From an OFDer living in Indonesia: Cherish your right to vote, and do so

By Mike Shaw
Special to the Reporter

“Distance makes the heart grow fonder.” I am continually amazed at how true the old saying is. 

Entering my 12th year of living abroad, I’ve moved even farther away from my home. After 11 years in Beijing, I’m now residing in Bali, Indonesia, a whopping 10,050 miles from where I grew up in Savin Hill. And yet, somehow, I feel more love for the streets that I came of age on than I ever thought possible. Which is why this election season has been so hard to watch.

It has come as a 1-2 punch.

The first blow came when I tried to register to vote a couple of months ago and learned that I am barred from casting a ballot in Boston’s elections this year. For some inexplicable reason, the city has decided that while they will send absentee ballots to people via e-mail for federal elections, they won’t do the same for municipal votes. This means that people like me, who live in places where there is unreliable or non-existent mail service, have been effectively disenfranchised.

Next came the returns from last week’s preliminary vote. What a heartbreak that was. An 11 percent turnout? Are you kidding me? Here I am, gnashing my teeth in frustration at not being able to cast a ballot from the other side of the planet while my former neighbors, who only have to walk down the street or take five minutes out of their normal routine, can’t be bothered to show up? It’s devastating.

It’s hard to know just where to begin with this, so let me start with something in my neck of the woods, a place that I’ve been to countless times and where I have many friends: Hong Kong.

The people of Boston can learn a thing or two from Hong Kongers. You’ve undoubtedly seen pictures and video on the news of the millions of people who have flooded the streets there in protest over the last several months. There are many issues driving this unrest, but the discontent really got started a few years back with “The Umbrella Movement,” when people were not allowed to vote in, and certain candidates were not allowed to run in, elections to the Legislative Council (Hong Kong’s city council). Today, their anger has metastasized into an unprecedented, and doomed, stand against the overwhelming might of China.

The people there risk their freedom and safety to do something as simple as sing in public. Do a search for “Glory to Hong Kong” on YouTube and then watch people who have to wear masks to make their stand through song and try not to be moved.

There have been massive gatherings in front of the US consulate. Even in these times of incredible division and astounding incompetence in our top office, people of the world still look to us and our system of governance for inspiration.

In that light, 11 percent turnout for our own city council election is unspeakably embarrassing.

Then there are the reasons that I’m separated from. Things like trash collection, street-sweeping, getting that street light down the road fixed, or having that pothole filled quickly are all things that city councillors help to facilitate. Public safety, housing equity, transportation improvements, education policy, the things that affect people every day, are all issues that city councillors immediate influence over.

Given the sheer number of ways that local government affects us every day, you would think that turnout for municipal elections should dwarf those for president. Yet the inverse holds true.

Voting is the most basic foundation of our democracy. It is, quite literally, the least that you can do to contribute to our society. When your next chance comes on Nov. 5, don’t let it pass by. Vote. Encourage your friends to vote. Help build a better Boston. Make us worthy of our status as a place that is the envy of the world. And speak for those of us who can’t.

Take it from someone who has just learned the hard truism of yet another cliché: “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.”

Mike Shaw is the managing editor of Migration Media and host of the Migratory Patterns podcast. Follow him on Twitter @zax2000.