I was born in Brazil in 1968. In 1964 the Brazilian Armed Forces, supported by the United States under Lyndon B. Johnson, staged a coup d’état and deposed Brazil’s democratically elected president, the leftist João Goulart from the Labor Party. Through political maneuvers, the Brazilian Congress—under extreme right majority—eased the military takeover. Although the US Army was ready to support the Brazilian military factions aligned with its interests in case of civil war, it was avoided. Nonetheless, during the 21 years of repression that followed “nearly 500 people died or disappeared, and many more were detained or tortured” (Remembering Brazil’s decades of military repression, Pablo Ushoa, BBC.com 03/31/2014).
I was in my late teens when millions of Brazilians took to the streets in the “Diretas Já”—Direct Vote Now Movement. It started in 1983 and led to an indirect election—by Electoral College—of Tancredo Neves in 1985, and finally democratic presidential elections in 1989. I still have goose bumps thinking about it. So much loss. So much fear. To this day many families have no idea what happened to their loved ones.
When the laws that gave the Brazilian people its democratic rights back were being drawn, those in charge of that extremely important job for the country’s future knew that democracy is under constant threat. To keep it, all of us, the people, must guarantee its permanence by exercising it through our vote. In Brazil all citizens between 18 and 60 years of age must vote by law.
I’m American now, but because of my growing up in Brazil during dark times, I don’t see voting as a right. For me, it’s a duty I owe to all those who sacrificed so I can have a voice, so I can choose the life I want to live, so we all have rights. Rights as trivial as choosing to wear makeup—or not, as basic as choosing what food to eat and how many kids to have, some as essential as disagreeing without risking jail, torture and death.
So VOTE. Because you can; you must.