Making My Voice Heard

Gemeenteraad VerkiezingI’ve always felt strongly about exercising my right to vote. I looked forward to my first opportunity to vote the year I turned 18, even though the outcome of that particular vote didn’t go my way. I didn’t let that turn me off. Every time I moved to a new state in the US (and I went through a few), I always registered to vote, and got to take part in some important elections on local and state levels, as well as national.

There was something particularly satisfying in going to my polling place and flipping levers or even using the touch screen (though the levers were more enjoyable), surrounded by other people who also felt strongly enough to vote. There’s a solidarity, even if you may well be voting at complete opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Unfortunately, since moving, although I can still vote in the US, I’ve missed voting in person. Absentee ballots don’t have the same visceral thrill of the moment. But today, I finally got that thrill back. You see, in the Netherlands, it’s possible for non-Dutch citizens to vote in local elections. If you’re from an EU country, you can vote with no delay, but if you’re from a non-EU country, you must reside in the Netherlands for five years first. I was ridiculously envious of my Italian boyfriend when he got to vote in the last local election and I didn’t. However, this time around, it was my turn!

Today, local elections are being held across the country. Unfortunately, they’re expecting a rather low turnout, which I find so frustrating. Voting here is physically very easy. You don’t have to register to vote as you do in the US. Since you’re already registered with your local government, they automatically send you a stempas (voting pass) a month or so before the election. They also send out a sheet with all of the parties/candidates (as in the top photo). There are plenty of polling stations and you’re not limited to one specific location. You can vote wherever it’s more convenient (as long as it’s in your city, of course). There are voting stations set up at the train station, and numerous spots in schools, stores, and a variety of locations.

To vote, all you do is show your stempas and your ID and they give you your ballot to fill out, which looks like the one in the photo. There’s a red pencil in the voting booth and you fill in your choice and then drop it in the collection box. Easy peasy, at least once you get the ballot unfolded and spread out. It really is big! (As a side note, I took both my passport and my verblijfsvergunning (residence permit) with me as ID. It turns out I just needed the verblijfsvergunning, but the people working there commented on the attractiveness of the US passport, so that’s nice.)

In Utrecht, we have 17 parties from which to choose this time around, and within those parties, some have up to 50 candidates. The parties include the big national parties like D66, SP, VVD, and PvdA, but they also include smaller, local parties like OnsUtrecht. Doing the research on the parties and figuring out which individual to vote for is the only time-consuming part, but you’ve got plenty of time leading up to the election to narrow things down.

I’m curious to see the overall outcomes, not just for Utrecht, but for some of the other cities in the Randstad (the four major cities in the Netherlands). Although the elections are purely local, they can also be viewed sometimes as a commentary on national politics, either as a show of support or protest.

One last thing … the Dutch word stem means both vote and voice. So in Dutch, when you cast your vote, you really do make your voice heard.

And now my favorite photo from the last election. A little dog calmly waiting for his owner to return from voting.Brave Hond [Day 62/365]

Visualizing the Treaty of Utrecht

I’ve got a few more days left in the US, and you’ll probably end up seeing a few more posts about the US when I get back, but for now, time to squeeze in one last post about the 300th anniversary of the Treaty of Utrecht (Vrede van Utrecht). Unfortunately, I missed the final celebrations, but I got to enjoy plenty of the events that have taken place throughout the year. This video is a nice look back at some of the many events and exhibits, including some of the ones I didn’t make it to over the past few months. Enjoy!

Pink Saturday in Utrecht

Roze ZaterdagEverywhere you look in Utrecht today, you’ll see pink. You’ll also see balloons, pink limousines, stalls, crowds of people, stages in all the big squares, and lots of rainbow-colored items. All of this and more is because today is Roze Zaterdag (Pink Saturday), the annual event celebrating the LGBT community and sexual diversity and equality. Each year a different city plays host to this event and this year it’s Utrecht’s turn to be the Roze Stad (Pink City).

As I mentioned previously, the city created a rainbow crosswalk in town as part of the celebrations, and yesterday the stages were being put in place in the Domplein, Neude, Janskerkhof, Korte Minrebroederstraat, and Lucas Bolwerk. There are also sporting events and other activities and performances taking place indoors and outdoors at various locations. There’s even a kids area in one of the parks.

Roze Zaterdag
We wandered through the various stalls set up along Lucas Bolwerk, which is serving as something of an information point for the festival, as well as hosting performances. The stalls were an interesting mix of groups, which included over-50 dating groups, various vendors selling all sorts of products, and health-oriented groups. Interestingly there were also a number of political parties with stalls set up, including the SP and VVD. The one I found most interesting, from a US perspective, was the Dutch Government Pride display.
Roze Zaterdag
They had people there representing police, fire services, and military. In fact, in the photo above, there are military people there representing the Stichting Homosexualiteit & Krijgsmacht (Homosexuality and Armed Forces Foundation), a union that represents gay and lesbian personnel to the ministry of defence. It wasn’t until late 2011 that the US finally lifted the ban on homosexuals serving in the military, whereas they have been allowed to serve openly in the Dutch military since 1974. As well as being the first country to recognize gay marriage, the Netherlands was the first country to lift the ban on gays serving in the military.
Roze Zaterdag
But that’s enough political talk. As I’m sitting here typing, I can hear all sorts of music playing, including live bands and even a drum line. Earlier today, for the Saturday afternoon Domtoren concert, we were treated to songs such as Mama Mia, YMCA, and even a bit of Daft Punk! There’s nothing like standing in the kitchen, preparing lunch, and realizing that the carillon bells are, in fact, playing Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Not surprisingly, the Domtoren was also flying the rainbow flag next to the Dutch flag.

I love this city!
Roze Zaterdag

Celebrating Sexual Diversity

Rainbow CrossingI was going to post about the regenboog zebrapad in Utrecht (rainbow crosswalk) today anyway, and the news that the US Supreme Court has struck down DOMA makes it even more appropriate. Today, same-sex couples in the US now have more of the rights previously limited to heterosexual couples. Of course, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to recognize same-sex marriage.

Not surprisingly, many Dutch cities are also host to various festivals and events celebrating sexual diversity and equality. As well as being this year’s Roze Stad (Pink City), Utrecht is also home to the annual two-week-long Midzomergracht Festival, capped off this Saturday by Roze Zaterdag (Pink Saturday). The festival is a celebration of the gay/lesbian/trandgendered community and all it has to offer. The festival is a mix of sport, art, debate, and fun, with events going on throughout the city.

Earlier this year, the GroenLinks political party stated their intention to create a visible sign of the city’s diversity and acceptance. The annual festival was a perfect time to unveil this visual statement. As part of the festival, last week the city turned the crosswalk by Vredenburg into a rainbow. The crosswalk is meant to be a statement that anyone of any creed, color, or sexual preference is welcome in Utrecht.

To be ready for the festival, a street crew was out in the night, spraying on the bright colors for the updated crosswalk, which is located at a busy intersection. Many people use the crosswalk to get to and from the station, the open market, the shopping center, and more. It’s a great addition to the city.
Rainbow Crossing

Rainbow Crossing

1 Billion Rising

Neude Crowd
As a feminist from a very young age, I’m constantly frustrated and horrified by the treatment of women around the world. I’m not just talking about the horrendous rapes of women that have taken place in India and South Africa recently. I’m just as upset over the fact that the Violence Against Women Act in the US was not reauthorized and only given an extension yesterday. Don’t even get me started on the fact that the US is the only democracy in the world that hasn’t ratified the United Nations Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (otherwise known as the international bill of rights for women).

ONE IN THREE WOMEN ON THE PLANET WILL BE RAPED OR BEATEN IN HER LIFETIME.

ONE BILLION WOMEN VIOLATED IS AN ATROCITY

ONE BILLION WOMEN DANCING IS A REVOLUTION*

Tomorrow, 14 February 2013, women (and men) all over the world will be rising up to protest the violence against women that takes place everywhere. This peaceful protest will take the form of singing, dancing, and flashmobs. Cities and countries all over the world have events planned and you’re free to take part, even if you haven’t learned the flashmob routine. Just dance and support women everywhere!

Utrecht will have its own event taking place, starting at Hoog Catharijne and then moving to Neude. The goal is to have one billion people around the world speaking out peacefully against this brutality. No matter where you are, look for an event near you. Or start your own! It doesn’t have to be big. Just find your own way to raise your voice.

*stats from onebillionrising.org

(Re)Election Day

Dawn of a New Day
Today is officially election day in the US. Like many expats — and even many people living in the US — I took advantage of early voting, which in my case is more specifically absentee voting. As long as I remain a US citizen, I can continue to vote in US elections. Technically, I vote on the North Carolina ballot, since that was my last place of residence.

I may not live there any more, and I may have no plans to go back, but I have family and friends there who can be directly impacted by who the president is. It also impacts other countries, including the EU, and since I live in the EU, it’s all still relevant.

Pushing It

I was able to email a PDF of my ballot (fax and regular mail were also options), and I still have a copy of my ballot. I was very careful as I filled in the circles, joking that I didn’t want any “hanging chad” issues interfering with my vote! It was nice to physically fill something in, but I do miss going to my local polling place and casting my vote. I always got a bit of a thrill from it all.

Brave Hond [Day 62/365]
Fortunately, I will get my chance to physically cast my vote the next time there are municipal elections here in Utrecht. By then, I’ll have been here long enough to qualify to vote. I can’t vote in national elections here unless I become a Dutch citizen, but they kindly do allow legal residents who have been here a certain amount of time to vote in local elections. It makes sense that we get to have a say on local issues that affect us. No longer will I be like that little doggy, relegated to waiting for someone else to finish voting.

If you feel like voting — or voting some more — you can always vote for me by leaving a comment on this page about my blog. I promise to be a benevolent top-blog ruler if I win! Massive thanks to those of you who have already commented. I am truly touched by the comments you’ve left.

Campaign Appearances

Election Campaigning
The Dutch are going to the polls tomorrow to vote for the party/prime minister to lead the country. We had an election not that long ago, but the shaky coalition that had been formed fell apart earlier this year. I’ll leave it to others to comment on whether they think the government formed this time around will last for long.

Political campaigning here in the Netherlands is nothing like it is in the US. Here, it’s a much shorter period and it’s not the same full-on barrage that I experience in the US. It’s only been the last couple of weeks that it has really become more obvious as the political parties — of which there are 22 — have been hitting the streets and squares to encourage people to vote for them. The next two photos were taken from inside the Stadhuis, looking out onto the Stadhuisbrug where a large number of the parties had gathered, including the PvdA, VVD, and Groene Links. PvdA has been particularly active around the city the past two weeks, with signs, balloons, and large groups of supporters out campaigning for them. According to the news, it seems like PvdA is the big challenger to the VVD, the current prime minister’s party.

Election Campaigning

Election Campaigning

One of the national television channels has been hosting a political program with some of the politicians being interviewed. The program is called 1 voor de Verkiezingen (One for the Election, with 1 also being the tv channel). They have set up a temporary studio in the square in front of Het Utrechts Archief. That’s the building pictured in the first photo. They’ve been there for at least two weeks. You can see the building in the first minute of the program that is available on the website, if you want to see it in action, so to speak. Whether you want to listen to Gert Wilders is also up to you.

Election Campaigning

There are posters and big trucks set up around the temporary studio, as seen above. Fortunately, most political posters are limited to designated billboards that go up in a few locations around the city. It’s a bit neater and cleaner than the million and one signs I was used to in the US!

I may not be able to vote in the Dutch elections, but I can still vote in the US elections. If you’re an American living overseas and want to vote this November, make sure you sign up to receive your absentee ballot so you can vote from abroad! Hurry! Time is running out.

When Harrie Met Utrecht

Sunday Morning
There’s an interesting debate taking place in Utrecht these days over whether the stores should be open on Sundays every week, instead of just the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) as they are now. Depending on your position in the debate, you’re either a Harrie (pro-Sunday shopping) or Geen Harrie(anti-Sunday shopping). I have yet to figure out where the Harrie name came from; is it a random name given to the cartoon character in favour of shopping or does it have some additional meaning that is simply lost in translation for me.

Regardless, there are more and more fliers, tweets, articles, and discussions about the topic throughout the city these days. Certainly, in some of the winkelen (shops), you’ll see pro Harrie leaflets. But I’m seeing more and more activity on the Geen Harrie (Ik ben geen Harrie/I’m no Harrie) side, even from some shops. There are certainly arguments to be made on both sides. There was a referendum on the subject in 2005, and obviously the pro-shopping camp lost. I’m unclear as to the final showdown date this time around.

I do appreciate having the grocery stores open on Sundays now. They seem to have gotten past the shopping restrictions, which have slowly eased for grocery stores since I moved here. I believe they’ve been able to be open every Sunday since the beginning of the year, and at a more convenient time than 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. as some of them had been last year. Food is a necessity, so I think it’s reasonable for the grocery stores to be open if they so choose.

When I first learned about the possibility that stores would be able to open for business on Sundays, my first reaction was in favour of the idea. I admit I’m used to the convenience. However, as I’ve thought about it more and more, I think that now ik ben geen Harrie. I like having that one day of peace and quiet in the city when it’s not too crowded. You can wander around and enjoy the city. I love taking Pippo out for the Sunday morning walks before there are too many people out and about and too many distractions. You get time to pause and ponder.

It’s not as if the city remains a ghost town on Sundays. Cafés and restaurants still open and by noon, you start to see more and more people out and about. We do also have the first Sunday of the month (koopzondag) when the stores are open, so it’s not as if people never have the opportunity to shop on Sundays. I do understand that having the shops open on Sunday would make life more convenient for people at work throughout the week. After all, most shops close fairly early during the week, except for Thursday evenings. Yet I still can’t help but think that it’s nice to have one day a week when there’s less pressure to buy buy buy.

Of the four major cities of the Netherlands — Amsterdam, Den Haag, Rotterdam and Utrecht — Utrecht is the only one that doesn’t allow shopping every Sunday. If people are determined to go shopping, then I’m sure they will go to those cities and yes, it can be a financial loss for Utrecht. I do understand the financial ramifications. But I know that once stores start opening on Sundays, they’ll start opening earlier and earlier, and then they’ll stay open later and later, and eventually you’ll have the insane 24/7/365 shopping of the US, and I’m just not sure that’s a good thing. Convenient? Yes. Good? I’m really not sure.

Utrecht’s Gay Rights Memorial

Recognition
I was born and raised in Florida, but moved to North Carolina (NC) when I was 16. I’ve lived there off and since then, so it’s a state I have some affection for, as well as some feelings of frustration. The recent vote in North Carolina to amend the state’s constitution to ban gay marriage and essentially remove many rights of anyone not in a traditional marriage left me particularly frustrated. The US is legally a secular country, so religious beliefs shouldn’t influence political decisions. I may be an atheist myself, but I have a number of friends in NC, of varying faiths, who fought hard against this vote. It’s a nice reminder that many people of faith practice the loving side of their religion, rather than trying to limit the freedoms of others.

Memorial

About a month ago, I came across a story on one of the Utrecht news site about a gay memorial that stands in the Domplein (Cathedral Square) here in the city. Finally, yesterday, I went to go see it for myself. The memorial is for the 18 Utrechters who were imprisoned and killed for being gay in the 1730s.

The nave of the cathedral was destroyed in a storm in 1674, and the ruins became a meeting place for those known as sodomieten. In 1730-31, after complaints from the sacristan of the cathedral, the government stepped in and began arresting people and interrogating them. Other meeting places were discovered and a wave of arrests followed. Some people in important positions were tipped off in advance and escaped, but in the end, 18 people were sentenced to death and strangled.

The memorial to this atrocity stands on the historic church grounds. It also shows the way thinking has changed from the 18th century to today. The memorial describes how in the 18th century, it was called sodomy and punishable by death. Today, it is called homosexuality and it comes with freedom and choice.

Vrijheid

The memorial is dated June 1999. Since then, gay marriage has been legalized in the Netherlands. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, it will be legal everywhere and we will look back with horror at the way the GLBT community has been treated and isolated.

Source

Utrecht’s Occupation

Wave the Flag
On 15 October 2011, people of all ages began gathering at the Domplein in Utrecht. The crisp, autumn morning saw signs being made, posters being hung, and people coming together to voice a frustration with the form of capitalism that has taken over in many countries. On this day, in cities and countries around the world, people joined together to show a solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. Not everyone there was an anarchist, nor were they all dirty hippies or a lazy bums (or any other needlessly pejorative terms). They were young and old, dreadlocked and neatly shorn, obvious protesters and people who look like someone’s granny. Many had different issues that they found particularly frustrating, but the point was that they were all feeling a bit fed up with how the super wealthy and the corporations seemed to be getting the better end of any and all deals.

Since that day many of the Occupy protests around the world, including the original Occupy Wall Street, have been closed down, sometimes with unnecessary violence and brutality. Other protests have popped up, often with mixed results, and frequently with seemingly unnecessary arrests. I recommend checking out some of the posts at nylondaze for some great photos and discussion of recent protests in New York.

While other groups have been shut down, often ages ago, the Occupy Utrecht group, which took over a small section of the square behind the old Stadhuis (city hall) in the center of town, has hung on through (lots of) rain, snow, and changing seasons. They’re still there, and while relatively small, they’ve been clean and organized and seemingly willing to talk every time I’ve gone past their camp.

However, they’re finally being asked to move. Well, at least for a day. You see, April 30 is a national holiday, Koninginnedag (Queen’s Day). Mayor Wolfsen has decided that for the health of the protesters and others, the camp needs to go. The protesters obviously didn’t agree, especially when it was stated that they couldn’t return after the holiday. However, a judge has agreed with them and stated that they can return on 1 May. I’m not sure if they are going to move, but if they do, I suspect they will return, especially when you consider the history of 1 May, also known as May Day and International Worker’s Day. This is a day traditionally when labour and left-wing movements often take to the streets for demonstrations and marches throughout the world.

I’m not sure if I’ll be passing by the Stadhuisplein on Monday, although if the weather isn’t pouring down in buckets as it’s doing now, I may be tempted to go to see if they complied for the one day. I did stop by yesterday, though, and got a few photos. As you can see, it’s not a large, unruly camp. It’s actually condensed and become more organized over the months. With the current austerity measures vote and the recent collapse of the government, I don’t think it’s a bad group to keep around as a reminder that lower and middle classes shouldn’t be the only ones to bear the brunt of economic struggle.

Occupy Utrecht

Occupy Utrecht