“Democracy is not a spectator sport.” Living in Bolivia has certainly brought home this truth, with frequent public demonstrations, marches, protests, strikes, and blockades demanding attention from the government and society at large.
Since August when the indigenous march against the TIPNIS road construction began, the TIPNIS issue has been in the news. And following the shocking police intervention against the marchers on September 25, there have been a growing number of solidarity demonstrations and counter demonstrations here in La Paz and around the country.
The marchers have wisely opted to wait until after tomorrow’s historic judicial elections before arriving in the city, where they seek to meet with President Morales and enforce their right to full consultation prior to construction of a road through their territory. Things are tense enough around the elections without adding another group of demonstrators, and the marchers do not want to be accused of disrupting the elections. However, some of the political right-wing sympathizers with the TIPNIS marchers have been campaigning for months to nullify the vote tomorrow by encouraging voters to cast voided ballots. Voting is mandatory here in Bolivia, so rather than telling folks to stay home, the opposition is using the slogan “Reject the deception, nullify your vote.” I’m eager to see what comes of tomorrow’s election.
Here in Bolivia I am in fact something of a spectator. I am often asked my position regarding the TIPNIS and my opinion of the government, and there are plenty of opportunities to learn more or to show solidarity. But I am not a voter and this is not my nation. However, when it comes to U.S. politics, I continue to stay engaged. I was proud that my congressman and one of my senators voted to oppose the Colombia Free Trade Agreement this week, even though the measure (along with the Panama and South Korea FTAs) ultimately passed. I’ve been amazed and inspired by news of the growing witness of fellow citizens taking to the streets in peaceful protest to make their voices heard. In the U.S. as much as here in Bolivia, we need to speak clearly and tirelessly, we need to stand up and be counted, and take bold steps toward building the changes we hope to see in our society. As Dan Moriarty, another U.S. missionary in Bolivia, writes, “This is true revolution. This is faith like a mustard seed. This is cause for hope.” Amen.