Today is election day in The Netherlands. For the first time in a long time I am actually voting. It’s not like I wasn’t interested before, but being abroad always makes it more awkward. Even now I had to arrange my vote 4 months ago, when the parties hadn’t even started campaigning yet.
When I was preparing for my travels 4 months ago, Trump had just been voted president in the USA. Already before that, Brexit had happened. I didn’t know a whole lot about what was happening in my own country, but I knew my country craved change, just like much of the rest of the world. With people saying the most racist things, the EU debate fuelled by Brexit and The Netherlands being the slow one in the back when it comes to the environment, I knew this time voting was going to be important.
So before I even left the country, I marched into the city hall and asked how I could vote, explaining I would go on a 4,5 month holiday in Asia. My problem was that you can only vote from abroad if you are officially registered in another country. The standard procedure when you are on holiday is authorizing someone with papers that come a few weeks before the elections. But I would already be gone then. After looking carefully online, I found out it is possible to authorize someone to vote for you. When I arrived at the city hall, I could even give them the number of the law that makes this possible, but it was a first for the municipality I come from.
Eventually I managed to authorize my mum to vote for me. After filling out questionnaires and looking at the programs of some of the Dutch political parties, I gave her instructions on who I wanted her to vote for. So today is the day. Tomorrow we’ll know if my country is really as right-wing as the polls showed. Tomorrow we’ll know a bit more about what the Dutch find important these days and how they think about issues like immigration, education, health care and the environment.
I noticed during my travels that I am not the only one with strong opinions. The Brits I’ve met are strongly against Brexit. The Americans I’ve met are mainly unhappy, but accepting this is the people’s choice. But everyone has an opinion. Everyone seems to want to discuss the world’s politics and problems. I’ve sat with a group of three in a café in Luang Prabang talking about politics for hours. I’ve sat in tiny Kong Lor with three different people talking about politics. Politics is alive!
Sometimes it might seem as if young people just don’t care. This is definitely not true when it comes to travellers. From a distance it looks like we couldn’t care less. After all, we are happily exploring the other side of the world, blissfully ignorant of what’s going on at home. At times I like this ignorance, because politics winds me up. I care too much. Watching the news makes me sad. Seeing documentaries about people ignoring climate change makes me mad. We all care, even from a distance.
We see the wrong in different places in the world, that don’t have it as good as we do in The Netherlands. We learn so much about history by visiting places like the Killing fields or Auschwitz or the temples of Bagan. We see the animals whose forest habitat is declining every day. We meet people from different cultures, from different backgrounds and from different religions. We observe. We talk. We interact. The more I learn, the more passionate I become. I know I am just a little dot on this planet. I know my voice is only small. But people have fought for us to have the right to voice our opinions. Today I’m voting, even from afar.
Tomorrow will be a new day!