Monday, November 15, 2004

Return-Salute to the Iraqi People


I am a young woman, single and never married, living in the state of Georgia in the U.S.A. I support myself by building databases and spreadsheets to process data for a company that I will not name here. I live very close to my workplace; in fact, I walk to work most days.

My voter registration states my name, my address, and the location where I am expected to vote on election days: it is a Protestant church not more than a mile away from my home. On November 2nd, because the voting location was so close, I decided to walk there.

I walked the sidewalk of a busy road for that mile, unstopped by officials of church or state, unimpeded by any detritus of war or ruins, and took such things for granted. From the moment I left my apartment, I knew with absolute assurance that I would make it safely to the election, cast my vote in privacy, and make it back home a citizen counted in the process of my country's ruling.

I passed by two "Kerry 2004" signs planted in lawns. I saw no less than thirty or forty "Bush 2004" and "Kerry 2004" bumper stickers on passing cars -- it's a busy road. Some cars had additional stickers; pro-war, anti-war, every opinion under the sun. I was a Bush supporter in a county that voted for Kerry, in a state that voted for Bush, and in an election that was widely being denounced for its divisiveness, I did not see a single sign or sticker defaced, on election day or the weeks prior.

When I arrived at the church, I saw a long line of young mothers with small children, and I followed them into a side entrance. An employee of the church spotted me, probably because I looked lost, and asked, "Are you here to vote? It's around the other side of the building." I had accidentally stumbled upon the church's daycare program. Many of the mothers voted after dropping off their children; I know this because of the stickers. When you vote in many places in the U.S., you are given a sticker that says, "I voted!" to put upon your shirt. I still remember, as a teenager, seeing that sticker on my mother's shirt on voting days, and feeling proud that my family had been represented in those elections.

On this particular November 2nd, I know that I voted, my mother voted, as well as my sister and her husband. Someday, I know that I will have three grown nephews, and they will vote as well, because our family takes pride in the electoral process.

I found the appropriate entrance on the other side of the building, and got in a long line of people. In front of me was an elderly woman in a jogging suit, behind me was a middle-aged man in a business suit, talking on a cell phone. There was some confusion about voting locations; some people who were at the church were supposed to be voting somewhere else. We all stood, patiently, waiting for the problem to be sorted out. At length, a young man with a uniform vest and different-colored skin from my own, came to me and asked me what my last name was. Because my last name begins with a "B", I was permitted to go into another entrance, and skip the long line.

I showed my identification to some ladies at a table, and they opened a book of pages containing voter names. My name was listed between two names that originated in different countries from my own name. They checked it off. The bloc of citizenship associated with myself, my home, and that pertaining directly to me, was given its due regard and accounted for. I was allotted my single vote, the same vote given to every U.S. citizen; the same vote given to the young man of different skin, the same vote given to the two people on the list whose lineage came from different countries, the same vote to the middle-aged businessman, the same vote to the elderly woman. My full share in my country's stake was affirmed.

I went into the booth, and I cast my votes. One vote for President. Also: votes for Senator, House Representative, votes for Georgia officials and county officials, votes for school board representatives, and many other officials. I addressed all of my government, and I gave them my considered opinion upon who would best fill positions great and small. Then, I voted upon two different laws which were in the process of consideration for Georgia's state constitution. I, a citizen, was given a voice in what laws would govern me.

With me, I had a sheet of paper that I had printed off the internet, containing a list of candidates. I had been considering these candidates in the days and weeks before the election. I found information for each candidate on the web, quickly and easily, and I wrote down my selections. I used my voting sheet to guide my hand as I selected candidates on the screen. I stood, for two full minutes in a church of God, knowing that no matter what being was worshipped there, the rite of voting was sacred above all else.

I left the voting place, and was given my "I voted!" sticker at the door. I wore it proudly all day long, and when the day was finished, I peeled it off and stuck it to my voting sheet, which I will save, and use it to keep notes upon the activities of the candidates I selected. If a candidate does something that I do not think is right, I will not vote for that person again.

Not every U.S. citizen feels the way that I do about voting. Not every one of us had a similar, trouble-free experience; some people had malfunctioning machines, some states had trouble with counts. I'm sure there were more than a fair share of people who experienced rudeness and incompetence among the voting employees. But I believe that my own voting experience, with its ease and freedom and pride, was the norm. My district did not agree with my presidential vote, but that does not matter. I do not feel that my vote was useless. Well over 100 million of my countrymen, like me, considered their vote valuable enough to cast one. You saw them on the news, in countless pictures. I was lucky; I did not have to stand in the rain. But rain is nothing compared to the importance of voting.

I write you this, about my voting experience, because:

When I cast my vote for President, I thought of you, and of your country.

I had many considerations in my head when I voted, but none of them mattered to me more than this: I did not trust Kerry, and I thought that if he were elected, he would abandon you to the Ba'athists again.

I do not consider myself generous, in thinking of you. I thought of you because we need you. There is much in the future of the U.S.A. that depends upon your freedom and forging of your people and your country into a democracy. We could never ask this of you, if we did not believe it would be good for you as well. But I and many other Americans realize this: we desperately need you to become a democracy. You are essential to us. You are so incredibly important!

Many, many have been the countries over the past few hundred years who have needed the United States to be a democracy. Many have been the countries who have needed our example, our powerful economy, our strength, our spirit. We owe those things to our democracy, to our freedom. If you succeed, and you become a democracy, a free people acting together, there will be many countries that need you in the years to come. And you will have the strength to help them, as we have had our own strength over the years.

We can never be grateful enough to you and to your countrymen for the sacrifices you have endured. I hope one day that all Americans may honor your sacrifices as greatly as our own, because I truly believe that our own freedom is tied to yours. It is a horrible burden to lay upon you, and I want you to know that my spirit is lifted when I see voices like yours, speaking out in the name of freedom. You give us hope.

I wish, with all of my heart, for you to see an election day like the election day that I saw, November 2nd, 2004. I hope that the decision I made brings that day closer to you.

I am very humbled, and yet very proud, that you have saluted us for our election. I salute you in return. I wish you good luck, and good faith, and a safe passage through this horrible time.