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Does Voting Even Matter?

Okay, so full closure: for the last month, I’ve been a one-woman Get Out The Vote campaign.  I helped my UK/US dual citizen intern register for her first ever Presidential election.  I made sure my ex-expat coworker was properly registered.  It has gotten to the point where people have blocked me on facebook, and people have told me to stop speaking and have walked away from me mid-sentence.  I’ve even stooped to rewarding friends and family with food for their political participation.  And it all started with my near-nervous breakdown when a friend told me he had never voted. So yeah, this matters to me.  But is that a surprise?  I watched the entirety of West Wing in real time (if you know my age, you know that’s a little strange) and many times since then.  My dad and I made a tradition of watching election returns together.  I signed my first petition and wrote my first letter to a member of congress before I could drive.  I’ve been to political rallies on three continents.  I worked for Amnesty International.  I’ve devoted thousands of hours to Model-Whatever, AKA a very elaborate game of political pretend.  I have spent years studying this stuff formally, and I spend my leisure time reading what other people would consider textbooks. So yes, when you tell me, “It’s just politics,” I do take it a bit personally.  Not just because of my years invested thus far, but also because of what is at stake.  No matter what side of the issues you fall on, the two mainstream candidates have (or have had) differing opinions on...
The Mirabal Sisters: Revolutionary Wild Women

The Mirabal Sisters: Revolutionary Wild Women

The Mirabal sisters can be felt everywhere in the Dominican Republic. They are on currency and stamps, celebrated in statues and in literature, and the Mariposas (butterflies) seem to float through the very air. At its heart, In the Time of the Butterflies is a book of historical fiction about the four Mirabal sisters of the Dominican Republic. They went up against the dictator Trujillo and each woman became a revolutionary in her own way. This all happened in the 1930s-1960s, at a time when Haitians had been massacred by the 100,000s and anyone (or the family of anyone) who disagreed with Trujillo was subject to jail time, disappearance, loss of property, torture and even death. Cuba’s own Revolution also plays a role in the ideology and hope of the Mirabal sisters. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres. It’s how I learned about Apartheid, China’s One Child Policy, and racial reality in the pre-Civil Rights South. In fact, for a long time I thought writing historical fiction was going to be the small way in which I would attempt to save the world. I love that Alvarez shows the Mirabal sisters as women first, even when they couldn’t prioritize their womanhood to themselves. They were sisters and daughters and lovers and mothers and friends. It’s not like they grew up saying how they were going to be martyrs destined for Dominican currency and to be the founding example for the UN’s Day Against Violence Towards Women. They grew up as the Mirabal Sisters, and the capital T in “The” came later. The perspective shifts from one sister to the next throughout time, giving...
Slacktivism

Slacktivism

“Slacktivists don’t raise money” “Slacktivists aren’t informed” “Slacktivists aren’t connected to the cause” “Slacktivists aren’t real activists” “Slacktivists don’t accomplish anything” I’ve heard and read these complaints a million times over.  How many times do we need to see a campaign like the one launched to restore Planned Parenthood funding when Susan G. Komen Foundation pulled out?  Over $400,000 were raised rapidly, Komen went back on their decision, and at least one board member was fired/resigned.  That strikes me as a lot of money and accomplishment for a bunch of people who, “don’t care,” and “can’t accomplish anything.” I would like to point out that the TOMS Day Without Shoes (which appears to have accomplished nothing more than clogging my inbox) is considered “activism,” while buying something BOGO is “slacktivism.”  I have an inherent problem with the term slacktivism, but I also have issues with how we define it. I don’t thinkwe have to choose between one or the other, and I think there is far more overlap within these groups than is usually portrayed.  How often do I have to go to protests to maintain my credibility?  How many times can I tweet about a cause before I shift into “slacktivism” territory? Traditionally, buying BOGO, purchases where a percentage goes to a cause, signing an online petition and donating via “like” or text message are all considered Slacktivism.  Isn’t my money just as good if it comes via text?  In the paraphrased words of my friend Eduardo, we all have to wear clothes, so they may as well mean something and do some good.  Isn’t my slacktivist clothing accomplishing more than your sweatshop-produced, unsustainable stuff?  Isn’t my support for a...

Today, I am Not Proud to be an American

When I was in Tahrir Square and a gun went off, I remember being afraid of the cops.  I instantly knew that the gun was not from a civilian, and it crossed my mind that the scariest thing in the world may just be the feeling of living in a place where you can’t trust the people whose job it is to protect you. Certainly the scariest thing about that day, for me, was knowing that if I were in trouble, no one in uniform was going to help me or anyone else. Last night, I read the moving open letter from Nathan Brown, a member of the UC Davis faculty to  Chancellor Linda Katehi, calling for her resignation.  The chancellor called in cops to break up peaceful protesters, and the cops came wearing full riot gear and beat the defenseless protestors with batons.  A week later, students and faculty came together to protest this brutality, and again the chancellor called in those same cops. A few images stick out in my mind from the videos I’ve been watching, and one of them even made me cry.  A professor holds out her wrists for a zip-tie arrest, and instead a cop grabs her by the hair and drags her to the ground.  After, a young woman hides in the bushes and every cop who passes her jabs her at least once with a baton, but several due it more than that.  When a young man tries to stop them, he is put in a headlock, and goes limp, but is then hit repeatedly with a baton.  While he is...
Protest

Protest

I knew that if there were any demonstrations while I was in Egypt, I was going.  Absolutely, 100%.  So when my friend Sarah, a journalist, got the call to cover a march to the Maspero Building, I was excited. A week and a half prior, 27 people were killed and about 300 were injured.  We started at Tahrir Square, a place where I spent a lot of time in 2009, and a place that became the epicenter of the Egyptian Revolution.  I photographed some demonstrators and signs, and Sarah conducted a few brief interviews. She annotated the entire thing for me, translating a speech here, or pointing out the photo of a martyred blogger there. We came upon a Salafist demonstration.  I was surprised by how many families I saw, and the carnivalesque atmosphere.  People were selling food and painting faces.  I was embarrassed to admit it, and maybe it was just all the years of training from Western media, but when I saw so many people jumping up and down chanting “Allah u Akhbar” it made me nervous.  And the more Sarah told me about the Salafists, the more comfortable I became with that reaction. Vendors are everywhere in Tahrir, hawking food and protest regalia. For a few pounds, this guy will paint your face with the Egyptian flag.  At Sarah’s direction, we (Sarah, myself and her brand new intern Hayden) walked toward the Maspero building.  What was happening at Tahrir was interesting for me to see, but was not newsworthy.  Sheff says there are protests and demonstrations every Friday, and that they’re overusing Tahrir.  It took a lot of...
I Love the Egyptian Revolution

I Love the Egyptian Revolution

The Egyptian Revolution has captivated the world, and it seems every few minutes someone is calling, texting, or emailing to ask me what I think. Between my political science and Middle East Studies background, my travel to Egypt, and the friends I have living there, the Egyptian Revolution has been consuming every spare moment I have. How can you not love a revolution wherein a human chain forms to protect its museums and priceless antiquities?  A mob that thinks to maintain its history and culture, even in their anger and confusion? How do you not love revolutionaries who form a citizen police force, because they don’t want looters or violence and their government has abandoned them and their safety? How is it possible for your heart not to ache for the Christians who are human shields to protect their Muslim countrymen while in prayer, repaying a favor from Christmas Eve of this past year? I think the Egyptian Revolution is beautiful.  People keep asking me, who are the good guys?  Isn’t Mubarak better than the Muslim Brotherhood?  Is it safe over there?  These people are the good guys; the people who protect their countrymen, their history, and their homes.  These people who want real democracy because their “president” has not left office in 30 years. Mubarak isn’t better than the Ikhwan, or Muslim Brotherhood.  But that’s irrelevant (for now), because MB didn’t organize this.  The Egyptian Revolution was organized in what was once a small facebook group, by students on twitter, by men smoking hookah in cafes, and by women bringing their children to school. Contrary to what you...

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