Imagine an America where leaders are so tight-fisted with power that they do not care what voters think or want. It would be a failure of democracy. Events in Russia this week made it obvious leaders there have no regard for the sanctity of the democratic process, in their greed to skim profits for a small cluster of ideally-situated oligarchs.
Russia is a boiling pot. More live YouTube coverage of the exploding demand for ballot accountability and democracy is expected this coming Saturday, when another street demonstration is slated to take place. This week, of about 20,000 Russian citizens who took to the streets, 1,300 protesters were detained and arrested, and 25 of those were injured when police used batons and kicked and jacked up protesters, and used vicious dogs on the crowd. All this, because candidates not aligned with Vladimir Putin were excluded from the ballot.
In 2015, a former deputy prime minister (and likely Putin challenger) was gunned down in an unsolved crime. Next to die mysteriously will be Alexei Navalny, whose fate seems hauntingly similar to Soviet military intelligence poisonings using novichok and plutonium. A year ago, a Russian Soviet military intelligence spy who turned double-agent, and the man’s daughter in Great Britain, were poisoned. Twelve agents of this branch of Soviet intelligence, the GU, were indicted by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller for hacking inside America and for stealing a trove of U.S. election-related documents.
When protesters gathered at Navalny’s hospital, they were arrested, too. The protest began when election officials refused to include independent candidates in Moscow city elections. Candidates must circulate a signature petition to be placed on the ballot, and election officials challenged some of the signatures, nullifying the eligibility of candidates. Some protesters’ homes were invaded and searched before the demonstration rally to dissuade their participation, and some candidates have been arrested and imprisoned for organizing the speeches.
Protest crowds have been growing steadily for a couple of weeks now. It is insincere to exclude candidates for the local Duma (council) who produce the required number of signatures – about 5,000 – when crowds exceed that number by 400 percent. It is criminal to thresh citizens who want their candidates on the ballot. Until recently, Putin opponents had boycotted voting, but have shifted to a stronger strategy by protesting publicly at great risk.
There is a lesson for us in Russian elections. We should treasure free speech in America. New ideas can bubble up into the voters’ consciousness. We should vote our hearts rather than voting for whom we think other voters will choose. And then, as necessary, we should be willing to compromise without bitterness or hard feelings. Martin Luther King’s words ring true: “Keep your eyes on the prize.”
And whether you hope for “four more years” or “send him home,” U.S. lawmakers should find solutions that neutralize the threat of Russian election interference. If that takes siding with protesters up against U.N. human rights violators in Russia for regime change to push back against Putin’s U.S. interventionism, Mitch McConnell should show us he’s an American. Putin has vied against the U.S. National Security Agency on cybersecurity, approved U.S. election interference, and teamed up with Julian Assange to publicize damaging U.S. policy confidences. All Americans should be in the same camp on protecting voting.
It may be difficult to get to a Town Hall without driving afar to Broken Bow or so. Tell your lawmakers while they are home for recess that we want elections free from foreign interference.
Kathy Tibbits is a Cherokee citizen, attorney and artist living at Lake Tenkiller.