This semester Ally worked as an intern for Democrats Abroad, the overseas arm of the DNC. Below read an article written in two parts: her reflections on the experience written before November 6, and a post-election update.
It would be 100 percent easier not to vote abroad, not to stay informed, and not to try. Here is why we do it.
We’re approaching what could be the most important and divisive election of our lifetimes and it is a thousand miles away.
In a normal semester, I would imagine the beginning of study abroad is hard. You have to get your bearings in a place far away from the comforts of home. They may speak a different language, they view the world differently, and they see you and your country in a different light than you see yourself. You miss your family, your friends, the comfort of Panera tomato soup when you’re sick, and a good New York bagel. This year I struggled in all the normal ways, but I found something else challenging. I’m a news nerd-- always have been. Raised on MSNBC and Jon Stewart, I had never had a problem staying informed before. However, it soon became evident that staying fully informed abroad was going to be a full-time job when our country’s rapid news cycle overturns itself every 3 days.
Since my flight landed at Václav Havel airport in Prague on August 25th, 2018 we have witnessed an anonymous op-ed from the west wing stating our president is unfit for office, the indictment of a sitting president’s lawyer, a hearing for a supreme court nominee that turned into a partisan battle, a brave woman telling the story of the worst night of her life only to be mocked by the leader of the free world, and the man she accused being sworn into a lifetime appointment in the highest court of the land. Not to mention the story of how our president got rich, a terrifying prediction of what is happening to our planet, pipe bombs being sent to political rivals, an act of horrific violence against the Jewish community and so much more. In just two months, our country has encountered a year’s worth of strife all within an election cycle.
At times it seems hopeless that any of this can change. It is no wonder why many students don’t do it. Ignorance after all is bliss, and to be informed is work. It overwhelms us. However, I would argue that it is this exact feeling that motivates me to do what is 1000 times easier to not do.
Over the past month and a half, I’ve assisted people to register for their absentee ballots in over 15 states (both friends from home and friends from abroad). It is the white lie that we tell that it takes only two minutes. I can assure you that it tends to take at least five times longer than that if all goes well, but we keep telling that lie because it is 100% easier to walk past our table if we don’t.
Each state has different rules for how you can vote. Some ballots need to be requested by mail. Some by email. Some states request both. In some states you can receive your ballot by mail, some by email, and some can be submitted online. Each state has a different deadline to register, and none of this information is up front and easy to find unless you know where to look. And while postage is free on absentee ballots when you’re in the states, it is not here.
I’m currently living in a country in which the first free and fair election since WWII with more than one political party took place in 1990. That’s less than ten years before my classmates and I were born. Something else strikes me about it—while it is true that an independent Czech Republic has only existed in my parents’ recent memory, it has been less than 250 years since our own revolution. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a long time. The US is also a young democracy whose values have been flipping and changing with every generation. In five years, a nation can go from total communist control to an independent democracy, so what makes us think our system too cannot change? We take these things, the potential for change, for granted. We ask ourselves questions: Does my vote really count? Why should I care if everything is just partisan battles? I’m angry, sad and confused; how could my vote possibly change that?
But we cannot expect change if we do not want to work for it. Ignoring what is happening around us does ourselves and the world a disservice.
I’m spending my year abroad worrying about what is happening at home, but I cannot help it. I am 20 years old. I have attended more political rallies since I cast my first ballot against more divisive legislation than my mother has in her lifetime. I don’t think it’s true that my generation does not care. We just have not been taught that what we say matters. I think that’s changing. The ballots we will cast on November 6th, 2018 will include the most diverse selections of candidates our country has ever seen- women, people of color, LGBTQ+, and people of all socioeconomic and employment backgrounds. From nurses, to working single mothers, to veterans, to college and non-college graduates alike, this group of candidates looks, sounds and feels like the nation they are trying to represent. I could not be prouder to be a part of that, even if my influence is small.
It’s a week and a half after the election and I’m content, but not comfortable.
There was certainly a fear that this could have been the end. That we had put in all this work and would have been left after this election feeling as if our vote didn’t count, and despite all the effort we put in in the last two years, we were not being heard. I think a lot of people would have given up. None of it would have mattered if we couldn’t protect and change the law.
I don’t think that happened last week. The democrats retook the house. On the state level we did well. And while the big-name races in red states for senate and governor seats did not win, with the high turnout that nobody anticipated it is not apparent that this should be taken as a loss either. We had candidates that mobilized the disenfranchised based on progressive policy, that gained nationwide traction with no corporate interests, and that either won or lagged in the polls of what were previously thought of as unwinnable races by less than 2 percent. 2020 will still be an uphill climb but if we keep this momentum and the attitude that things could change a change will be made.
With offices heading into recounts and runoffs, this is a lesson that every vote counts. That voter suppression should be taken seriously. That everyone should be heard. We are not going down without a fight of unprecedented numbers. The struggle for a fair and healthy democracy is not a sprint— we’re just getting started.