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The democracy of happiness

Posted Jun 05 2009 4:15pm

Yesterday evening, we walked up the road to our local infant school to vote.

Every time I do this, I find myself incredibly moved because I remember just how lucky I am to live in a democracy and have a right to exercise my vote and make my voice heard.

Why do I get all overwhelmed when I vote?

Well, firstly, it is not so long ago that, as a woman in the UK, I would not have been allowed to do this.

The right to vote in the UK was only extended to single women over the age of 30 after the First World War, in 1918. (It was hoped that women’s votes would not outnumber men and that they would vote as their husbands instructed them.) And it was only in 1928 that women in the UK received the vote on equal terms with men (over the age of 21.)

For me, living here now in 2009, that is a pretty incredible concept: that my grandmothers and great-grandmothers would not have had the same right to vote as the men they went to school with. I feel incredibly moved to think that other people fought hard for my right to put my cross on that ballot paper. The last suffragettes were only released from UK prisons in 1917!

And the other reason that I always feel a big surge of emotion as I go to cast my vote is because, over the years, I have worked with many refugees and asylum seekers from countries where very few people have a vote or a voice. I have worked with women and men who have had their spirits crushed by oppressive regimes. There are many, many places in the world today where, when government ministers indulge in scams, expense claims and other shady stuff, noone hears about it or it cannot be discussed in the media and by the people. The penalty for this kind of discussion, or for challenging the people who govern you, is that you simply disappear off the face of the earth.

When I cast my vote, I think of all the men and women in the world who do not have this same right.

Isn’t it important to remember that, although there may be many problems in the UK right now, at least we can discuss them openly, challenge our leaders, and find solutions? If we want to get involved and make our voices heard, we have a right to do so and to be listened to.

This is why I have been getting just a little tired of hearing from those who moan and complain: about democracy, about the corruption of MPs, about how there’s just no point in voting because who will we vote for, etc, etc.

I know that we don’t live in a country where opportunities are equal for everyone. I know that there are many things that need to change. And there are so many things that work well and are going so well for us too!

If we’re feeling let down, we can do something to change things. Whatever our politics, we have choices and possibilities, access to education and personal development and the chance to challenge, to create something new.

After I cast my vote last night, I felt a little high on life. I looked around me at all the other people coming in and out of the polling station and I felt good. I felt good that these people could walk down the street to vote without fear; that they could stop for a moment and enjoy the sunshine in the school grounds. In this country, most of us (not all of us, no, but most) have  food on the table and a roof over our heads and so we are free to indulge in the luxury of thinking about what else to do with our lives, how to develop ourselves and educate ourselves and entertain ourselves. We even have some time left for moaning about our politicians, shouting at them on our nice shiny TV sets and generally grumbling and getting angry, or even writing blog posts about how we feel.  8-)

Wow! That is a pretty amazing situation to be in, don’t you think?

I don’t particularly like the ‘there are always people worse off than you are’ brand of pop psychology. That is not always much help when you’ve been feeling really low and mired in your own problems.

But today, please do exercise your human and democratic right to look out of the window from time to time, take a walk on your lunch break, breathe in the fresh air and sunshine and feel free to make the choices you want to make, to love your life and change your life in any way you choose. Because you can. 8-)

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