The more I think about it, the more I’m in awe at what Venezuelan civil society achieved yesterday. For all the cheap talk painting Venezuelans as passive victims unwilling to take risks to defend democracy, for all the hater-naysaying, for all our learned helplessness and alleged tendency to wait around for somebody else to do the heavy lifting, yesterday 7.6 million of us looked around and said “you know what, this mess doesn’t belong to anybody else. This is our peo. Either we fix it or no one does.”
And so they did. With little fanfare, no oil money, no state-provided security…just elbow grease and civic spirit. And they did it right under the noses of a menacing, heavily armed dictatorship.
That takes guts. Serious guts. And it’s time we celebrated it — in all its historic resonance.
Or that, at least, is what I tried to do in my WaPo piece today.
Scarcely anyone in Venezuela who genuinely considers the “official” Electoral Council anything more than a government sock-puppet. The National Assembly — though rendered almost totally powerless by the pro-government Supreme Court — realized it had to push back. Hence the idea of calling a “popular consultation” vote, convened but not funded by the opposition-dominated parliament. In the spirit of a constitution designed specifically to deepen people’s participation in politics, it was entirely organized and funded by regular people on a worldwide basis.
The referendum they delivered turned into an amazing explosion of citizen energy: Volunteers improvised voting centers, ballot boxes, logistics, site security, everything. Citizens aghast at the country’s authoritarian slide turned out in millions to stand patiently in line to vote — even though they knew the government won’t recognize a vote that wasn’t organized by the Election Council, which it can control.
The bottom line is that the government isn’t strong enough to impose outright dictatorship on the overwhelming majority of Venezuelans, who vehemently oppose that plan. Close off access to “official” ballots and they’ll vote on their own nonetheless. We’re stubborn people, and we’re not going down without a fight.
I’d expected the flash of pride I’d felt all day yesterday would tend to fade today. It hasn’t. It’s getting stronger.