Saturday, January 29, 2005

My First Vote and Dreams of Freedom

I remember my first vote. When I was 19, I voted in my first election. I voted for the guy that lost actually. But, I never forgot how it felt. I was nervous. I was afraid I would make a mistake. But, I was excited, too. I was getting to do what I had learned about in civics classes and history. Vote. A privilege given to me and protected for me by the blood of many who came before me.

I didn't really know that much about politics or domestic policies or foreign policies. I didn't know much, though I thought I knew plenty. Yet, the most important part for me was going to the polling station and showing them my identification and signing the book saying it was me voting.

When I cast my ballot, I felt euphoria. It was beautiful because I felt for the first time that I was an adult and capable of making decisions and shaping the destiny of my country and ultimately the destiny of the world.

I have voted many times since then in both national and local elections. Each time, I learned more about politics and agendas and "platforms" and how the government really worked and each time I made better and better decisions, I think. In 2004, when I cast my vote, I felt just like when I was 19 again. I felt like, for the first time in a long time, that I was shaping the future of the world again.

And I was.

This is what holds true for Iraqis. On Sunday, January 30, the people of Iraq will shape the future of not only their country, but the world. They will say with their vote, "Here I am and I matter. I have a voice and it will be heard."

I am 10 thousand or more miles away and yet, I can feel it. I can feel the excitement like a current in the air, circulating the globe. There are 25 million free people in Iraq and 14 million have the right to vote and shape the country, the world that they will live in.

It might seem like a lot of pressure for a newly liberated country, but it is so simple really. To walk into a place, tell them who you are, dip your finger in the ink, check a space on a piece of paper and drop it into a ballot box, is the simplest thing to do. The hard part was getting there and the hardest will be in leaving it until the next time and learning how to truly govern themselves.

I would like the Iraqi people to know, when they walk into the polling station, that they not only carry the hopes and dreams of millions around the world, those in dark places with no voice yet they can see and hear, the Iraqi people have millions of free people standing with them, beside them and around them.

We cannot all be there physically, though many wish that they could, but in spirit, in hopes and in dreams, we are there with them. We cannot protect them physically, yet with our will, with our strength and our beliefs, with our young men and women, we stand ready to defend them as brothers and sisters in democracy.

God bless the people of Iraq and give them the strength, the will and the dream to carry on in the path of freedom and democracy.

Freedom is a fire burning in the minds of men. On Sunday, January 30, it will be a conflageration that will be seen around the world in a blinding flash of light.

Let it burn so brightly that the lowest man in the poorest country in the meanest of situations feels its warmth and is given hope. Let the roar of that fire be the voice for those millions who cannot speak for fear of their oppressors. Let the light from that fire burn away the blinders of the oppressed and oppressors alike so that they can see what freedom will someday mean for them.

Someday, not long from now, Iraqi children will read about the first constitution of Iraq written for and by the people. They will read about it in classes where no bomb nor bullet has touched the walls or broken the glass. They will not remember or know what it was like to live in these times. It will be only words on a page in a book. Yet, those words will mean something, the lessons will mean something, just like they do in every democracy. A reminder of how they came to be there and of their civic duties as citizens of a free country.

Every few years the people of Iraq will go to polling stations as if they had done it a thousand times before, because, of course, they will have. They will not fear standing in line nor bombs nor snipers. They will not remember, except maybe a few, what it was like in these first elections, the danger, the pride, the will to move forward. They might even wonder what all the fuss was about.

On January 30, 2005, there will be a grand swelling of pride in Iraqis for having participated in this moment, in shaping the world. In 2025, this moment will echo across history and be only a feint feeling as many cast their votes again. There will be no grand celebrations in the streets, just quiet celebrations behind closed doors or by invitation only as many such ordeals are today in "established" democracies. Still, when I think about it, it is not this vote that will be a grand celebration of liberty, as raucus as it is likely to get and as many, smiles, songs or dances of joy may be seen. It will be in that quiet moment, twenty years from now, when a 19 year old girl votes for her first time, standing in line quietly after spending the whole year debating with friends about politics that she thinks she knows something about, with ideas and ideals in her mind about how "it ought to be". When she walks to the polling station, unafraid and with a joyous feeling of finally becoming "an adult", walking home with her first "I voted" sticker or button on her lapel, that will be the grandest celebration of all.

Strangely, I have this feeling that day, in the year 2025, will pass with barely a flicker of a mention on the news. Just a quick flip of statistics and candidates, winning or losing with maybe a brief mention, in thirty seconds or less, about the war in 2003 and Iraqis obtaining their freedom some 22 years ago. That's it. Nothing else.

Very few will recognize it or think about, not even in Iraq, because that is the true celebration, when it becomes common place and not the exception.

My hope is, by then, many more places will have freedom, democracy and voting privileges, that this thing will be common place for many more of our brothers and sisters oppressed by tyrannical leaders and governments around the world. My dream, like those patriots before me, those that dreamed of freedom's eternal light every time they fought against tyranny whether in small actions or in world wars, is that I will only have a memory of what it was like to live in a world where tyrants still had a say and people feared their power. If not in the year 2025, then, in the year, 2055, when I am old and gray and telling my great grandchildren, nieces and nephews stories about "how it used to be". I dream it will only be a story then and that they will look at me with wonder and disbelief that any such time existed when the flame of freedom had to be continuously stoked with the blood of patriots when it was a question of "if" instead of "when".

I think this is a dream that the Iraqis and I have in common.

I dream that this fire never goes out, never dims, but is carried forward forever more on the shoulders of our children and their children and their children after them.

But, I know, that a dream of a world without tyranny is just that, a dream. Because, of course, in reality, I know there will always be another that will want power for themselves or for a few who will want to control the many. It is but man's ever lasting curse. Yet, we have the cure forever if we want it, if we keep it, if we feed it.

It is the fire that will continue burning in the minds of men, long after I am gone to ashes and barely remembered by those that come after me.

Today, though, it is less than 24 hours before the next step in history begins. The passing of the torch commences at 10 PM CST.

Long live Iraq and long may the fire of freedom burn in the minds of men.

********* DON't FORGET ***********

Don't forget to catch Friends of Democracy on CSPAN, Sunday around 2pm EST. They will have interviews with Iraqis and cover the elections and their new program for the Arabic Blogging tool.


Donal said...

Excellent post Kat. No matter why we went into Iraq- we are now fighting for the freedom that you describe so well. Tomorrow an Iraqi democracy is born- long may it endure!

Tom said...

My sentiments exactly, Kat.

Many others in the Middle East and around the world are watching the elections, too. The dictators with fear, and the average people with hope. If democracy can happen in Iraq, it can happen anywhere.