In 2017, what does it mean to be a citizen?

2017 has been an electoral year. Electoral years have come and gone in my adult life and not once have I been able to vote. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s that my “status” does not allow me to.

I chose to leave my country the day I became an adult and for the past 10 years I have been living in the country that I chose to live in and that I fell deeply in love with. I have strong political opinions and my actual job is to make sure that people get the chance to participate in the decision-making processes that concern them. Politics is not something abstract that I hear about on the news… it’s real, it’s concrete and it’s everywhere.

Political institutions, at least the ones that are still up and running today, legitimize their power through one simple “democratic” act: the vote. Citizens are called to the urns once every 4, 5, 6… years and they get to “pick” from a list of representatives. Nothing about this process seems appealing, especially when you are deeply convinced that there is much more to politics than just that. So, why does it frustrate me so much to not be able to vote? Simply because I cannot do it.

Until recently, the legislation in my country of origin did not allow for nationals living abroad to be able to vote (old constitution written in a very specific context). This situation recently changed in what appeared to be a “major” democratic accomplishment.

As election day approached, I decided, as the responsible citizen that I am, to look up information on what I had to do and where I had to go to be able to carry out what is expected from me simply because I am a citizen of that country. It turns out that it wasn’t as simple as that and the outcome is that, once again, I will not be able to vote. What stops me from being able to do it? An administrative procedure that had to be done months ago. Mea culpa. I did not think of this earlier. But what exactly is the administrative procedure about? Declaring that I changed my place of residence! It makes perfect sense. When I turned 18 and my grandfather drove me to the place where I registered to vote, I registered according to a specific address. Address that I have not lived at for… 10 years! I thought to myself: “so where do they think I have been for all this time?” I also could not help wonder that if I was not informed of the administrative procedure, then how many people did actually get the information in time to be able to do what was required? How many people will, once again, not be able to vote just because they did not declare that they had changed their place of residence?

This has made me question a great number of things: the vote as a democratic act, democracy in general, the link between democracy and administrative procedures… but also, and more importantly, my relationship with ideas as abstract as the Nation-State, patriotism, the feeling of belonging and the role that administrative frontiers and ID documents play in all that.

Once upon a time Voltaire wrote “human condition is such, that wanting the greatness of your country implies wishing for bad things to happen to its neighbors. That who does not want his or her country to be greater or smaller, or richer or poorer, would be a citizen of the universe”. My relationship with these concepts has always been a “love-hate” one, but I can’t help wonder… what does it mean to be a citizen in 2017? I would only expect for there to be 7.5 billion different answers, if not more.

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