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  • Writer's pictureErika Nichols-Frazer

Vote Like Your Life Depends On It

The first time I was old enough to vote for the President, I was spending a semester in Tunisia. I was living with a host family - B'Chira and Slim and their kids, Selma and Youssef. Slim loved to talk politics; he was interested in how democracy worked, given the fact that Zine El Abidine Ben Ali had been the president since 1987. Ironically, his campaign slogan was "Le Changement," mirroring the change promised by Senator Barack Obama. Tunisians knew that no change was coming.

Slim was excited that Obama was running (as was I), and saw it as the dawning of a new age of relations between Islamic countries and the U.S. When my absentee ballot arrived in the mail, the family gathered around me on the verandah and watched as I filled in the little bubble next to Barack Obama's name. They clapped and cheered.

It was strange watching this revolution from afar, in a country that was three years away from its own revolution, which kicked off the Arab Spring. I would later see my independent study project advisor on the front page of The Times, head bleeding from being pushed down by the throng of people at a rally. In a friend's basement in La Marsa, my American friends and I watched the debates between Obama and McCain. In her emails, my mom kept asking if I'd seen Tina Fey playing Sarah Palin on SNL. "Mom, YouTube is blocked here and my host family doesn't get NBC," I explained, yet again.

Despite Ben Ali being a relatively "benevolent" dictator (if such a thing exists), western media channels and YouTube were largely blocked or censored. Ben Ali went on TV every night to relay the "news." I'd started off the semester wanting to focus my independent study project (read: thesis) on censorship of the Tunisian government, but my advisor said that was likely to be difficult, given, you know, censorship and government officials' reticence to talking to citizens, which he thought was likely to happen, given that I was an American.

I was proud to be able to do my part for my country. Back home, my mom worried that my ballot wouldn't arrive, given the questionable nature of the Tunisian postal system (I once had to wait for more than an hour and demand to speak to the postmaster because they refused to give me a package from my Gramma if I didn't pay a bribe. I fought for that toilet paper and Goldfish crackers.). At the town clerk's office in our small Vermont town, my mom asked the clerk if they'd received any ballots from North Africa; she confirmed they'd gotten one.

The night Obama was elected, the group of seven of us American students were on a week-long school trip to southern Tunisia/the Sahara (a day's travel away from where we lived near the capital, Tunis, in the north). We wrote "OBAMA" in giant letters in the desert sand and watched the sun go down over our collective hope. We stayed up til five a.m. drinking bad whiskey and soda and searching for any news we could find. Finally, as we drifted to sleep, all in the same bed, my friend Emma got a text from her mom: "WE WON!!!!!!!"

It was a day of celebration. We blasted "Young Americans" and "American Girl" and "American Pie" in our tour bus, dancing in the aisles. It was the first time any of us had been proud to be Americans in a long time. We rode camels the day after the election, and whooped and hollered in excitement. It was a few days before we could find a recent newspaper with Obama on the cover. It was in Arabic, which none of us read/spoke particularly well, but we still bought as many copies as we could.

More than a decade later, a lot has changed. Once again, I mailed in my ballot, as early as I could. I wrote letters urging strangers in Texas to vote. I knocked on doors. I convinced a young first-time voter to go to the polls. I talked to my family about their voting plan (as early as possible). We gave what we could.

Sometimes, Vermonters feel discouraged by our relative lack of power in the electoral system. I've heard a lot of Vermont's going to go blue no matter what, so what's the point of my vote? When we were the first state to announce its vote for Clinton in 2016, my husband said, "We've done our part, country. Now don't fuck this up." But, electoral college or no, every vote counts. More is at risk than ever before in an election: public health, reproductive rights, climate change, the economy, violence and gun control, human rights, and so much more...We need to stand up against this hate, division, and corruption. We need your vote. So, if you haven't voted already, drop your ballot off or head to the polls tomorrow. We need you.

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