I’ve seen this movie before … although how this version ends is anyone’s guess. Unfortunately, however, most of those guesses include the fear, threat or promise of violence. The first time I …
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I’ve seen this movie before … although how this version ends is anyone’s guess.
Unfortunately, however, most of those guesses include the fear, threat or promise of violence.
The first time I saw this movie, I was in Nepal, when our long-planned Himalayan trek happened to coincide with the country’s national constituent assembly election, only the second since the end of a violent civil war in 2006 that claimed more than 13,000 lives.
We arrived in Kathmandu a few days before the November 19, 2013, election. We saw partisans with loudspeakers in open-backed trucks careening though narrow streets. We saw heavily armed military – the government had deployed two-thirds of the army to thwart opposition parties intimidating people registering to vote.
These groups also intimidated the country into a general strike that shut down private and public transportation. Already, protesters boycotting the election had torched vehicles defying the strike. A candidate had been shot dead, and the wife of another had acid poured on her face.
On the day of the election – and our trek departure date – the government ultimately decided it could adequately protect us if all tour buses traveled as one entourage. We crawled westward in a caravan from Kathmandu, stopping often at road blocks to verify our tourist status. Military with machine guns patrolled the road.
Along the way, though, something else was quietly taking place. Because of the strike – initiated for just this purpose – Nepalese citizens reliant on public or private transportation could not get home to vote.
However, between the barricades, bus drivers slowed to pick up local residents at unobtrusive crossroads or small villages, and then, just as innocuously, drop them off further along on our route … Nepalese defying the strike and dodging the violence to get home.
In fact, all around Nepal, people were literally risking their lives to vote. Watching election news after we arrived that evening, we learned that some children had their hands blown off when they found a homemade bomb at one of the polling stations. Opposition parties had stormed other polls across the country, assaulting the workers and attacking the police who were there to protect the voters.
And yet an astounding 70% of Nepal’s registered voters braved these volatile conditions to cast their votes in a democratic election, opening up their country to political and economic stability for the first time in decades.
So, how will the American version of this movie, playing out right now, end? The similarities are chilling. The armed extremists, who plotted to kidnap a sitting governor and put her on “trial” for “treason,” claim they intended to overthrow the government and start a civil war. They also planned to set bombs for police who would arrive to intervene.
Protesters, counter-protesters, and protesters countering counter-protesters fill our streets, while bad actors across the political spectrum deliberately create chaos with looting, burning and destruction. People – on both sides – are murdered.
And, as in Nepal, will the people with guns at the polls be there to protect voters … or to frighten them?
There are many ways this can end badly, America … but it doesn’t have to.
Clearly, it’s too far down the line to ask that we resist divisiveness. Yet we can each step forward with respect and civility and safety – amid a global pandemic – to ensure that all U.S. citizens can exercise their constitutional rights to vote.
Andrea Doray is a writer who notes that by contrast, under “normal” circumstances, only about 58 percent of U.S. voters cast a ballot in 2016. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org to assure her you will vote this year, for the candidates of your choice.
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