2012 is an election year. You know how it goes: everyone up in arms about the right or the left or the other. Fun, arbitrary campaign slogans and strategies overshadowing talk of real solutions to issues that affect the nation. And voters are left struggling, trying to decide between the lesser of two evils, or if their single vote will even make a difference at all. Wait, which country are we talking about here? Oh yeah, the DR.

In the DR, everyone has an opinion about politics. Everyone, that is, except Peace Corps Volunteers. We are to remain specifically apolitical as far as host country politics goes, and with good reason. Dominicans tend to be very…mmm…let’s say passionate about parties and candidates and mascots and colors which, in theory, represent what they think the country needs most to effectively bring about change for the better. Americans are used to ugly politics and childish games like these being played along party lines, but in the States, there is a large number of folks who are not staunch supporters or “opiners” about the political process. In the DR, EVERYONE has something to say about politics.

In the US, it’s unfortunately becoming more commonplace to see our beloved elected officials at the Hill giving the silent treatment to politicians of the other party. In the DR, in some cases teachers won’t want to teach at a specific school if many of the staff members are of a different party. At first I wondered why everyone had such a serious opinion, but as the elections drew closer, and I overheard (and avoided) more conversations, I realized that a lot of people are affected as individuals as a result of a party being in power or not. A party change can mean that public offices change leaders, administrators, teachers, secretaries, and even janitors! Seriously, janitors. And while some people told me that they supported a particular party “porque sí” (just because), others expressed pride over supporting the party that was responsible for ousting the abominable Dominican dictator Trujillo some 50 plus years ago.

Had you been here during the last several months, all over the country, you would have run the risk of having your travel plans altered by political rallies, which for me, were reminiscent of the celebratory parade we had in Raleigh after the Hurricanes won the Stanley Cup. People rocking their team’s colors, flags, cheering and screaming, loud music, posters and flyers, chants, etc. Parties even had merengue and pop songs created for the candidates, most of which were pretty catchy, but I dared not sing in public.

What can we learn from such displays of party loyalty? Of poor county folks’ spending their emotion supporting wealthy candidates the way a teenager spends his only money on a pair of fresh Jordans? I can only hope that the new president stays true to every campaign promise that he made, and because I’m specifically host-country apolitical, that’s probably about all I should say. I know in America we’ve hoped for the same, and have faced times when we’ve been left less than satisfied. For me, I put much more confidence in God changing the hearts of people than in politics changing the state of a nation. Maybe at the base of all of it, people want to belong to something that they feel is bigger than themselves.

In the States we talk about candidates buying people’s votes. In the DR, parties literally buy people’s votes. They’ll give you 300 or so pesos in exchange for your I.D. card, and vote in your name. This is an ad on the road of a young man saying, “I don’t sell my conscience. Better yet, give me: work, health, education, security.”

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