When Silence Means Dissent

Silvio was accompanied home with shouts of joy after the meeting to nominate the delegate from his district. He only received 15 out of a total of 120 votes, but his was the victory of the ant that manages to dig into the wall, the triumph of a small peep that can be heard over the din. Even though they had brought people not even on the voters list into the Punta Brava municipality, the official candidate enjoyed only 45 hands raised in his favor. Abstaining was how 50% of the crowd expressed their dissent -- or indifference -- to an election process with very little influence on real life.

I remember when Silvio Benitez spoke for the first time to introduce himself at the People's Power elections in his district. Not even his closest friends cherished the hope that he would be nominated, or at least manage to get someone -- outside his family -- to publicly propose his name. The frustration, a priori, the reluctance to get our hopes up, has played too large a part in our lives. Thus, we feel defeated before even planning a way to transform our country. The raft sailing the sea, or complicit silence, remain the most common strategies for solving each individual's problems, given that the national "problem" seems permanent.

That night in Punta Brava, however, the soap opera was less of a draw than the worn-out machinery of choosing "the best and most capable." Curiosity filled the streets and sidewalks with people wanting to know if "the candidate of change" had managed to win. Silvio had promised them a different program, one marked not by ideology but by citizen management. Even though he did not succeed in getting his name on the list of the more than 15 thousand delegates from around the country, at least half the electors in his area felt compelled to abstain. Not daring to vote for him, many of his neighbors stuffed their hands in their pockets, stroked the heads of their children, or held their cigarette in front of their lips when they called for a show of hands. His victory was in all those folded arms, all those mouths that didn't venture to mention his name, but that did not reject him.

Yoani's blog, Generation Y, can be read here in English translation.