimidate local voters. Many victims felt compelled to take down their lawn signs, and local candidates felt it necessary to warn those who accepted to post signs of the potential danger. What era and country are we living in? Some voters chose to stand up to the vandal, defying the attempt at intimidation by keeping their signs in plain view. But I fully understand those people who feared the attacks might escalate, and who have families to worry about and protect.

What has really come to light for me is how alike we are as humanity. We western countries like to sit upon high horses and look down at the poor, uneducated people of "lesser" countries, sending troups to war to protect their rights to how we think they should live. I support human rights everywhere, including in my own country. We are a global village now, and my brother and sister in Zimbabwe are not so different from me after all.

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