Letter to the editor: Democracy can be messy but offers great rewards

On Tuesday, for the first time in my 32 years, I will vote in an election. I have lived in the United States for nearly all of my adult life and was granted citizenship last summer. What makes this even more of an honor is that I get to cast a ballot for my partner who is running to be a Vergennes City Alderwoman.

I grew up in Bombay, India — a bustling megacity of 20 million. Many years and U-Hauls later, in the Spring of 2018, Zoe and I found ourselves moving into a well-aged Victorian on a quiet street in the heart of a community of 2,600.

When we were young, my cousins, brother and I knew that a big grin and a “hello” meant that the elderly aunty from the 1st floor flat would go digging in her purse for a caramel. When an overly ambitious swing would lob our only cricket ball over the driveway wall, we knew which gate was chained just loosely enough that our skinny four feet frames could just barely squeeze through. When Mothers’ Day was approaching, we knew that saving a week’s worth of pocket money in 5-rupee coins equaled a box of strawberries.

Home is a layer cake of memories with a frosting of nostalgia that’s good at smoothing out the imperfections. It is familiarity — a way of knowing a place that is as affective as it is spatial. It’s where proximity feels like comfort, and where kindness feels like belonging.

At some point over these four years in Vergennes, every shop and restaurant, street and corner had begun to be imbued with familiar ritual. Acquaintanceships had crossed the threshold into friendships. And before we knew it, this little city was now our home. Nothing draws us closer to this feeling than when we lend our energies and voices to civic engagement. All those public meetings and park clean-ups, farmers markets and nonprofit events helped solidify our sense that we belonged to this community and this community belonged to us.

Despite the historic and ongoing barriers to enfranchisement and empowerment, we get together and make choices together and make progress together. Yes, we take steps forward and take steps back, but people keep showing up and the work is never done. This participation was a reminder that the exercise of democracy is not just for election days but for everyday.

It’s not hard to get a sense of what’s at stake. As chaos wages its battering ram on the people of Ukraine this week, on the people of Afghanistan over the past few months, on our Capitol a year ago, it’s the littlest acts of democracy that fight to hold the door closed. It’s not just grand policies and movements, it’s the small choices we make, the memories we create together, the familiarities we develop, and our acts of kindness that make the idea of “home” worth defending.

Zoe is seven months pregnant with our first child. We’re hoping that one day he will find his own caramel aunties, lost cricket balls, and strawberries for his mother here in Vergennes. We feel immensely lucky to be able to spend the next several decades of our lives in this community, and we take incredible pride in calling this little city our home.

Whether in our smallest towns or our biggest cities, democracy is a privilege and like any privilege, there are many excluded from it. This makes it all the more important that we don’t take this gift for granted and that we fight to ensure that all our neighbors have a voice. Democracy is messy and hard work but without our participation, it is meaningless. Each little act of democracy is what makes our home a home and that is worth showing up for.

Nial Rele


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