Archive for April, 2009

The right to rites

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

Or rather the right to celebrating rites.

Marking what initially were religious holidays can sometimes be the occasion of celebrations that bear little - if any - connection to the reason for the origin of the holiday.

St-Patrick's celebration, Beacon, NY

St-Patrick's celebration, Beacon, NY

An early celebration of St Patrick’s day recently in Beacon, NY, turned what had been an afternoon parade of strangely clad celebrants into an evening of police activity.

It was a beautiful, sunny day, the first one after a long period of sustained cold weather. People were ready to party. And party they did.

In true Irish tradition, the beer kept flowing throughout the afternoon, and flowed… a little bit too much. What had started as a day of enjoyment ended up with a confrontation between overly stimulated St Patrickers and a few police officers trying to bring law and order back to what is  otherwise usually a peaceful town.

Racing to celebrate, St Patrick's Day Celebration, Beacon, NY, 14 March 2009

Racing to the party, St Patrick's Day Celebration, Beacon, NY, 14 March 2009

Browsing through a guidebook of England evoked another modern day interpretation of ancient religious rites: the neo-druidic cult that has developed around Stonehenge. Reading up the guide entry reminded me that I had been fortunate enough to visit Stonehenge at a time when one could still walk right to the middle of the stone alignment. I remember imagining  what the place would have been like when the druids were worshiping there, and thinking of a more recent Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

The very physicality of ancient sites serves as a reminder that something happened there. The frequent mystery that surrounds the origins of these sites is usually an added incentive for researchers to find an explanation of what that something was. It may also encourage a modern day usage in a way that is thought to replicate the purpose for which the site was initially designed.

A few years following my visit, Stonehenge became enclosed to protect it from overly eager tourists, but maybe more importantly from the crowds of a revived druidic cult followers who, once a year, come to celebrate the summer solstice. According to these neo-druids, they should be granted full access to their place of worship. The English Heritage has obviously judged otherwise.

Whether it is about celebrating a religious in the manner one cares to mark it, or using a site according to the initial purpose for which it was designed, a question for consideration is the extent to which protecting the right to hold the celebration should be of concern at all, or whether such a right should be exercised in the manner the celebrant would chose.

Io voto, Io conto

Sunday, April 5th, 2009

IO VOTO IO CONTO, Rome, March 2009

IO VOTO IO CONTO, Rome, March 2009

Io voto, Io conto: literally I vote, I count, probably translates better as My vote counts.

This Italian poster advocating for the exercise of the right to vote in a labour contract consultation uses a slogan that can be interpreted as a variation of Descartes’ famous Cogito, ergo sum (I think, therefore I am).

My voice counts, by expressing my opinion (voting), I come into existence: I vote, therefore I am. Another message insists: Per tutelare tuoi diritti, usa il modo piu semplice: Vota (To protect your rights, use the easiest way: Vote!)

Also on display this week in Rome was another election-related poster, 400 Millioni per la Porcata (400 Millions for the pigsty), two copies of which had been posted next to the Io Voto poster. This second poster campaigns for a joint electoral consultation, which would regroup in one election day an internal referendum and a regional election, allowing to not spend 400 millions Euro for the birds.

It is quite remarkable for the right to vote to be so ingrained in 21st century Italian society - used to the benefit of universal suffrage - that voters have to be reminded to use (and protect) this right, and that consideration is given to saving on electoral spending. 

The reality conveyed by these posters struck home even more strongly as the Io Voto poster was displayed on an official municipal board, recognizable by the SPQR motto. The phrase, the Senate and the People of Rome, was a direct throwback to Ancient Rome, a vivid reminder that voting rights then, during the time of the Republic, were a privilege reserved to patricians, while a number of members of society, such as plebeians, and slaves, were disenfranchised, and excluded from participation in political life.

The history of the fight to obtain voting rights by various groups in various parts of the world is a long one: indeed, it is only in the 20th Century that women have been recognized as being able to vote and granted this right in the Western world.

Although the right to vote is a human right, and identified as such by Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is still a right over which people have to fight to be able to exercise it.

Only 10 years ago, a women rights campaign in New York warned that rights should never be taken for granted, and therefore should be exercised (and protected) if individuals wanted to exist and be counted as part of society.