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Posts Tagged ‘election’

Photo: Paul Stremple.
Beatrice Karore, a community leader involved in peace building during Kenya’s elections, stands outside a local vocational college in Mathare that served as a polling station.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

Often they are women. We know that not all women are peacemakers, but many are. They see where differences of opinion can get out of hand and take action.

Today’s article is about peacemakers in Kenya trying to change the pattern of violent election periods. The story was written before the country’s Supreme Court made its decision on the recount. If you can’t stand suspense, skip to the end.

Mukelwa Hlatshwayo writes at the Christian Science Monitor, “The Kenyan presidential elections are over, but peace campaigner Beatrice Karore’s work is not done.

“One recent cloudy morning in Nairobi, the founder of Wanawake Mashinani – Swahili for Grassroots Women – walks to her office in Mathare, one of the most densely populated slum areas in the Kenyan capital. 

“Sliding a heavy-duty padlock off a thick metal door, Ms. Karore and her team file into the tiny room that serves as their headquarters, and sit on blue plastic chairs. Over loud music blaring from a nearby shop, Ms. Karore begins with a prayer for a good ‘walk for the peace’ ahead.

“Ms. Karore is one of dozens of grassroots peace activists across the country who sprang into action in the months leading up to Kenya’s Aug. 9 presidential elections. Now, as the country waits for a final verdict on disputed results, that work has become increasingly important.

“The Supreme Court is due to hand down a judgment on Sept. 5, after opposition candidate Raila Odinga challenged official results that showed him losing to William Ruto by a margin of 200,000 votes. A former prime minister, Mr. Odinga has blamed five previous presidential election losses on rigging – claims that have sparked deadly riots in the past. 

“For now, an uneasy calm is holding. But some campaigners fear the Supreme Court verdict could yet unleash the violence that followed disputed polls in 2007, when more than 1,200 people were killed, and again in 2017, when more than 100 people died. 

“As her team walk out of their modest office into narrow passageways crammed with shacks, Ms. Karore says she knows the current lull is far from guaranteed. ‘We [are still] doing peace campaigns to empower the community,’ she says.

‘We realized that when there is no peace, everyone loses.’ …

“Some analysts believe that the relatively peaceful election campaign, in which the main candidates ran on social and economic issues, rather than demanding voters’ ethnic loyalty, points to a maturing democracy. 

“Widely touted reforms to the electoral process, including the effective registration of voters in the diaspora, may have given more Kenyans a sense of greater transparency. And battered by two years of COVID-19 lockdowns and rising costs of living, most Kenyans would prefer to accept the Supreme Court verdict than go to an election rerun, analysts say. …

“The manner in which Kenyans navigate the decision by the court will set a precedent for future disputes across Africa. … Even if the fragile peace holds, electoral watchers caution it will take more than one election cycle to show Kenya has left violence in the past. …

“For the past two presidential elections, Ms. Karore’s team has organized the kind of ‘holistic’ monitoring that Kenya’s human rights commission says will transform how communities like Mathare – which typically bear the brunt of any unrest – participate in the post-electoral process. Wanawake Mashinani has held several community meetings at which faith-based leaders have encouraged people to remain calm. It’s given safety tips to residents on election day. 

“And in a neighborhood that’s neglected by officials, where violence, drug abuse, and crime are prevalent, perhaps the group’s most important work is also the simplest: It checks in on residents and listens without judgment. 

“On this August morning ‘peace walk,’ Ms. Karore stops first to talk to a group of women selling hair-care products outside a corrugated iron-roof shack. Speaking in Swahili, she asks them how they are and how things have been since the elections. The discussion is light and jovial; the women laugh at a joke about a fake flour scandal doing the rounds in Mathare. 

“One vendor, a young woman called Kim, says that things have been quiet and business has been slower. She tells the group they are glad major protests didn’t break out after the results were announced, because that would have meant they would have lost everything. 

“ ‘Anything small can trigger violence on the streets,’ Ms. Karore says. ‘Many people leave their homes and go to rural areas at this time, or where people of their same tribe live.’

“Research has shown that when marginalized communities feel that their favorite candidate loses an election due to irregularities, they are more likely to resort to violence. Human rights organizations say the unrest often breaks out along ethnic and identity lines. …

“As Ms. Karore and her team walk deeper into the township, checking in on neighbors and store owners, they are greeted by passersby who recognize them from previous door-to-door visits.

“Buoyed by the work of peace campaigners across Kenya as a whole, the political atmosphere has been significantly calmer than in two previous elections. A range of activists, from artists to religious leaders, have been galvanized into action in recent months. A campaign by artists in Kibera, Kenya’s largest township, displays works that celebrate the country’s ethnic diversity. Another group of activists organized a ‘peace caravan’ across the country, carrying messages urging voters to remain calm during the heated polls.

“Still, violence and intimidation persist. … In Mathare, Reagan Victor Ondigo says he barely escaped with his life when a mob of men tried to burn down his home as he and his family slept. … He blames politicians for whipping up ethnic grievances, but he’s cautiously hopeful that those perceptions are slowly changing.

“ ‘I hope that my daughter will know that freedom is there,’ he says.”

Looks like Kenya’s Supreme Court decision was accepted by both sides. More at the Monitor, here.

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Photo: Yauhen Attsetski via Radio Free Europe.
Sept. 3, 2020. Repainting the mural in the Square of Change. A mural on the side of a Minsk apartment building showing two deejays who were jailed for playing a controversial Soviet rock song has become a flash point in the standoff between Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko and his opponents.

I don’t know if readers recall the Belarusian presidential election of 2020. There were massive protests after Putin puppet Alexander Lukashenko declared a big victory. I’ve been keeping track of resistance in Belarus for a while now and feel sorry that because the president is helping Russia with the Ukraine invasion, ordinary Belarusians get associated with him.

A story — practically a book — about the resistance was reported by Sarah A. Topol at the New York Times in March, detailing how numerous Belarusians risked their lives to unseat the strongman and how the Russian invasion of Ukraine has intensified the heartbreak of their failure. I will present the conclusion of the article here. The names mentioned are people Topol interviewed about the 2020 uprising.

She writes that in February of this year, “no one believed the war was coming. The New Belarus movement was busy preparing to protest a constitutional referendum that would allow Lukashenko to stay in office until 2035 as well as give him lifetime immunity from prosecution once he left. The proposed amendments also included a change removing Belarus’s commitment to be neutral and free of nuclear weapons, which meant the country could host Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

“In the early hours of Feb. 24, Russia’s military attacked Ukraine. When I messaged the group, they were horrified. Their country had become one large Russian military base bordering three NATO countries. …

“Sviatlana and her supporters immediately announced their firm antiwar position. As the sanctions began to resemble those recently imposed on Russia, the exiled movement maintained that the people inside the country were prepared to suffer. What else could they do to stop Lukashenko now when they had failed to overthrow him already? Not everyone was as convinced. Sanctions risked hurting the average citizen; they had a mixed record of effecting political change.

“As the war continued, Belarusian relocants in Kyiv fled farther west, many of them now forced to run for their lives twice in less than a year. In Warsaw, Diana had been working on a plan to open a house for newly arriving Belarusians — a community where people could get advice on residency, refugee status, health care and schools. The group she was working with, Courtyard Activists Abroad, pivoted to providing supplies for Ukrainian refugees. She attended protests at the Belarusian and Russian Embassies. She grappled with a sense of shame. All along they wondered if they could have done more to stop Lukashenko, to free their own people and by extension to stop this war.

“ ‘Our guilt is greater than our attempts at justification, because we didn’t finish what we started — our unfinished revolution,’ she told me. ‘Lukashenko is sitting there and cooperating with Russia. This is our fault. For two years, we tried, but we couldn’t overthrow him. Given we screamed that we are the majority, we should have been able to do it. We could have done it. But to say we could or couldn’t is just a discussion; we didn’t even really try. We could have overturned the buses, even if they had 20 siloviki in them. We had thousands in our marches. But we didn’t try. Instead, we were peaceful. We walked with flowers.’

“Sviatlana released video after video supporting Ukraine, and she praised the Belarusian volunteers going to fight alongside Ukrainians. The Cyber-Partisans paralyzed Belarus’s railways to prevent Russian military movements. Three rounds of negotiations between Russian and Ukrainian officials have taken place on the Ukrainian-Belarusian border. By the end of March, the Pentagon had counted at least 70 missile launches from Belarusian territory, though no Belarusian troops had been confirmed on the ground in Ukraine. In Minsk, people had begun to fear that they would be forced to fight against their will. If Belarus announced that it was officially at war, men of military age would be barred from leaving the country.

“On Feb. 26, the night before the constitutional referendum, the chat members in Minsk decided they would go to the Russian Embassy the next day to protest the war after they went to the polling station to spoil their ballots. There had been no large rallies since the previous winter. It was a huge risk to take to the streets. When they were about to depart for the Russian Embassy, they heard it was surrounded by paddy wagons. Arrests had already been made. The group decided to change course: They would go to the Ukrainian Embassy with flowers. …

“They weren’t the only ones who risked their freedom to take a symbolic stand. Though the regime had spent a year and a half decimating the ranks of the politically active, thousands of Belarusians still took to the streets. Across the country, more than 800 people were arrested. (In Russia, with a population roughly 15 times greater, 2,000 people were arrested that same day.)

“Westerners often looked at Belarus as if it were Europe’s own little North Korea. Lukashenko himself mocked reporters who called him ‘the last dictator of Europe.’ People who have not experienced it tend to believe all autocracies are the same, but in reality, regimes and freedoms vary, and repressions exist in shades. For Belarusians, the shift from gray to black, from autocracy to totalitarianism, was calculable in lives.

“Nearly 10 million people still lived in Belarus, unwitting collaborators in the raging war. According to a Chatham House poll in mid-March, only 3 percent of Belarusians supported entering the war alongside the Russian military. The Square of Change wanted the world to know that Belarusians had recognized this danger earlier, that they had been fighting this regime, which owed its existence to Putin, for a long time. Even in this atmosphere of repression, they had not given up or fled.

“They had tried so fervently to build the independent Belarus they were promised when the Soviet Union fell. Still, 30 years later, they were thwarted by dynamics that formed decades before their birth. It had been foolish to believe that the U.S.S.R. could collapse so peacefully, that its ghosts would not demand placation. Now they were all paying the price.

“There is so much discussed about the act of fleeing, but perhaps even more puzzling is the choice to remain. ‘I have no fear for myself; I have fear for my family,’ Shamberbetch told me. ‘I want to send my relatives abroad. I want to stay here as long as possible, to fight. When I realize there’s nothing I can do here anymore, I’ll leave the country through the woods.’

“What started for two D.J.s as a small act of symbolic defiance at a concert became a mural on a wall. That symbol became another, the Square of Change, which became to Belarusians the symbol of what their new nation could be. Then those who created that symbol became symbols themselves.

“Each revolution creates its own hieroglyphics — bracelets, flags, murals, heroes and demons — but to what end? How long can a revolution survive on symbols? When your country participates in the destruction of another, how much is symbolic protest worth? Is a symbol worth your life? ‘This is what worries us now, that the meaning of fighting with stickers and other symbols simply loses its meaning,’ Sous-Chef wrote to me in March. ‘Our peaceful protests have practically no effect on the current state of affairs.’

“Still, a few nights earlier, on the fence next to the children’s playground, on that white sheet the size of a flag, they painted NO WAR in red with a black peace sign. On the side, they marked their stencil — two small D.J.s with their arms raised.”

More at the Times, here.

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I’m old enough to have lived through many contentious election cycles, my mother having gotten my help going door-to-door when I was 7. So I’m here to tell you, life goes on. The old world keeps turning. The seasons come around. Dawn lights up city streets. Those who seek kindness and beauty find it.

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Saw these signs on my morning walk and did a little googling around to learn more.

 

Naturally, there’s a website with an explanation:

“Rock the Vote’s mission is to engage and build political power for young people in our country.

“Founded twenty-one years ago at the intersection of popular culture and politics, Rock the Vote has registered more than five million young people to vote and has become a trusted source of information for young people about registering to vote and casting a ballot. We use music, popular culture, new technologies and grassroots organizing to motivate and mobilize young people in our country to participate in every election, with the goal of seizing the power of the youth vote to create political and social change.

“The Millennial Generation is diverse and huge in number, making up nearly 1/4 of the entire electorate in 2012. This is both the challenge and the opportunity. Rock the Vote is dedicated to building the political power of young people by engaging them in the electoral process, urging politicians to pay attention to issues that matter to young voters, and protecting their fundamental right to vote. Our goal is to reinvigorate our country’s democracy and redefine citizenship for a generation in 2012 and beyond.”

Check out Rock the Vote here. There are some videos from celebrities using humor to encourage young people to register.

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Vote

I went to vote before work. I’d heard on the radio it would be a low turnout because it was a primary and on a Thursday, which is unusual. But one hotly contested election brought out the troops.

As I left the polls, I was thinking how some folks complain their vote won’t matter or nothing will change. But I think voting is important even if it isn’t perfect.

At this very moment, people around the world are literally dying for the right to vote. And if they do get the franchise, they line up for hours time and time again even if they know it’s not perfect — too many candidates, fraud attempts, threats of violence, the wrong person winning.

A few years ago I was reading stats about Dubai, just a list of facts like population, natural resources, weather, religion. I came to the column “franchise,” and it said “none.”

None? I never really thought about it although I knew the country was a monarchy.

Franchise: none. Wow.

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