Over the last few days when looking at the photographs of people standing in line at early voting sites across the country, I've been reminded of so many pictures I've seen of election lines before - lines of voters from throughout the world, voters who have had to fight for the fundamental right to vote, voters for whom standing in line is perhaps the easiest part of everything they've had to do to bring about change.
First I thought of this famous picture of people in Soweto lined up to vote in South Africa's first post-apartheid election.
I thought of 1990, when the people of Burma shocked the military government by showing up en masse to overwhelmingly (80%) elect the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD) and its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. The military junta refused to accept the vote, and to this day the Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest and the people of Burma, often led by Buddhist monks, continue their struggle for democracy.
I remember seeing pictures of women lining up to vote in parliamentary elections in Nepal earlier this year, elections that ushered in the first democratically elected sovereign government following the ouster of the monarchy:
Because I have many close family ties there, I especially remember Chile in 1988 when the right wing dictator Augusto Pinochet tried to arrange a window-dressing referendum that he expected to continue his term in power. His military junta was shocked when 56% of the voters were brave enough to vote "NO" - beginning the long democratization process that today has resulted in the election of Michele Bachelet, a Socialist woman, as President. During the campaign against Pinochet, the mothers of political activists who had been murdered or "disappeared" led the "NO" voices.
How about these voters in Sierra Leone, reclaiming their country after the ugly civil wars that tore the west African country to shreds?
Another picture from Sierra Leone, where thousands of citizens were maimed by the armies that terrorised the country:
After another brutal civil war, the people of Liberia were willing to wait in long lines in 2005 to elect Africa's first female head of state:
In Guatemala, these peasants had already stood in line to vote for hours, only to find out that there was a problem with their registration. But instead of going home, they stood in yet another long line to sort out registration errors to finally be able to cast a vote. (Unfortunately, a possible glimpse of what many voters may face on election day in the US on November 4th.)
After the government of Ukraine stole the 2004 election, the people of the country rose up in the "Orange Revolution". Here are Ukrainian voters lining up in a rural village to vote in the second election (this one fair) that swept the government out of power.
Voters in East Timor in 1999, lining up to vote in the first election after years of living under a brutal Indonesian military occupation.
I'll never forget the images of these brave people in Harare, Zimbabwe (another country I have strong personal ties to) risking their lives to vote for the opposition under the eyes of Mugabe's police, soldiers and ZANU-PF thugs.
I think we were all inspired by the "Velvet Revolution" in Czechoslovakia, people were willing to risk their lives in a peaceful popular uprising that heralded the arrival of democracy throughout eastern Europe.
And despite facing grinding poverty, political violence, and a history of stolen elections and military coups, these voters in rural Haiti still were willing to line up to vote in 2006.
And let's not forget the courage it took Iraqis to come out and vote under the threat of political and sectarian violence. We can appreciate their bravery and commitment even while we object to the stupidity with which Bush/Cheney/Rumsfield went to war. (A hat tip in thanks to "VA Classical Liberal" for finding this photo - not 100% sure about public domain on this, but I'll chance it).
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And lest we think these struggles only happen in other countries, let's never forget the battles for the right to vote that we've fought, and are still fighting, in this country.
Immediately after the Civil War, former slaves (male) gained the right to vote, and the Reconstruction period saw large numbers of African-Americans elected to offices in the former Confederacy. These rights were soon lost in the face of the emergence of the Jim Crow period, the rise of the Klan, the Poll Tax, hoax "literacy tests" and and host of other attacks on the right to vote.
Women were denied the suffrage for the first century and a half of the our history, and only gained the vote after decades of ridicule and struggle.
A US law passed in 1870 prohibited Chinese immigrants from becoming US citizens - making it impossible to vote - part of a series of racist laws designed to restrict Chinese immigration to the US. These provisions were later expanded to cover other Asian-Americans, and were not fully repealed until 1965
The first peoples of the United States, the Native Americans, were subjected to massive campaigns of ethnic cleansing, genocide, and forced removal. Despite being the original Americans, Native people were denied US citizenship until the 1920s. Even after citizenship, many states denied American Indians the right to vote until the 1940s and 50s.
The fight for full voting rights for African-Americans was long and often violent. The Selma to Montgomery marchers were marching for voting rights, and the violence at the Pettis bridge is what finally shamed LBJ and Congress into enacting the Voting Rights Act.
Finally able to register, southern blacks flooded into county offices to enroll as voters
Cesar Chavez led a march from Merced to Sacramento to fight for the dignity of Latino farm workers in California.
The spirit of Chavez continued in the massive marches for immigrant rights, raising the level of political awareness and activism in the Latino community.
In 1978, just a few months after using the power of the vote to elect the openly gay City Supervisor Harvey Milk, San Francisco residents marched by candlelight in sadness and anger after the murder of Milk and Mayor George Moscone.
In 2004 students and residents at Ohio's Kenyon College had to wait as long as 10 hours to vote, and voting only finished after 3 a.m.
Earlier this year, hundreds of students from the historically black Prairie View College in Texas had to march 7 miles to the county seat to protect their voting rights.
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We can't let long waits and lines keep us from living up to the legacy we've inherited. On Tuesday we need to make sure no one gets out of line, no one gives up, that the frustration and intimidation the right wing wants to use to beat us is overwhelmed by our sheer numbers and determination.
I know the campaign will be working hard to encourage people not to give up, that there will be volunteers at the polls to help take care of the people who are stuck waiting, as well as a huge team of lawyers to monitor the problems. If you haven't already, it isn't too late to volunteer to help at the polls on Election Day.
But even outside of that formal activity, there is so much we can do -- provide child care for however long it might take someone to vote, have umbrellas ready to take to a polling place if it is raining, show up during the day with water and coffee and juice or sandwiches and snacks for people waiting, go vote with a group of friends or family to make the time go by faster, give personal encouragement and pep talks to people in long lines... as Jeff Lieber said in his diary yesterday, the challenge becomes: STFIL! (Stay.The.Fuck.In.Line)
So when I think about whether we'll have to wait in long lines on Tuesday, I'm not intimidated. I know that we won't be standing in those lines alone, we'll be accompanied by the history of millions of people a whole lot braver and tougher than we'll ever need to be to stay in line for a few hours.