When it comes to politics, I can be described as somewhat knowledgeable but—action-wise—rather apathetic.
I mean, I find it fun to keep myself up-to-date on what’s going on in the insane world of American politics, but it’s mostly because I find it fascinating in a train-wreck kind of way. That, and the fact that I know in my heart of hearts that whatever happens in the U.S of A tends to affect the rest of the world.
So I pay attention.
Still, I don’t get involved because of said apathy and, as an Arab living in the Middle East, any American president would be hard put to have Middle Easterners’ best interests at heart. So, Democrat or Republican, my little corner of the world is still damned in the grand scheme of things.
On the bright side, I also find American politics bloody amusing when it’s not making me facepalm ’til my nose bleeds. It’s one of the reasons I love to watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report so much.
However, I’m even more apathetic when it comes to politics in Lebanon. We have so many political parties and leaders that you’d be hard put to even count them all. We are divided by religious sects and ideals and it’s such a damn messy and freakishly sensitive topic that I prefer to stay out of it completely.
Which leads me to university elections.
The ‘political’ groups within AUB (my university) are often associated with the actual political parties that run Lebanon. So I stay out of that as well because I think Lebanese politics should be bundled up and thrown in the nearest incinerator for all the good it does to my hanging-by-a-thread country.
I had been avoiding the whole election frenzy quite well for the past couple of weeks…until today. Because today is Election Day.
I had just come on campus, with my class being a bare 10 minutes away, when I bumped into one of my coworkers. I happen to like her company so I had no qualms about her suggestion that she walk with me to class. She immediately asked me if I was voting, and as always, I said, “Nope.”
She said, “You know if you don’t vote then you can’t have a voice and say anything against what’s going on in your university. Don’t you want to be sure you have people in charge who have your interests at heart?”
I replied, “Well, there is nothing I really feel should or can be changed. I go to class, go to work, hang out a little and go home. Whoever’s in ‘power’ isn’t gonna change much in my everyday life, so why should I care?’
“You can make your voice heard. People associated with political parties don’t have to have a hold on the university. Even if you submit an empty ballot, you’re saying something. And my group is independent, we are associated with no one. And we’ve made differences before. Come on, you can vote, it won’t take long.”
I had to pause. I did feel pressured—very pressured—not only because I was feeling somewhat persuaded but also because my 2:00 class was inching closer and closer. “Listen, I have class in seven minutes, can I come back later?”
“Voting won’t take five minutes, come I’ll show you where.”
Mind you, I never voted for anything a day in my life unless you count those “show of hands” situations that happen in class. I had no idea how things worked there. She led me to a crowd of people and made sure I had my ID card handy as well the names of the people in her group: A self-described “leftist , independent, pluralist, and progressive student organization” called No Frontiers.
The thing is, I had very little idea of what her group was about save that it wasn’t affiliated with any political party—which was a plus for me. I also thought my coworker has a pretty good head on her shoulders and I subconsciously trusted her judgment. Besides, what harm can it do?
I pushed through an insane crowd of people. Everyone was yelling questions at me like “Are you a senior? Freshman? Sophomore?!” and shoving tiny slips of paper into my hands that held the names of their own party’s candidates.
Let me tell you something: I don’t do well in crowds. At all. Too much stimulation coming from all sides and I look like a tiny lost puppy. I focused my eyes to the ground, crumpled the slips of paper into my fist and shoved them in my jacket pocket. Inside the voting hall I went to the “Junior” table (because my name in the database is still listed as Junior despite the fact I only have one more semester to finish) and got the ballot and voted for the No Frontiers representative and dumped it into the box.
I galloped out of there and made it to my 3rd-floor class with zero seconds to spare.
I admit I had extremely mixed feelings the whole time. Did I vote because I was convinced? Because I was forced? Was I too easily lead by the nose in a crowd that I was unaccustomed to? Did the fact I liked my coworker make it that much harder for me to say no and run off before she could catch up?
I hated that I voted for a group I knew so little about. Okay, so they weren’t associated with a party…but what did they stand for? And just because you say you’re independent doesn’t mean that there isn’t something more complicated under the table. In Lebanon, nothing is ever simple. You have to have backup from somewhere or you’ll never get elected at all. In my beloved nation, it’s all about connections, connections, connections.
My brain turned it over the entire class period. When it was finally over, I was happy to be on my way to meet with Zee and Quirky for lunch and forget about the day’s happenings. I figured I would go home and do my own research later.
Alas, I ran into a couple of other friends only feet away from my class: Femme and Tiny Tyrant. Femme grabbed my hand and said pleasantly but authoritatively, “Time to vote!”
Thing is I had told her earlier over WhatsApp that I had no intention of voting. Now she was going to make me do it.
I yanked my arm back, and without thinking, said, “Too late I already did.”
Her eyes widened, “Who?! Who did you vote for? Don’t tell me [some political party]!”
“Um, no. I don’t even know who those are.”
“Did you vote red? Green? White?”
Yeah, let me back up and say Lebanon’s parties also have associated colors. The longer I live here the more colors become tainted to me.
“Dude, I don’t know what colors belong to who.”
Tiny Tyrant pulled a thick rubber-banded pile of small green papers from her backpack. “Did you vote for these people?!”
I took a glance at the names, “Um…nope not these guys.”
“Nooo!!!” Femme cried, “You shouldn’t have voted at all if you were going to vote for 14 March!”
That stopped me dead in my tracks.
**I should also back up and say our political parties are divided under two main umbrellas: One group is called “14 March” and the other is “8 March”. Don’t ask me to explain the names—all you need to know is both tend to hate each other rather fiercely. Needless to say, Femme and Tiny Tyrant were ardent 8 March supporters. (I am also no fan of 14 March but I am not hardcore 8 March either).**
“Wait,” I said again, “Who the hell said I voted for 14 March?”
Femme clarified, “If you didn’t vote for [group she supported] then you voted for the other side.”
My heart began to beat quickly. What did I get myself into? I didn’t want anything to come out about my political leanings, especially if they were false. Dammit, why did I not keep my mouth shut?
I didn’t know what to do, so I just told the truth, “Guys, I voted for No Frontiers. They aren’t associated with anyone, let alone 14 March. Hell the girl who was convincing me to vote wasn’t even Lebanese!”
I took a breath. Okay, this couldn’t be that bad, really, and I got the vibe they weren’t even aware of what No Frontiers was. The conversation seemed to stop and the girls and myself went downstairs—I to meet with friends and they to go to the building the elections were taking place in.
That is until they saw Zee, whom they also knew. In about no time flat, they had dragged her along with them to vote, despite my trying my best to get her to just leave the whole thing alone.
So…yeah. That’s my first experience in our university’s version of democratic elections: Voting under duress.
Fortunately, a friend of mine who is pretty well-versed in the comings and goings of AUB told me that No Frontiers is independent as things go, and did have a nice history. So I was somewhat relieved. (I’ve linked to their site and liked what I saw when I read it, so I guess that was a bullet I managed to duck).
Still…God knows I won’t be pushed that easily again.