Our lives are full of choices. Every day we face them – some small and trivial and others that change lives. If we’re lucky (or unlucky as the case may be) some even change the course of history – and it is important to acknowledge those choices with the gravitas they deserve. The North of Ireland is about to have one of those game-changing elections and it needs to be carefully considered because the next few decades and any remaining scraps of the Good Friday agreement are just the beginning of what’s at stake.
I tend to shy away from touchy politics when it comes to the North. The region has survived thousands of conflicts and suffered terrible atrocities for centuries and most of the time, I feel like someone who hasn’t had to deal with that kind of trauma should shut the hell up and stay out of it altogether. However this time around, I feel like I might have something to say about it after all – because if there’s one thing I’ve learned recently, it’s how powerful a role things like hate and bigotry can play in politics, and how surprised and complacent voters can be about them. These emotions become a powerful and insidious tool in the hands of an arrogant leader or a charismatic psychopath and are wielded like a weapon to drive ratings, to rile up the politician’s base voters and to grow their power. It works every time, even when you know it’s coming. You don’t have to look hard to see it happening all over the world. Fascists, misogynists, bigots, and racists aren’t hiding anymore they’re recruiting, and we’re all stuck with the repercussions of things like Brexit and the American disaster of an election. We have people like Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, and Arlene Foster building or wielding immense power and riding hate and prejudice to the top of the political food chain.
These so-called leaders are steeped in controversy, bigotry, and scandal. They throw off the established norms and forge their own paths, bolstering their anti-establishment images. They use fear, barely contained rage, superiority, unrealistic promises, and illegal ideas to appeal to a frustrated base while filling their war chests. They openly discriminate and refuse to work with other parties. They let their own governments grind to a halt while they spin it to blame their inaction on others. When they are caught and held accountable for lies or scandals, they fling out excuses like unseen enemies and disloyal employees. They impugn the media for doing its actual job. They send outrageous tweets, give vague and confusing orders, change the subject by rehashing old gripes, and they hold bizarre press conferences to distract everyone from their discriminatory and often illegal practices and backroom deals. Their constituents eat it up while sane people throughout the world continue to wonder what the hell has happened.
I’ll tell you what happened. Nothing. We sane folks dismissed these leaders as the partisan jerks they were and continued on with our daily lives, never seriously thinking that they’d get elected or that we’d be affected even if they did. We donated to causes that opposed them, signed online petitions, and maybe headed out to a march or two. Maybe we went out to canvass and registered people to vote or we donated some money or time to campaigns. Some of us wrote stories and letters trying to reason with people and many talked into a vacuum. We wrote in other people’s names on our ballots or voted for parties we identified with, that couldn’t ever win. By the time these leaders began to come into power, we had done everything…and nothing at all. Even now, we do the same. We wax poetic about what would have happened if the world had gone the way we wanted. We blame the people who failed for ruining things for the rest of us. We cling to our apathy and look forward to the time when they are gone, hoping that everything will get back to normal but it won’t. Once things have changed – for better or worse – they’re nearly impossible to roll back. It won’t happen here in America and it won’t happen in the North if the DUP retains its grip after this upcoming election.
I know a lot of people in the north of Ireland who feel betrayed by the powers that be. There’s a lot of dissatisfaction among Republicans and Loyalists alike when it comes to what has or hasn’t been done on their behalf and people are sick to death of politics as usual. They’re fatigued and have either turned their backs on the whole process or are returning to fringe groups with paramilitary ties and sectarian roots. I understand that fatigue and frustration. It’s what led my country to its current state of disaster and I can’t bear the thought of it happening to the home of my heart. After all, a wise person learns from their mistakes, but a wiser person learns from the mistakes of others.
Sinn Fein has gambled a lot by forcing this election. If they fail to come out on top they won’t get another chance to fight against Brexit and hard borders. They may never get a vote or even a poll on a unified Ireland and you can kiss any Irish language agenda or program goodbye. The parade commission will likely vanish. There may not even be a return to a power-sharing government at all. The Good Friday agreement is already voided by a lot of Brexit’s upcoming possibilities and if the DUP, (along with the additional voices of the UUP, the TUV, and the Orange Order) come out ahead this time, they will shred the rest of it as soon as they can. A win gives them validation and permission to continue the bigoted policies of the present and the past into the foreseeable future and if there’s a pesky piece of paper standing in their way, you can bet that someone in their party is already looking for a legal way around it. One only needs to look at the USA to see what a leader can do with a party majority and an out of control thirst for power. Trump’s policies and nominees will affect us all for the next 30 years, regardless of whether or not he makes it through his first term. The DUP’s will too if they come back with a win.The groups above have the same kind of rabid following that Trump does and when it comes down to it, they’ll probably support the DUP. They will also get votes from people who harbor resentment and fear against refugees, migrants, LGBTQ, and the Irish. They will turn out to vote because they are convinced that they’re being threatened. Sinn Fein really doesn’t appear to have that kind of loyalty these days and they’re going to need every single vote they can get. This means reaching out to the disillusioned and the apathetic. It means convincing people that they deserve their vote and their time. They can’t rely on appealing to good-natured ideas and liberal agendas because this world has proven recently that those concepts can’t win. Instead, they need to admit their shortcomings and fight for the chance to prove they can do better. Then they must do exactly that. Do Better.
I get that they aren’t the answer to all of the North’s issues and they may end up no better than their counterparts. They’ll still have to work within the constructs of the guidelines set up in the Good Friday agreement until it is shredded completely and with the DUP. They won’t suddenly be able to make good on all of their promises, but they might be able to start. Sinn Fein has turned their backs on their founding ideals and the people who supported them, leading to the rise of Saoradh and other ‘dissident’ groups. They have betrayed some of their principles and while they helped bring about the end of the Troubles, they haven’t been able to accomplish much since. Gerry Adams drives everyone nuts. Loyalists hate the party, politicians don’t trust them, and many Republicans think they’re sell outs. The temptation to stick it to them is great.In this situation though, I think that the cost is even greater. Sinn Fein has never had the opportunity to make good on their promises before and this time they could actually have enough sway to start. Most of the other parties and candidates can’t win at all and in the end, changing a seat or two doesn’t matter if the paradigm doesn’t shift drastically. It’s cynical and dramatic but it is true.
That isn’t easy for me to say. I was a Bernie girl who has always been a conscientious voter and an idealist. It’s not easy for me to try to convince people to ignore all the crap that politicians do, skip over their resentments, and just vote for who could win, but it is a lesson that was brought home to me this year like no other in recent memory. Complacency leads to defeat and that defeat is longer lasting than we imagine when we head to the polling stations. I humbly ask every disgruntled, centrist, and/or undecided voter in the North to consider their vote very carefully. This isn’t about the next few years, it’s about the next few generations. It’s about the world others will have to grow up in and what kind of options they’ll have. We all have a duty to look at the long consequences and the legacies we will leave for others when we cast our votes. If we acknowledge that, perhaps down the road we’ll have better choices but today is not that day. Please don’t make the same mistakes that we have. The buyer’s remorse will last a lifetime. Resist fear and hate. Vote against the DUP and their Trumpish rhetoric and make sure the person or party you vote for has a chance to beat them. In today’s world, that’s what matters most, whether we like it or not.
Vote Sinn Fein.