TIME Bolivia

Quick Count: Bolivia’s Morales Coasts to 3rd Term

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Bolivian President and candidate for re-election Evo Morales votes in Villa 14, Chapare, Bolivia, on Oct. 12, 2014 Aizar Raldes—AFP/Getty Images

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions

(LA PAZ, Bolivia) — Evo Morales easily won an unprecedented third term as Bolivia’s president Sunday on the strength of the economic and political stability brought by his government, according to an unofficial quick count of the vote.

Morales, a native Aymara from Bolivia’s poor, wind-swept Andean plateau, received 59.5 percent of the vote against 25.3 percent for cement magnate Samuel Doria Medina, the top vote-getter among four challengers, according to a quick count of 84 percent of the voting booths by the Ipsos company for ATB television.

If confirmed by partial official results expected after midnight local time Sunday (0400 GMT), it would give Morales an outright victory without the need for a second round of voting.

As the unofficial results were announced, Morales’ supporters ran out into the streets to celebrate the win.

While known internationally for his anti-imperialist and socialist rhetoric, the 55-year-old coca growers’ union leader is widely popular at home for a pragmatic economic stewardship that spread Bolivia’s natural gas and mineral wealth among the masses.

A boom in commodities prices increased export revenues nine-fold and the country has accumulated $15.5 billion in international reserves. Economic growth has averaged 5 percent annually, well above the regional average.

A half a million people have put poverty behind them since Bolivia’s first indigenous president first took office in 2006, with per capital gross national income up from $1,000 that year to $2,550 in 2013, according to the World Bank.

Public works projects abound, including a satellite designed to deliver Internet to rural schools, a fertilizer plant and La Paz’s gleaming new cable car system. His newest promise: to light up La Paz with nuclear power.

“I voted for Evo Morales because he doesn’t forget the elderly,” said Maria Virginia Velasquez, a 70-year-old widow. Universal old-age pensions — Velasquez gets $36 a month — are among the benefits instituted by Morales that have boosted his popularity.

Morales had sought Sunday to improve on his previous best showing — 64 percent in 2009 — and to maintain a two-thirds control of Bolivia’s Senate and assembly. That would let him change the constitution, which restricts presidents to two 5-year terms, so he can run again.

He has not said whether he would seek a fourth term, only that he would “respect the constitution.” He did say in a TV interview last week, however, that he didn’t believe people over the age of 60 should be president.

A court ruled last year that Morales could run for a third term because his first preceded a constitutional rewrite. All seats are up for grabs in the 36-member Senate and 130-member lower house.

Morales’ critics say he spent tens of millions in government money on his campaign, giving him an unfair advantage. And press freedom advocates accuse him of gradually silencing critical media by letting government allies buy them out, a formula also employed by the ruling heirs in Venezuela of the late Hugo Chavez.

Morales didn’t attend the campaign’s lone presidential debate and state TV didn’t broadcast it.

“There is no functional opposition, left, right or otherwise,” said Jim Shultz, executive director of the left-leaning Democracy Center based in Bolivia and San Francisco.

Morales has capitalized on his everyman image while his Movement Toward Socialism party has consolidated control over state institutions. He long ago crushed and splintered the opposition, nationalized key utilities and renegotiating natural gas contracts to give the government a bigger share of profits.

His image-makers have built a cult of personality around him. Stadiums, markets, schools, state enterprises and even a village bear Morales’ name. In the center of the capital, crews are building a second presidential palace, a 20-story center complete with a heliport.

Yet Morales has alienated environmentalists and many former indigenous allies by promoting mining and a planned jungle highway through an indigenous reserve.

And despite Bolivia’s economic advancements, it is still among South America’s poorest countries. Nearly one in five Bolivians lives on less than a dollar a day.

Many analysts think Bolivia depends too much on natural resources and is especially susceptible to the current easing in commodities demand from China.

“Evo’s balancing act will be increasingly tough to maintain,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Washington-based Inter-American Dialogue think tank. “Although Evo has proven to be a resourceful and resilient politician, who knows his country well, it would be surprising if the next five years go as swimmingly as the last five.”

Morales’ dreams of converting its lithium reserves into battery factories have yet to be realized, as are plans to create a major iron foundry.

The underground cocaine economy gets credit for part of the economic boom. Peru’s former drug czar, Ricardo Soberon, estimates its annual revenues at $2.3 billion, equal to about 7 percent of gross domestic product.

Morales promotes coca’s traditional uses and claims zero tolerance for cocaine.

The United States deems Bolivia uncooperative in the war on drugs and has halted trade preferences and cut all counter-narcotics aid. Morales expelled the U.S. ambassador and Drug Enforcement Administration in 2008, accusing them of inciting the opposition.

Last year he threw out the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Ronald Velasquez, a 38-year-old computer specialist, said he voted for Morales because he didn’t trust any of the other candidates. He said he trusts Morales but the president “is surrounded by bad associates.”

“He has had a lot of problems in his government with corruption and influence-peddling,” Velasquez said.

Macario Chambi, a 54-year-old street vendor, said he would not vote for Morales, whose ruling clique he believes is getting rich off the economic bonanza without instituting the type of reforms that will actually create wealth.

“He thinks we’re all sheep, that we don’t realize that they want to buy us with cheap sweets.”

___

Associated Press writers Paola Flores contributed from La Paz and Frank Bajak from Lima, Peru.

TIME Hong Kong

Tensions Ease in Hong Kong as Student Leaders and Government Agree to Talks

Hong Kong Protests Calm
A pro-democracy protester watches the sunrise from an empty road in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong early on Oct. 7, 2014. Ed Jones—AFP/Getty Images

Meeting will be held with the Hong Kong government's No. 2 official, Carrie Lam

The leadership of Hong Kong’s democracy movement agreed to engage in formal dialogue with the government on Monday night, after the ninth day of protests began with protesters visibly flagging from their prolonged occupation of three key areas of the city.

Representatives from the two student groups leading the protests — Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students — engaged in a second round of preliminary talks with a government official late Monday, Agence France-Presse reported.

“We hope there will be mutual respect shown during the meeting,” said Ray Lau, undersecretary of constitutional and mainland affairs. Lau is set to meet with the student leaders again on Tuesday, to set a time and place for talks with Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, the deputy of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

The students have refused to meet with Leung. They have been calling for his ouster as well as for the right to choose his successor through free elections.

A few hundred protesters remained Monday at the sit-ins in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and across the harbor in Mong Kok, as some schools in affected areas reopened and most people went back to work as normal. Civil servants were granted access to the Central Government Offices, which has been besieged by demonstrators since Sept. 27.

The protest sites were still occupied Tuesday, with the situation calm. In the financial district, office workers presented an uncommon sight as they mingled with protesters and enjoyed their lunch breaks amid the silence and freshness of barricaded streets that are free, for once, of cars and choking fumes.

TIME Hong Kong

WATCH: Hong Kong Protest Leaders Urge Reform, Not Revolution

"This is not a color revolution," Occupy Central leader Benny Tai declared to an emotional crowd, tens of thousands strong, in Hong Kong on Saturday night, local time. He said the movement was, instead, a demand for free and fair elections. Student leader Joshua Wong also rallied the crowd, who face an ultimatum to leave the streets by Monday.

TIME Hong Kong

WATCH: Hong Kong Student Leader Joshua Wong Talks Protest Aims

Joshua Wong, leader of the Scholarism student activist group, discusses the priorities of protests in Hong Kong that have seen tens of thousands take to the streets

TIME latvia

Latvia Holds Election With Ukraine on Its Mind

Latvia Election
Latvian voters cast advance ballots at a high school in Riga on Oct. 2, 2014 AP

About one-third of Latvia's people speak Russian as their native language

(RIGA, LATVIA) — The Ukraine crisis looms large over Latvia’s parliamentary election on Saturday as the Baltic country worries over how best to deal with resurgent neighbor Russia. Here’s a look at some of the key issues for the nation of 2 million:

EMBRACE MOSCOW OR STEER CLEAR?

Alarmed by Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine, Latvia’s center-right coalition government has welcomed the buildup of NATO forces in the region as protection against Russia. But the opposition Harmony Party, a left-leaning group supported mainly by the country’s Russian-speaking minority, wants to balance Latvia’s Western orientation with stronger links to Moscow.

“I, as a person of Russian ethnicity, find it easier to talk about certain practical matters in Moscow than, for example, in Berlin or Washington,” Harmony leader Nils Usakovs told the Latvian news agency LETA.

Though Harmony is currently first in the polls, comments like those are likely to keep it from being invited to coalition talks by other parties, who fear that Moscow wants to pull the Baltic region back into its orbit.

LATVIA’S LARGE RUSSIAN MINORITY

After regaining independence in 1991 following five decades of Soviet occupation, Latvia and Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia turned west and joined NATO and the European Union in 2004. Western integration always had less appeal for the countries’ Russian minorities, however.

About one-third of Latvia’s people speak Russian as their native language. Many of them aren’t even Latvian citizens because they cannot — or don’t want to — meet Latvian citizenship requirements, including speaking Latvian.

“I was born and raised in Latvia, I don’t understand why I have to take a citizenship test if I was born here,” said Julian Beryukov, a 62-year-old from Riga who two years ago decided to apply for Russian citizenship instead.

Although Usakovs and his Harmony Party say they want to bridge the divide in Latvian society, they’re viewed with suspicion by many ethnic Latvians. Former defense and foreign minister Artis Pabriks has warned that giving Harmony or smaller, pro-Russia parties greater influence will set Latvia backward.

“It will undermine everything. It’s not acceptable,” said Pabriks, now a member of the European Parliament.

WELCOMING NATO’S LONG SHADOW

At its recent summit in Wales, NATO promised to increase its presence in the Baltics. Thousands of NATO troops will rotate around the region to send a strong signal for Russia to back off. More Russian warships and jets, meanwhile, have been observed near Latvian territory.

Kalris Zalans, a 28-year-old IT specialist and ethnic Latvian, said he fears a Ukraine-style scenario — where a chunk of the country is annexed — could happen in Latvia. He hopes that residents will vote for any party but the pro-Russian ones.

“In a perfect world, Latvia could work with Russia and the EU. But in today’s world, Russia doesn’t act like that,” Zalans said. “Russia will try to do what they did in Ukraine to Latvia.”

TIME In the Arena

The Delta Blues

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Saying grace Congregants of the New Hope First Baptist Church in Greenville, Miss., attend a town hall on Sept. 29 Daymon Gardner for TIME

Two town meetings, two very different kinds of despair

Politics in Mississippi is still passionate, as you might expect. And it is still tragic, which shouldn’t be a surprise, either. The passion seems to be running with right-wing Tea Party sorts, who are in full rebellion against the statewide Republican Party. The tragedy is in the black community, which is permeated by a deep sense of failure; the most basic political facts of life–like the value of integration–are being questioned. During the last week of September, I attended symmetrical town meetings in Mississippi: of former Senate challenger Chris McDaniel’s extreme conservatives near Jackson and of black elected officials and educators from the counties surrounding the Delta town of Greenville.

“Men don’t follow titles,” said republican McDaniel. “They follow courage.” He was quoting from the movie Braveheart, he said, citing William Wallace–an ancestor of the largely Scots-Irish crowd of 50 or so–as played in blueface by Mel Gibson. Wallace was McDaniel’s model. He fought against the English elites, just as McDaniel was fighting against the old, pork-loving Bourbon Republican establishment, people like former governor Haley Barbour and Senator Thad Cochran, who would compromise their principles in order to get public-works projects for the state. They had stolen the primary election from him. They had allowed an alleged 40,000 Democrats (a synonym in Mississippi for African Americans) to vote in what was supposed to be a Republican primary. Cochran had won. McDaniel was challenging the result. A lawyer explained the relevant codicils to the group before McDaniel got up to speak. It was reminiscent–to me, at least–of the civil rights attorneys 50 years ago, who educated Southern blacks about their rights under the law. There was a righteous “We shall overcome” attitude in the room.

The effort is probably quixotic. Most people in the room believed that the Bourbons “controlled” the legal system. In fact, many people in the room seemed to believe they were beset by conspiracies at the federal level as well. Their solution was a strict, if slightly muddy, libertarianism–McDaniel describes himself as libertarian–on all but social issues. Laura Van Olderschelde, the president of the Mississippi Tea Party, said she didn’t feel safe to “talk about my Christian faith away from Mississippi. That’s how this country was founded, and I cannot subscribe to people who want to deny that.” This unleashed a torrent of commentary from the audience. A woman named Tricia McNulty linked liberals to “Lucifer, who has wanted the fall of man.” A firefighter named Andy Devine said that liberals were in the midst of a long-term plot to take over the schools and impose socialism. They were sneaking this through because the media diverted the public with “the rutting habits of the Kardashian sisters.”

There wasn’t any debate about any of this; there was absolute conviction. The positions were stated in matter-of-fact fashion, but there was a media-wise quality to it as well. There was no mention of African Americans. The McDaniel supporters had been accused of racism and wanted to leave no trace of that. An accountant named Vince Thornton did mention that “so many people were getting something for free,” but that was about as far as it went. “We are not going away,” said Robert Kenney, who quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer about silence being a political decision. “We fight this,” he added, meaning the struggle against the state Republicans, “until we win.”

My first day on the job, a white plantation owner killed his wife,” said Andrew Thompson Jr., the first black sheriff of Coahoma County. “I waited until 7 p.m. to arrest him because I wanted him to spend at least one night in jail. But at 10 p.m., they”–the local white business community–“opened the bank so he could post bail.” That was the way it was now: no more lynching, no more violence. The white folks had gotten clever. “It’s been a roller coaster,” Sheriff Thompson continued. “We made some progress in the ’70s and ’80s, a lot of folks got elected, but we’ve lost ground the last 15 or so years, and especially since the Tea Party came along.”

The mood in the basement of New Hope First Baptist Church in Greenville was a roller coaster too. It started with anger and slowly lapsed toward despair. There was none of the lockstep certainty of McDaniel’s supporters. Something had gone very wrong in the Mississippi Delta black community, and there were an array of different explanations for it. Racism was one: Why were the white folks making all the money from the development of the 80%-black blues town of Clarksdale? Even the local Delta Blues festival–said to be the oldest in the country–was being supplanted by a white-led effort, the Mighty Mississippi Music festival, that was being supported by the business community. “If the whites aren’t running it, they don’t want to be part of it,” said Errick Simmons, a Greenville city councilman, who pointed out that the local casinos, which didn’t help out with the Delta festival, had contributed to the Mighty Mississippi, which–by the way–also featured country music.

The stories of subtle, and not so subtle, racism were compelling but insufficient. There was a piece missing, and these thoughtful people were growing uncomfortable with the increasingly obvious vacuum. The discussion really began to get lively when the Rev. Torey Bell, who said that “the system” was set up to keep blacks dependent, went a bit too far. Even the federal money that had come to upgrade the schools was a trick. “They’re putting in laptops and computers for our kids,” he said, “and they got none of that at home. They can’t comprehend that environment. It’s near impossible for them to succeed.” This was disputed by most of the older people in the room. They’d been working to secure that funding for decades. “At a certain point,” said Timaka James Jones, a clerk at the local court, “we’ve got to take some responsibility in our community too.”

I asked what had happened to the community, so famously strong during the civil rights movement. There was reluctance to answer, at first. But then it came in a rush: the rug had been pulled out from under them. They had rushed into integration and left some of their most cherished institutions in the dust. “We used to have black banks, insurance companies, bakeries, newspapers,” said Willie Bailey, a lawyer and state legislator for District 49. Now, Nelson Street–where most local black businesses were housed–was mostly deserted, except for churches, drug dealers and the famed restaurant Doe’s Eat Place. “The black church was the last institution standing, and then the [George W.] Bush Administration came along with that faith-based stuff, offering money to the churches for social programs, but they couldn’t talk politics anymore.” (I don’t know about that: more than a few black, urban pastors took the money and kept their megaphones.)

The segregated schools had been better, said Jessie Williams, who said she was the first black teacher in the newly integrated schools in the 1960s. The whites left and went to private “academies,” and the integrated public schools became sad all-black husks. The thing was, integration had enabled a lot of the best kids–those who would have been teachers and business owners–to go north. There was some resentment that they had never looked back. “Integration has been a problem,” Williams concluded, setting off a buzz in the room. “It’s the worst thing that ever happened to us,” muttered Sheriff Thompson. But he didn’t really mean that.

I’d like to thank Congressman Bennie Thompson for putting together the extraordinary group at New Hope First Baptist Church. The contrast between their candor and self-doubt and Chris McDaniel’s bold, bluefaced conservatives could not have been more striking, or more depressing. It is the difference between simplicity and complexity. The Tea Party folks believe that all they have to do is win their revolution and everything will be better. The blacks won their revolution, and lost their focus, and inherited a chimera of equality. Now they’ve got to do the hardest thing: regroup, develop new strategies and come on strong again.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/politics

TIME

Rock the Vote Wants Young Voters to ‘Care Like Crazy’ About the Midterms

New $250,000 ad buy in key states features snarky ads targeting the young voters they want to hit the polls

Rock the Vote launched a $250,000 ad buy Thursday in five states where tight battles for statewide and national offices are playing out, including North Carolina, Florida, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.

The ad grab is part of the organization’s efforts to get young voters to the polls this election season—part of its trademark mission to make doing one’s civic duty look cool. The organization has also been working to register over 1 million millennials to vote–often soliciting the help of celebrities including Miley Cyrus.

Though the ads are running in states with tight races, non-partisan organization says its less interested in the politics of the races and more keen on getting as many young people as possible to head to the polls. “We are looking at states with large populations of college students and making sure we’re getting as many young people out to vote as possible,” says Ashley Spillane, president of Rock the Vote.

The ads’ target audience is among the groups deemed least likely to vote this election cycle, but Spillane is hoping the snarky tone of the 30-second spots, scheduled to air online and on stations like Comedy Central until Election Day, captures the attention of those 18 to 25. Each ad feels a bit like a dare—challenging young people to vote by presenting characters that would make a Birkenstock-clad millennial flip their wig.

“These are not your typical political ads,” says Spillane. “Young people have tuned traditional political ads out. We’re trying to meet young people where they are and speak about the issues that they care about.”

The ads highlight issues young people care most about—including war, reproductive rights, and the environment—but do so in a way that might not resonate with a typical Midterm voter. (One ad features a reference to rapper Riff Raff—“Laws making it harder for Riff Raff to vote? Absolutely,” a polo-clad woman in a golf shop says.)

The ads are a part of a larger Rock the Vote campaign called “Care Like Crazy” set to encourage young voters to share the issues that make their blood boil and hopefully, push them to the polls come November.

TIME indonesia

Indonesians Outraged by the Scrapping of Elections for Mayors and Governors

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Indonesian activists and students chant during a protest against a new bill on local elections outside the parliament building in Jakarta on Sept. 25, 2014 Adek Berry—AFP/Getty Images

The move by an outgoing parliament is seen as a blow to democracy and a bid to undermine President-elect Joko Widodo

The Indonesian parliament voted to scrap direct elections for regional office-bearers early Friday — a decision that critics say is a step backward for democracy in the world’s fourth most populous nation and biggest Muslim-majority country.

When Indonesians woke up to the news, many reacted with anger and fury. “A Democratic Betrayal,” read the Jakarta Globe headline on Friday.

It was former presidential candidate Prabowo Subianto’s Gerindra Party, and his Red-White Coalition partners, that pushed to have district chiefs, mayors and governors indirectly voted in by local parliaments, as they were in 2005. Under the new legislation, governors from Prabowo’s coalition, which controls 31 out of 34 provincial legislatures, are expected to dominate the country.

The bill was passed just days before the current lawmakers end their term on Sept. 30, and weeks before Jakarta Governor Joko “Jokowi” Widodo is inaugurated as President on Oct. 20.

Supporters of the move say direct elections are expensive and rife with fraud — a point dismissed by opponents, including Corruption Eradication Commission officials, who say indirect elections invite even more corruption.

The initiative is seen not only as an attempt by Prabowo — who lost the July election to Jokowi but has yet to congratulate him — to undermine his rival even before he resumes office, but also as a bid by the widely distrusted political elite, of which Prabowo is a leading figure, to wrest power from ordinary people.

“Society will need to be prepared for leaders who are going to obey local parliaments more than they serve the people,” says Titi Anggraini, executive director of Perludem, an NGO focusing on elections-related advocacy.

Much of the anger is directed at outgoing President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, widely known by his initials SBY. He and his Democratic Party, which controls nearly a third of the parliamentary seats, said they would support direct elections. But, in the end, many Democrat lawmakers absented themselves from the voting when their demands for revisions were not meant, dealing a blow to Jokowi’s coalition and allowing the bill to pass.

The hashtag #ShameOnYouSBY was the top trending topic in Indonesia, and worldwide, on Friday. “Congratulations Pak @SBYudhoyono – now you have a legacy as the President who let democracy move backwards,” said Ima Abdulrahim, executive director of the Jakarta-based think tank the Habibie Center, on Twitter.

“Two generals have killed our democracy: Prabowo and SBY,” tweeted Luthfi Assyaukanie, of the Freedom Institute think tank, referring to the fact that both men are former military officers.

Yudhoyono later told journalists in Washington, D.C., where he is on a state visit, that he was “disappointed with the process and the result.”

Direct elections have been credited with the emergence of popular and untainted regional leaders who are not party oligarchs. It has given rise to humble politicians like Jokowi, who began his career as the mayor of the Javanese city of Solo; his deputy governor, Basuki T. Purnama; Ridwan Kamil, mayor of the nation’s third largest city, Bandung; Ganjar Pranowo, governor of Central Java; and Tri Rismaharini, mayor of Indonesia’s second city, Surabaya. All of them have opposed indirect elections, with Basuki even quitting Prabowo’s Gerindra Party over the issue.

“Do you know that with indirect elections, all of the regional leaders are practically under the instruction of the political elite in Jakarta?” tweeted Ridwan. He and other regional heads vow to challenge the legislation in the Constitutional Court. Perludem has promised the same.

TIME Midterms

A Virtual Cycle

Joe Klein Road Trip Thom Tillis and Mark Walker
US Senate candidate Thom Tillis, right in blue shirt, greets and speaks to rally attendees at the Guildford County Republican Party headquarters in Greensboro, N.C. on Sept. 20, 2014. Jeremy M. Lange for TIME

Nobody wins when voters only experience politics second hand

Peter Tennis is an endangered species. He’s 72, lives in Marietta, Ga., and still works in commercial real estate. He’s a devout Episcopalian who insists we begin our breakfast at the OK Cafe with a prayer. He reads the newspaper every day and clips out the stories he finds interesting. A few years ago, he saw an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about a 15-year-old black kid who had been sent to adult prison for participating in an armed robbery. He started corresponding with the young man, then visited him in prison and led a group to pray for him at St. David’s Episcopal Church. He found this work so rewarding that he began contacting other prisoners he read about, visiting them in prison, helping them where he could; he corresponds regularly with “three prisoners at a time” in Georgia. There isn’t a dramatic climax to Pete’s prison work. He just does it. His wife Margot is similarly involved, teaching English to Latino adults. “I once knew a guy named Railroad Bob, pretty down and out,” Pete says. “But he said something I’ll never forget: ‘We teach best what we desperately need to learn.'”

I mention Peter and Margot Tennis because they reached out to me when they heard I was going on another of my annual road trips–this time through the South. Pete offered to organize a meeting of his friends and co-workers to talk politics with me in Marietta. That’s how these road trips work; TIME readers provide the itinerary. But a certain sort of TIME reader: Dr. Richard Merwarth, 76, in Pittsboro, N.C.–who organized a meeting for me with 200 or so senior citizens at the Galloway Ridge retirement community–is another. What Pete and Dick have in common is that they are active citizens–not activists, just people who think part of their job as Americans is to be involved in stuff. It’s probably not an accident that they’re both in their 70s: they are among a dwindling but vital minority in the country. They grew up believing that public life, including politics, was a group activity, something you share with your neighbors. That isn’t true anymore. Politics is now a virtual activity. It happens, mostly via ads, on television and the radio. That makes it a lot easier for most people: nothing is expected of them but a vote. “We just don’t do many events anymore,” a campaign manager in Georgia told me. The candidates’ time is better spent dialing for dollars. That’s nothing new, but gradually politics–and political reporting–has become an arid exercise, the tabulation of money raised and ads promulgated (and invisible phone banks microtargeting voters, which is something journalists can’t quantify). It’s hard to imagine that the Founding Fathers–who staged raucous rallies complete with beer, barbecue and juicy speeches–would recognize the process.

A politically eclectic group gathered in a bland room at the East Cobb, Ga., county offices, 25 people, mostly friends and real estate colleagues of Peter Tennis. They were mostly conservative, though not angry Tea Party sorts. There were a handful of moderate liberals, too, who weren’t as forceful as the conservatives. “Politicians just want to throw money at things,” said Jeff Marshall, 54, a recent Connecticut transplant. “I’m just not convinced that government can do all that very effectively.”

This is not an uncommon sentiment, of course. But a small-business owner named Charles Bonds, 41, put some flesh on it, regaling the group with the troubles his company, with 51 employees, was having with the Affordable Care Act. He wanted to provide health coverage and was required to under the law. But his private insurer had raised premiums 57.8%, and while the rates in the local Obamacare exchange were better for his employees individually, the law said that companies with more than 50 employees had to provide the insurance. The obvious answer was to fire two people, hire some temps and subsidize his employees to get their insurance through Obamacare. “And even if we did that, the feds require us to report which of our employees haven’t gotten health coverage–which is sort of like snitching on them.”

Eric Flamm, 58, a computer consultant, said he thought the whole idea of mandated health care was “flagrantly unconstitutional,” and he was “pessimistic about ever getting the federal government to shrink.”

The other big issue was a surprising amalgam of immigration and terrorism. Bob Wood, 72, said he was worried that the southern border was porous, that ISIS terrorists were crossing over, that the country was riddled with sleeper cells. “They’re all over the place,” he said. Several others said they were fearful of ISIS and immigrants–no accident, it turned out, since the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, a businessman named David Perdue, had just launched an ad accusing his opponent, Michelle Nunn, of supporting “amnesty” and an immigration bill that wouldn’t seal the southern border and might allow ISIS terrorists in. (The bill, which was passed with the support of 14 Republican Senators, provides “legal status” but not citizenship for undocumented workers and also would spend an additional $38 billion on increased border security.)

The Perdue ad is almost hilariously despicable. It also accuses Nunn–the daughter of former Senator Sam Nunn–of “funding organizations linked to terrorists.” This allegedly occurred while she was the president of George H.W. Bush’s Points of Light Foundation. The real story is TCFP: too complicated for politics. Users of eBay were offered a list of charities to support via Points of Light. In the end, they chose to give $13,500 to a federally approved organization called Islamic Relief USA, which has “ties” to an international organization of the same name, which allegedly has “ties” to Hamas. Said Neil Bush, the chairman of Points of Light: “To attack an organization founded by my father … to smear our organization for political gains, is in my opinion shameful.” (Bush the Elder has endorsed Perdue.)

In North Carolina, a few days earlier, I attended an actual political rally. It was staged by Republicans in Greensboro and featured their U.S. Senate candidate, Thom Tillis, who wasn’t carrying a pitchfork; and neither did Mark Walker, a local minister running for Congress. “It’s sad,” Tillis said, “that we have to be this disappointed in this President.” He criticized his Democratic opponent Kay Hagan–for supporting the Affordable Care Act, diplomacy with Iran, the Senate immigration bill–with a call-and-respond line: “Is that a Senator from North Carolina?” He told his own up-by-his-bootstraps story. (Tillis started on a loading dock and didn’t get his college degree until he turned 36, but he’s been successful in business and is now the speaker of the state legislature.) “I’m optimistic about our country,” he said, running against the right-wing radio trope that the country is in the midst of an Old Testament slide toward damnation.

It sounded to me, at first, like the Republicans had wised up in 2014. They were serving up smoked brisket, not red meat. There was a rationale for this: white women are likely to be the swing group in the North Carolina and Georgia elections. Women tend not to respond to rhetorical violence. Walker, the minister running for Congress, mentioned neither gay rights nor abortion. It was, I thought, grounds for optimism about the growing climate threat of political overheating. But after I saw the Perdue ad in Georgia, I realized that I–like the lovely folks who set up my road-trip meetings–was living in a community-oriented past, where speeches and rallies meant something. Nowadays, a candidate can be all smiles and more-in-sadness-than-in-anger on the stump, and run ads that are sicker than swamp gas on television, where it really counts.

TO READ JOE’S BLOG POSTS, GO TO time.com/politics

TIME politics

People Died So I Could Vote

Singing The 1965 Voting Rights Act
President Lyndon B. Johnson presents one of the pens used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to the director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) James L. Farmer Jr, Washington DC, August 6, 1965. PhotoQuest—Getty Images

Jocelyn Y. Stewart is a journalist and screenwriter based in Los Angeles

It’s hard not to go to the polls when a generation of African-Americans risked—and sometimes lost—their lives to get you there

When we were growing up in South Los Angeles, my siblings and I often heard my dad’s impromptu sermons about matters of importance: the value of education, the perils of purchasing on credit, the virtue of hard work, and the dire necessity of voting.

“People died so we could vote,” he’d say.

As a very young kid, I imagined the dying as a scene from a Western movie: good guys vs. bad guys and bodies strewn across a grassy battlefield. In the end the good guys walked away, alive and free to vote. My imaginary battle scene was historically inaccurate, but I came to learn the element of peril was real. And we weren’t talking about faraway countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, but the U.S.A., in the not very distant past.

I came to learn how perilous it had been for black people to vote in the South, especially in the era prior to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. People of color didn’t return from the poll wearing a splashy red, white and blue “I voted” sticker the way we might now. People of color often weren’t allowed to vote, and if they persisted, and tried organizing others to exercise their rights as Americans, they were often beaten, sometimes killed, for their efforts.

Hence my dad’s “you gotta vote” speeches. At the core of my dad’s fidelity to the ballot was an appreciation for the sacrifices made by everyday people that allowed African Americans—and other people of color—to obtain it.

In the 1950s, when my parents were kids, the NAACP began an effort to register voters in the small rural Louisiana town where they lived. Local African-American residents, like my mother’s father and the father of her friend Curtis Spears Jr., became members and participated in the effort.

One day Curtis’s father returned from town beaten and bloodied. The assault had come at the hands of the town marshal, who later explained it as a case of “mistaken identity.” Not long afterward, the loan on the family’s farm was recalled by the local lending institution. The family was forced to become sharecroppers—a plummet in status and fortune—all because of their desire to vote.

My mother remembers her mother and others memorizing the Preamble to the Constitution and various historical facts before heading to the polls to face questions from a poll worker. But preparation didn’t always help, my dad added.

“They’d ask you: ‘How many bubbles in a bar of soap?” he said.

Any answer was wrong if the poll worker wanted it to be and the bid to vote ended there. Today my parents are avid voters, going to the polls for races that feature only city councilmembers and candidates for sheriff, in addition to the ones for president. They vote with a sense of duty and commitment that might be hard for non-voters to understand.

History explains it.

Our democracy demanded a double portion of faith from older African Americans. It required them to believe in the rights accorded to citizens of this nation, even as the nation denied these same rights to people of color. It required them to march, sit-in, stand up, face police dogs and water hoses until America was forced to do as Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’”

The true price of the ballot was reinforced many years later, in the mid 1990s, when I met my friend Frank Godden.

At his home near USC, where he was mostly housebound and later blind, Frank, then in his 80s, loved talking about all he’d witnessed in his almost a century of living. He had the longest political memory of anyone I’d ever met. He was a World War II veteran, a graduate of Tuskegee Institute and a businessman who’d helped develop a resort community in northern Los Angeles County open to African Americans during segregation when other places of recreation were closed to them.

As a small boy growing up in Live Oak, Florida, he remembered his father telling him: “When you finish school I want you to leave Live Oak, leave the South. You spend too much time trying to be accepted as a citizen.”

The admonition to leave the South baffled him. Frank had eight brothers and sisters, a dog named Scout, a horse named Fannie, and plenty of friends. Life was good, as far as he could see—until the issue of black people voting arose in the early 1920s.

The voting efforts in Live Oak were part of a larger campaign by African Americans in Florida to use the ballot as a means of defeating Jim Crow laws that segregated nearly every part of Southern life, I later learned by reading Emancipation Betrayed: The Hidden History of Black Organizing and White Violence in Florida from Reconstruction to the Bloody Election of 1920. This was a time when black men were beaten, black women arrested, and white supporters threatened — all to thwart black voting.

In Live Oak, the town’s black leaders decided to run a candidate for office. They gathered on the porch of the Godden home one Sunday and nominated Frank’s father to run for postmaster. The family was well-known in the Live Oak community — Frank’s father was a livestock farmer and a minister; his mother was a principal at the town’s colored elementary school and a music teacher.

Rev. Godden was elected and, the way Frank remembered it, that vote on the porch was the beginning of the end.

Frank’s father received threats, including a letter that he carried in his wallet. Then one night a carload full of men drove to the Godden house. A man jumped out and lobbed a firebomb that landed on the porch of the home and exploded, leaving a crater that extended into the living room of the home.

Anxious about the possibility of violence, Frank’s parents had sent the children to their grandparents’ house for the evening. So thankfully, nobody was hurt.

As a very old man, Frank still remembered the fear his 11-year-old self felt upon returning home and staring into the hole left by the bomb. That day, the family packed up their lives and left Live Oak forever, on a train headed to New Orleans.

“We couldn’t let anybody know we were leaving,” Frank recalled. “We couldn’t even say goodbye to our friends.”

To be American is to appreciate and acknowledge those who died so we could vote, who faced bombs and beatings, and lost farms—and voted anyway. They are owed a debt, payable in the currency of participation in the democratic process.

When I turned 18, my father walked with me, a newly minted voter, to the polling place at the school down the street from our house. My first vote was important enough he felt he had to share it with me. Like my parents, I now consider myself a regular voter. This is not to say that I never miss; I have. But I believe, like they do, that my vote matters.

I’ve heard my father’s words flowing from my mouth when I talk to younger people about voting: people died so we could vote. Now they are my words. Now I understand the battlefield and the soldiers.

In 2000, I traveled to Greenwood, Mississippi, with Endesha Ida Mae Holland, a foot soldier in the Civil Rights movement who had just published a memoir about her life in the Mississippi Delta. She had received an invitation to speak at a literary conference at the University of Mississippi at Oxford (better known by its nickname Ole Miss). This was a place black people could only dream of attending when she was growing up. I accompanied Holland, who had since become a professor at USC and a Pulitzer-prize-nominated playwright, to write a Los Angeles Times magazine profile.

She showed me where she’d once seen the battered body of Emmett Till, an African-American teen who had been killed for reportedly flirting with a white woman, and where she had marched. She showed me where the house she grew up used to be. It had been firebombed because she joined civil rights workers in registering people to vote. Holland’s mother had been afraid that her daughter was stirring up trouble and was opposed to her civil rights activity; she didn’t want to vote. When the house was bombed, Holland’s disabled mother was seriously injured. In our conversations, Holland told me how, at the hospital, not long before she died, her mother whispered to her: “Tote me to vote, gal.”

Voting stories have been to me like family heirlooms; they make it impossible for me to take voting lightly. For Frank, the bombing robbed him of the world as he knew it. It might have stripped him too of his faith in democracy. Instead, Frank became fervent about voting, community involvement, collective action—from the neighborhood block club, to the college alumni association, to his political party. He remained a believer in the democratic process. He followed politics like others follow sports.

In 2008, at the age of 97, Frank did something his parents never did: he casted a vote for an African American to hold the nation’s highest office, then he’d witnessed Barack Obama’s election. Listening to the inauguration, Frank cried tears that carried the weight of generations.

Jocelyn Y. Stewart originally wrote this piece for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zócalo Public Square.

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