I was born in USSR. There were no votes in USSR. I remember Perestroika. When I was just a teen, my parents were seriously discussing going off the grid to sit out the civil war if the 1991 KGB putsch against Gorbachev succeeded. Everybody was surprised when it failed. What followed was very confusing time, people had no idea how democracy is supposed to work, including the people who somehow made it work anyway, for a few years. When my new country, Belarus, elected its first (and so far, the only) president in 1994, I wasn't old enough to vote. By the time I was, he has shut down the Constitutional Court, dismissed the Parliament, and put a loyalist in charge of the Elections Commission. I didn't get a chance to vote. I never had a chance to vote in my life.
I don't know how to describe what I feel when Americans tell me that their votes don't matter much, that American democracy isn't something worth saving, or that it already is beyond saving.
I saw my own country walk the path from a flawed democracy to authoritarianism. I saw the colonial superpower next door, Russia, walk the same path even faster and get all the way back to totalitarianism. Now I see my new country, the one where I still don't have a right to vote, set off down the same path. Don't tell me there is no further down, I've been down this road before, and believe me America is at its very beginning, and I don't think there is a bottom.
Imagine that you know hunger. Not the kind you feel after a day full of meetings makes you miss lunch and bad shuttle schedule makes you also miss dinner. The one that makes your guts ache, that makes you pass out, the one that makes you dream of food and salivate in your sleep and wake up in the middle of the night with the overwhelming feeling of need.
Now imagine living like that since as long as you can remember yourself as a kid. Imagine this feeling of need being the constant background of your existence, imagine being so used to it that you don't even realize that it is possible to not have it, to have food security, to be able to manage a healthy diet rather than eat whatever providence lands on your table.
Imagine that you move to a village where there is enough food for everyone, but before you get a chance to have that one healthy meal, the barn that has all the food for the entire village goes on fire, and most of the village just stares at it and shrugs, "that food wasn't that nice anyway."
That must be what starving French peasants felt when Marie Antoinette told them to eat cake when they had no bread.
I still can't throw away food. I can't watch other people throw away food, it makes me physically dizzy. And now I am watching an entire country throw away its democracy with a shrug.