Global Citizen Year is a global bridge year program designed to unleash the potential of high school students as leaders and effective agents of change.
Elections are big.
Big and important.
At least that's what my teenage mind was led to believe from the deluge of political commercials and millions of dollars habitually thrown about in an election year. For this reason, when I learned I would be spending my first presidential election in the highlands of Ecuador, absentee voting seemed a matter of course. Elections, after all, are big. Big and important.
I can only imagine the thoughts of my Ecuadorian community in my ensuing election fervor. At work, I talked about the election. At home, I struggled through the obstacle course of voting abroad. In my free time, I read party platforms, cut off from all the televised debates.
As I sat drinking my colada and eating patacones at night, I tried to explain to my host family the differences between Obama and Romney; the nuances of our political system; the reason I was so passionate. When my host mother asked if Obama was a girl and why some states were more important than others, I realized how foreign my recent actions must appear.
In Ecuador, it is obligatory to vote starting at 16. Without doing so you will not be able to obtain a job. A heap of bureaucratic troubles can ensue. There are multiple political parties and multiple rounds of candidate elimination. The very perception of what an election is was different, but is different bad?
The past few months living in the province of Chimborazo, I have pondered this question. Does America actually have the better system? When less than 60 percent of the American population actually turned out this past Election Day, our proclamation of democratic government seems feeble. If we required people to vote, would we create a more representative system?
On the sixth of November, I found myself holed up in a hotel with 10 other Americans. Having all traveled to the closest city in order to have Internet access, our eyes were glued to CNN, BBC, Fox and whatever news channel we could find streaming the returns. We ate cake and ice cream and were all sleep deprived at work the next morning. In part, I was reconnecting with my American culture, but more than anything, we glued our eyes and shouted out results because we did not have to. If voting were an obligation, as in Ecuador, it would become no more mundane than submitting taxes or registering a new car; neither of which I could imagine celebrating with abundant quantities of sugar. The passion to vote, which some have and some do not, would vanish.
I could not tell you the implications of this recent election for my home country or for Ecuador. I have no idea of how global politics interact. What I have learned from living abroad is that the meaning of the word "election" is not universal. For our American culture, and for me, elections are big. Big and important. But only because we want them to be.