By: James W. Harris

Whether or not Diaspora Liberians vote in 2005, I'll vote with my pen!

During the week prior to this past Memorial Day weekend, I waited anxiously to attend the rally that was scheduled to take place at the Liberian Embassy in Washington, DC, on Saturday, May 28, to draw public attention to the outrageous decision by the NEC to deliberately disenfranchise Liberians in the Diaspora by denying them their basic rights to cast their votes in the ensuing elections slated for October 11, 2005.

Like many others, I must admit that I too had a lot on my plate for the weekend - errands to run, house chores to perform, etc. In brief, I really expected a very busy weekend as a few friends and relatives had already called me in advance to say that they would be in the Washington, DC, area for the entire holiday.

That aside, I had already made up my mind to attend the rally come what may. That's how determined I was!

As the matter of fact, a few associates and I had already begun to put together a petition aimed at calling on the international community, particularly, the United States government, the European Union (EU) as well as the United Nations, since they're the ones that are footing the bill for the present upkeep of the war-wrecked country, to bring their collective pressure to bear on Liberia's elections commission to give the hundreds of thousands of Liberians currently living abroad their inalienable rights to vote in the October elections. We're still working on the petition mentioned earlier, but frankly, we're not sure whether it would be feasible in this late stage and from what I saw at the Liberian Embassy.
Appropriately, the rally and memorial service there had been called for by the Rev./Dr. Napoleon L. Devine, Founder and Pastor of the Christ International Baptist Church based in Philadelphia, PA, in collaboration with some of his peers, in order to remember all the victims of Liberia's various brutal civil wars .as well as to call on the National Elections Commission (NEC) and anyone else who cares to listen to see reason and allow Liberians presently living abroad the opportunity to vote in the upcoming Presidential and General elections, which, many Liberians would agree, will be very crucial for the revival of our now collapsed nation.

Display of Raw Patriotism
Moving from one place to another running my various errands, I kept checking my wristwatch to keep a close tab on the time, not wanting to miss too much of the program. Due to the long holiday weekend, I knew definitely that there would have been more traffic than usual on the normally busy highways leading toward DC.

The bikers, as it is now traditional here in the United States, were rolling in to the nation's capital with their enviable display of patriotism - something that's seriously lacking in Liberians I must admit. They were coming to town riding under the theme "Rolling Thunder" - in reference to the deafening loud noises coming from their numerous motorcycles - in memory to their fallen comrades who had died unfortunately in War Worlds l and ll as well as far away places like Vietnam, Korea, etc. They're really something to see and shows you how some people really can be dedicated to a special cause!
Anyway, I knew also that if I was not on the beltway at least by 9:30 a.m. or 10, I'd have no chance of getting to the rally in a reasonable time.

Even though I was aware of the foreseeable traffic congestion and time factor, I did find myself actually heading toward DC at about 11 O'clock a.m., but to my greatest surprise, the traffic wasn't so bad after all as I had originally thought. And so, by noon at least, I had made it to the embassy already only to find about 45 persons there in the yard sitting in chairs that had been placed in rows. Although I didn't stay to the rally until the very end, but I sincerely doubt whether that number increased significantly after I had left.

Disappointingly also, was the fact that out of the 45 or 46 persons that were present, I actually counted about 16 children who I suspected were no more than fifteen years of age and under. If my memory serves me correctly, I think the number of children also included a few toddlers.

After joining the group that was assembled there in singing several hymns (although very quietly) and listening to a local pastor, Reverend Hne P. S. Nyemah of the Liberian Christian Association of Metropolitan Washington, I glanced at my wristwatch again to see what time it was since I had to rush back home to meet a relative who said that he was stopping by to visit us.

Feeling Empty
You can just imagine how empty I felt driving back from the program - the same way I had felt when I attended previous rallies in DC in support of journalist Hassan Bility, human rights lawyer, Tiawan Gongloe, and veteran human rights activist, Aloysius Toe, among others. You see, the more I interact with Liberians and attend their various functions, events, etc., the more I'm convinced that our now fallen country, Liberia, will never recover unless Liberians at large begin to change mentally and set their priorities straight.

I mean, while other groups of people all around the world are engaging in mass action to force their governments to change for the good of their societies, Liberians, on the other hand, seem strangely not to be grasping the depth of the crises presently facing their now war-torn country. If they did, then a rally of such significance, albeit called on a relatively short notice, would have been well attended by a large number of people - no doubt. But as it appears, Liberians generally have got their priorities wrong [again].

A few hours later on that same Saturday in the evening, I attended a wedding reception somewhere between Maryland and DC. In sharp contrast to the number of people that I had literally counted at the rally on the grounds of the Liberian Embassy, the wedding was well attended, with more than 300 people easily attending, according to my rough estimates.

Again, you can just imagine how well dressed they all were in their best suits and enjoying themselves too to the loud beat of melodious African music. Something of the popular Ghanaian flavor, you know, the kind that rocks the house and bring it down. Why not! Within the Liberian communities now a days, funerals and weddings have become the big crowd pullers for good or bad.

Now, whether or not Liberians always go to these kinds of functions en masse just for the good foods that are usually available there in abundance for free or to build new romantic relationships, I can't say exactly why they've collectively refused to show up in like manner, at least for a few minutes as I did, for such an important rally as the one that was held by Rev/Dr. Devine and other Liberians of faith.
What was really funny to me, though, was the harsh reality of the rally being so poorly attended, although the Christ International Baptist Church headed by the Rev./Dr. from Philadelphia was not the only organization sponsoring it. On the program that was handed out at the rally, I noticed that besides the Liberian Christian Association of Metropolitan Washington led by Rev. Nyemah, other sponsors that were listed included the ever controversial Union of Liberian Associations in the Americas (ULAA) and the Liberian Absentee Ballot Organization based in Chanhassen, MN, respectively. Again, as much as I have no personal use or regards for an organization like ULAA, their participation in the program (that is, if someone was there to represent them) didn't deter me in any way.

Seeking Answers
Now, here are a few questions that I'd like to ask. (1) You want to tell me truthfully that these four major Liberian organizations couldn't do better than that in terms of mobilizing their constituencies to attend the rally in full? (2) I mean, seriously, what happened to their combined membership which I could safely assume number in the thousands? And (3), don't Liberians in the Diaspora, particularly, in the US, see their full participation in the upcoming elections as being very, very crucial in determining the final destiny of their one country? I'd be glad if anyone could answer the above questions for me, because it surely looks like Liberians have got their priorities up side down.

You see, sometimes numbers really don't matter, but in this particular case, they do! And even the Rev./Dr. Devine alluded to this when he said that whenever a request is made to have the major news networks cover such events, the first thing that they'd want to know is just how many people were expected to attend. Why do you think that they'd want to know? Simply, because in a place like Washington, DC, and other places of power and influence, numbers really do matter. As the matter of fact, numbers are everything!

Therefore, it's no exaggeration to say that the larger the crowd, the better the chances of being covered or given the necessary free publicity. Anything short of their numbers game would be ignored. That's the reality in the nation's capital and that's why it was very important for the sponsoring organizations to have made sure that their collective memberships attended the rally in full so that the impact could be felt both in Washington, DC and far beyond.

Not too long ago, we saw Liberians trekking from all parts of the United States and even Europe to attend conferences in Columbia, Maryland, and again, in Washington, DC., respectively. As it has become customary, these kinds of conferences are often billed as events geared towards finding "lasting solutions to Liberia's problems". What a laughable proposition!

Look where Liberia is today even after all the other previous conferences that basically featured the same old people. We refuse to be fooled or misled any longer, because we surely know why some Liberians attend those functions - to simply show off; seek job opportunities in Liberia; meet old friends and/or schoolmates, among doing other trivial things.

If those Liberians who attended the two conferences mentioned above really did care about their country and wanted to make a historical difference, then they certainly would have made it their duty to show up at the embassy on that fateful Saturday to lend their support to the campaign, which I must admit is a long shot due to the time factor, to allow out of country voting for all "eligible" Liberians. But the mere fact that they didn't show their faces there, indicates exactly where their priorities lie - in seeking self-aggrandizement as opposed to standing up for a just and noble cause.

Troubling Observations
Let me quickly tell you another thing that I've observed about Liberians in the Diaspora, especially, those residing in the US. What I've observed lately is that they seem to have no problem supporting individual candidates who have declared their intentions to seek the Liberian Presidency. For reasons far beyond my comprehension, they blindly prefer to support the candidates of their choice financially and otherwise, yet, they don't see the wisdom in taking part directly in the political process by way of their personal votes. I find this phenomenon to be very, very strange, but again, we're talking about Liberians!
In fact, the issue of whether or not Liberians living abroad should be allowed to vote in the 2005 elections is increasingly becoming irrelevant with regard to the outcome of the ensuing event as some Liberians are also strongly opposed to the idea.

"My man, if you want to vote then you might as well pack your bags and head to Monrovia". "No way, if you're serious about voting in October then you better start booking your ticket and making arrangements." "If you call yourself [a] man then why not go to Liberia and vote?" "My man, I'm with the NEC on this one. If you're not in Liberia on Election Day, then you will definitely not vote." These are all comments from various persons that I consider to be my friends. And by any standards, they're all well educated and the kind of individuals that you thought would share your views on many issues relating to Liberia, most especially, regarding the participation of Diaspora Liberians in the scheduled elections.
But to my greatest surprise, they are vehemently opposed to the idea. I mean, I just can't understand why, but if I were to guess, I'd say that it is because they've all become naturalized American citizens now and feel more comfortable supporting their individual candidates behind the scenes rather than taking part directly in the elections since they wouldn't be eligible anyway. You know, they just won't admit it! But still, there's nothing wrong in supporting such a cause as a matter of principles.

Where Do the Candidates Stand?
Disturbingly, though, I haven't heard much from our so-called Presidential contenders or their surrogates either on this particular issue. Does it not interest them I wonder? Well, that's not surprising to me at all. They were not there for Hassan, Taiwan or Aloysius, and you can bet that they'd not be there too to support our rights to vote. After all, it's in their best interests, isn't it! They know very well that if we were ever given the opportunity to vote this time around, we're be voting our consciences [hopefully] and not for a bag of rice or a dollar or two as in the immediate past. They know that much!
And so, if the record low turn out in Washington, DC, at the Liberian Embassy were to become the norm at the two remaining rallies that are being planned for the same cause on Friday, June 24, 2005, in New York City and Friday July 22, 2005, in Philadelphia, respectively, then we might as well kiss our beleaguered nation good-bye.

Because if Liberians who are currently living abroad for one reason or the other are denied their rights to vote in the October elections - a process that should be all-inclusive rather than closed unreasonably - then I don't know on what grounds we should expect results for these particular elections to be any different from those that we got in 1985 and 1997, when the majority of Liberians at home (who by the way are highly ill-informed even today) voted into high office individuals who turned out unfortunately to be nothing more than wicked tyrants and alleged mass murderers.

We Still Have the Power
But we still have the collective power to change our country for the better. In order to do just that there's only one requirement - we must first begin to get our priorities right. So far, they're all screwed up and a good evidence of that is the gutter that our once proud country finds itself in today - thanks to the handful of selfish Liberians who put their personal egos and agendas above the collective interests of our nation and severely impoverished people.

Already, we're getting reports from home about all sorts of things taking place on the ground in Liberia that could possibly have a grave impact as regards the "credibility" of the elections results. I'm talking about things like the mistreatment of Liberian Mandingos at various polling stations in the country. I'm also talking about the reported refusal of some IDP's (Internally Displaced Persons) to register to vote simply because they have no confidence whatsoever in those vying for power, among other serious problems that could throw the entire process into serious doubt. And yet, the so-called elections commission and other shortsighted Liberians are hell bent on staying on the wrong course

But whether or not Diaspora Liberians are allowed to cast their votes in the upcoming elections this October 11, I do know one thing and that is, I'll personally continue to vote with my pen regardless. Now, that's a right that no one can deprive me of, not even the so-called NEC.