What do you know about Belarus? Until I looked up some history yesterday, I knew very little. I did know that more than one million Belarussians had died during World War 2 and that 209 of its 290 cities had been destroyed. I did not know that it took until 1971 for the population of the country to reach the levels it had previous to World War 2. This is an old country that goes back to ancient times. It has been invaded by the Mongols, The Russians, The Poles, and Germany twice. They were a part of the founding of the United Nations under the hammer and sickle of the old USSR. It wasn’t until 1990 that they declared themselves an independent and sovereign nation. It’s a country with a long, bloody and heartbreaking story which today is again faced with brutality and oppression.
You see there was an election when they declared independence and since then a dictator has been in power. This man has been accused by every major reputable human rights organization of fixed elections, abuse of the population, and in recent days unleashed the apparatus of the states security forces on its people. The people of Belarus rose up in protest when this tinpot dictator declared he won the elections again. The people demanded proof of his win and his response to tell his police and security forces to aim their weapons at the protesters and fire.
Now before you shake your head and say wow that’s terrible and sigh in relief that this could never happen here let me remind you of the fact that we are not that far away from these kinds of actions where you live. If you are blessed enough to live in one of the western democracies, then consider the following. The President of the United States ordered his security forces to arrest and detain protesters in Seattle. The Black population of the United States is detained by security forces and locked in prison at a rate so much higher than the white population that ti is in itself a crime of oppression. Oh, and we can’t forget The Presidents efforts in the last few days to make sure the postal service can no longer treat mailed in ballots as priority mail. You may vote by mail, but it may not get to you and back to be to the ballot counters in time. to make a difference.
Now some of you in Britain my shake your heads and think wow I’m glad we don’t have any of this here, but I need to remind you that you are the most video surveilled nation on the planet. The United Kingdom also has had the interference in your elections that was suppressed until after your current Prime Minister was elected. And lets not forgetting that the ruling party bald-faced lied to you about what would happen if you didn’t vote to leave the European Union. Now in Canada, we often feel pretty smug about how we govern ourselves, but my fellow inhabitors of the Great North let me suggest to you that things are not what they seem.
Of course, you’re aware of the pathetically low turnouts we have for our elections especially given the issues we face, but we must also remind ourselves that we incarcerate our indigenous populations at a shamefully higher rate than our white populations. You may also be aware that our Black communities are stopped by the police twice as often as whites, and have a lower life expectancy than the white population. Also, when it comes to our leaders they, as the current Prime Minister has demonstrated on multiple occasions, lie to us again and again and again. So let’s not feel to smug here in maple leaf world.
Ok, so what’s your point, man. Well my point is is that we, the electorate allowed this to happen. We allow the lower class to become homeless, we incarcerate non-whites, we allow the lies to go unpunished from our leaders, and we allow the rich to get richer and the poor to get poorer. Now for those of you who say there’s nothing I can do about this let me remind you of two vast and powerful tools you have at your disposal. The first is the power of your voice. If you want our society to be more just, more equitable, and for people to have a great chance to succeed in their lives, then speak up and say so. Democracy allows us the freedom to use our voice in criticism on the streets and through the written word. The other powerful tool you have is your vote.
If you show up and vote, then you have moved your words of change to actions that will change the way we are to the way we want to become. It’s not hard, and it’s undoubtedly a clear way to make progress in a world that seems to be moving backwards rather than toward the future we all hoped for.
But, if we continue on our current path, then the future could one day very soon look like that current reality of Belarus. So take the time and join something that leads to change: a political party, a community group, a church. Join them in the conviction that you are using them to change the current trajectory of our democracy rather than let them slide with a whimper into a much more hopeless future.