Santo Domingo/New Orleans: Flying back from Santo Domingo to Miami and now onwards towards New Orleans and home allows one to reflect more on life on the other side of the looking glass.
Yesterday for example we began our day with a visit to the main hospital in Santo Domingo accompanied by the head of the nurses union (SINATRAE) and the CGT – the Conferacion General de Trabajadores. It was a strange strike, and ACORN’s Dominican leaders had trouble believing that in fact it was really and truly a strike at all. They expected signs, police, and noise. There was none of that, and in fact we were all almost immediately ushered in by the union reps to see the Director General of the Hospital, who was excessively gracious and accommodating. When Maria Polenco, ACORN’s National Vice-President, asked him to explain his relationship to the union since he seemed so calm in the middle of a strike, he answered essentially that he saw his role almost as a mediator, rather than a manager, taking messages to the General Secretary of the Health Department. It also seemed clear that with elections seven weeks away, that nothing much was going to come of any of this until the governmental direction was settled. In fact had there not been an article in the paper, there is no doubt that ACORN’s hard-bitten, demonstration-toughened leaders would have seen this as a charade. It was at the least an education in a different type of tactic.
Today before I sprinted for the airport we met with an interesting – and large – NGO in the DR, Participacion Ciudadana. Among their projects in the ten years of their existence were trying to cleanup elections and increase their transparency. For the first time, as I believe I have already mentioned, Dominicans with dual citizenship will be able to vote from abroad. They needed our help, because the overlap of polling places for Dominicans in the US was a close match for our offices in the US. Providing election observers on our own turf seemed like a good, solid first project for ACORN’s Dominican Council to sink their teeth in and advance their network throughout the northeast. The offices were a litany that one would expect: Boston, one in Providence, several in Jersey – Paterson, Union City, & Camden – 104 in New York City ranging throughout our groups in the Bronx and in Washington Heights. The leaders were excited – this was something that could really be done! Not a big, huge thing, but something solid that would build some bridges back home.
And, here at home and away is a confusion and a contradiction – though not widespread really. A Dominican – who is a citizen of the United States now and a recent immigrant – could vote for two Presidents this year – once in on May 16th right in the Bronx – and then again in November – also in the Bronx from another location. One President would end up in an American constructed palace built for Trujillo, and the other would end up in the American constructed White House in Washington. We spoke to Hatuey De Camps, President of the Partido Revolucionario Dominicana (PRD), earlier in the day for a brief period before he went into a press conference, and we asked him about this irony. He shrugged and laughed with immense good humor, and basically said answering our question about why it was so hard for dual citizenship holders to be able to register to vote this spring, that the United States was not encouraging this kind of activity these days, and thought people should make up their mind and decide.
He offered that report without an opinion of his own.
On the other hand he also individually polled every member of our delegation about whether they were planning to vote for Bush or Kerry – and reported the vote to his aides as they brought messages into him, and tried unsuccessfully to hurry him along.
Perhaps we had his opinion after all.