Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020 | 2 a.m.
“What is the proper response to the threat that if you dare cast a vote in a free election, a pack of thugs will track you down, cut off your head, and the heads of your children?
“It is the finger.
“No, not that one — the index finger, dipped in blue ink, indicating that you voted and defied the threats.”
That quote was from a story in the Chicago Tribune from Jan. 30, 2005. It marked the first time in over 50 years that the Iraqi people were allowed to vote in a democratic election. It followed, of course, the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the efforts by the United States and others to allow the Iraqis a chance at a democracy of their own.
What we have learned in Iraq since that time is that getting and keeping a democracy is hard work. There are always forces arrayed against the people who want to have a say in how their government works, and usually those in the opposition are well-financed, well-educated and, well, just willing to do whatever is necessary to beat the people back into a state of submission.
I remember when that vote took place 15 years ago. The whole world witnessed people who, for the first time in their entire lives, got to vote, to have a say in their future, to have a reason for hope that tomorrow would be a better day in Iraq. And they showed their extreme pleasure and happiness by holding up that blue-painted finger, the symbol for having voted.
Most Americans watched in amazement because, in so many ways, it was like imagining what it was like in those first days of the brand new United States of America and those first votes taken to elect George Washington as president. Yes, democracy and the ability to express oneself at the ballot box is one of those feelings that only free people can experience.
And only those who have it can forfeit it.
And that brings me to this election, the one that takes place Nov. 3, 2020. Actually, the one that has already begun in many states across this nation where early voting is allowed.
I watched this past week with some delight the pictures of millions of Americans in states like Georgia and Texas, for example, who stood in lines — sometimes for 8-10 hours — just to cast a vote in this year’s presidential election.
I listened to many of them being interviewed, asked why they waited for so long just to vote. For many, it was their first time and they weren’t going to take a chance that something might interfere with their voting on Election Day.
For others, despite the interference and logistical roadblocks some state governors and secretaries of state — almost all of them Republicans — were throwing up in the way of voters in minority communities, the determination to make their voices heard through their votes was just too compelling to let purposeful inconvenience get in their way. They were going to vote in this election and they were going to make a difference — so they said.
By all reports, the 2020 election will be a record-breaker in terms of the number of people who will vote. It is clearly smashing all records for early voting and, probably, for mail-in voting too.
Did I mention that we are voting in the middle of a pandemic?
Despite what some idiotic Trump rallygoers are saying about how tough they are versus the coronavirus and how much of a hoax COVID-19 is — just ask President Donald Trump, he’ll tell you — the fact remains that most Americans don’t want to get the virus. And that makes exercising their American right to vote a whole lot more difficult. And dangerous.
But that doesn’t seem to be stopping our fellow Americans from braving the elements — natural and man-made — to make sure they step up and vote for their democracy.
In so many ways, I see on the faces of the people in those long lines the same expressions of happiness and hope that I saw in 2005 on the faces of the Iraqi people when they defied death and bodily harm just to vote for their very first time.
Oh yes, those long lines of voters appear to be Democrats — and probably some sane Republicans and fed-up independents — who are voting to take back their country, to do the hard work required of citizens who want to keep their democracy.
And, if you look closely enough, you can see the people holding up their finger.
And, yes, it’s that one.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.