Friday, October 26, 2012

Democracy in Action

Democracy in Action

With the U.S. Presidential election just around the corner, it makes for good discussion on all aspects of democracy.  Using my Nov. 6 General Election Ballot and the Voters’ Pamphlet that goes with it as teaching tools, I have been able to discuss how voters in America decide the pros and cons of various issues, evaluate tax measures (yes, to them it is surprising there are some tax measures we actually get to have a say on), as well as read about and weigh the positives and the negatives of all the candidates.  As in other countries, this country elects a president, but from there most everything else is appointed and/or ultimately decided by him.  Many have found it interesting that in America we get to choose judges, we get to elect a sheriff, Senators and Representatives, Governors and Mayors, we get to decide on how or if we want tax dollars spent on certain things, and we even get a voice in Washington State on some rather culturally sensitive and controversial issues—things that would NEVER be ballot issues here!  But for the teachers here, it is particularly interesting that we even get to choose the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Many local teachers would probably also like to have a say in matters that pertain to the Ministry of Education here.

It has also given me a chance to explain the Electoral College—that it gives power to smaller states, since the President must preside over all states, not just the most populous ones—and that the “official election” actually takes place in December.  In the early years of our democracy, it took days, if not weeks, to count all the ballots, and men had to then ride horses to Washington D.C. to meet and make the election official.  It seems archaic now, but since America is 235 years old as a democracy, some traditions remain from when our country was first founded.  Many in Azerbaijan realize their country is still a young country, having gained its independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991, but they are interested to learn of democratic principles and practices.

We have also been discussing in some groups about Nelson Mandela and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott illustrate the power of non-violence in a democratic society to influence and change unfair social inequalities.

A tangible example of bringing democracy in action to Azerbaijan occurred in August, when women leaders from Mingachevir attended Women's Leadership in Government presentation, organized by fellow PCV and sponsored by US Embassy and United Nations Democracy Fund. 
As part of a program intended to promote women in government, Washington State Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown visited Azerbaijan and had encouraging words for the women in the audience at speech at the Yevlax Youth Center, Yevlax, Azerbaijan. Hailing from my home state and specifically from Spokane, where my son Jonathan Branom and his family live, it was an honor to meet and hear her comments, designed to help women recognize that they have an important role to play in the development of democracy in this country. She noted that women represent half of all life experiences in society, and that deserves to be represented in government, through the making of laws, administrating of services, and enacting justice. She acknowledged that she came from a conservative small town, at a time when women rarely served in government; she has come to realize that women consider serving in government and in politics, if only asked. She encouraged the audience to identify and encourage talented and capable women to serve in the ongoing process of democracy in Azerbaijan.

My work continues to be rewarding; one of the community members of my adult professionals TOEFL course is the director of a local bank.  Since I also have a business background, he enlisted my help in preparing in English his annual report and projected analysis for his Board of Directors.  He must have made a wonderful impression, because he has been given a promotion!  Even though I will lose him as a student, since he will move from Mingachevir to work at a larger branch office of the bank, he told me that he had a choice of several options, and decided to pick the one where he knew there would be another PCV for him to work with!  So glad that he thought my Peace Corps help was worthwhile enough to want to continue having the benefit and value of Peace Corps work at his new office. J

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