Friday, March 12, 2010

I Voted With Pride

By Ali Rawaf

For the first time in my life, I had the honor of participating in an event that has impacted the future of my country tremendously; I voted in the Iraqi election.

I was still young when the American Humvees drove through my neighborhood telling us through the speakers that mounted their vehicles that the war was over and we should resume to our normal life. I saw the old man on TV, beating Saddam’s picture with his shoe, the crowd that dragged the head of a statue of Saddam Hussein. I realized that our lives would never be the same again. Despite what the dark time we went through, as people, we emerged together in unity showing the world and our nasty enemy (terrorism) that we are strong and capable of voicing out our will.

Ever since Iraq had its first election, I longed for the day I get to dip my finger in that purple ink, it was a symbol of patriotism but I didn’t quite understand it and realized the enormity of its impact, on an individual level as well as the society. I told everyone I knew that I wanted to vote in the next elections, no matter where I will be, under whatever circumstance, I knew I would vote.

Fortunately, Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission added one more voting station outside the country, one that was close to me. It was in Irving, Texas, three hours away from my residence in Austin. I was thrilled.

A group of friends and I rented a passenger van on the morning of March 7th, decorated the car with a couple of Iraqi flags, and left Austin to go to the voting station. The ride wasn’t boring, we had a heated discussion about the candidates and why each of us would vote for them. Despite our disagreements, we had one thing in common; the pride in our country to undergo such a change in political system while staying strong, and the courage of our fellow Iraqis to go cast their ballots into the voting boxes. What my fellow Iraqis inside the country did was incredible and one of a kind. They challenged the terrorists and disregarded their attacks and marched their way into the voting stations.

After being lost for a longer than half an hour and mistakenly driving towards the gates of the local FBI building (in a white van with Iraqi flags stuck on the windows), we found the in-the-middle-of-no-where Crossroads Hotel, the Iraqi voting station in Texas. We rushed our way into the building to be shocked with a line of people that reminded us of the lines people would form waiting in government offices back home, “Just like back there,” said my friend. I nodded in agreement. The line was a little chaotic and as a result, we lost our spot in it to a couple of families.

While standing in the line, Iraqi IIHEC personnel approached us and started talking to us. “How did you get the job?” I asked, “I work for the parties.” He retorted, with a mischievous smile on his face. He had a leather jacket that went all the way to his knees, just like one of the kinds they make back home, and had a goatee of which you would see on a typical Iraqi bureaucrat’s face. He was not surprised to learn that we drove for three hours, “Some people drove from Nashville, ten hours away” he told us. He also said that a few party members intruded and asked certain voters to vote a certain way, “but they weren’t successful, and it has been going smoothly since Friday,” he said.

For the first time in my life, I felt as if I was – even if little – in control of my own destiny. I had a say in the political process, though it was more symbolic. I chose to declare my support for a political party, ideology, and candidate and I did it in a peaceful and civil manner. Though we voted for different candidates, we were all happy we had the opportunity to participate.

After a bad meal at a chain Middle Eastern restaurant, we drove back to Austin. Of course, we spent a big portion of our time discussing the elections. We took pictures of the whole trip and especially of us in the voting station. When I got home around midnight, I couldn’t sleep for quite some time, I was thinking of how proud I am to be part of the process while staring at my purple-inked index finger.

3 comments:

  1. Congratulations!! These are beautiful pictures!

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  2. I'm curious about why they use purple ink for voting here? A surprise!

    Your enthusiasm is contagious; I hope young Americans will catch fire for participating in the democratic process.

    Susan

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  3. Susan, Thank you for your comment. The ink is used in a few new democracies in the world. Since, the electoral system is not computerized yet, they use the ink to prohibit voter from voting again and that is because the ink is not removable for at least 3 days.

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