Friday, September 11, 2009

This week in "Being We, the People"

A few weeks ago, Afghanistan held its second national exercise in democracy since the fall of the Taliban. On the day of an anxiously-anticipated election, while reports of fraud, violence, and ballot box stuffing emerged from other parts of the country, one polling place saw a peaceful casting of ballots.
That polling place was Marefat High School, where thousands of voters came to choose their candidate, emerging from the school proudly displaying fingers stained with the ink that ensures one person one vote. When night fell the voters shuffled out, and as election monitors converged on the classrooms to count ballots by flashlight, yelling out results—Hamid Karzai! Hamid Karzai! Ramazan Bachardhost! Hamid Karzai!, Ramazan Bachardhost!”—a new noise became audible: The click-click of camera shutters.
Marefat students, newly equipped with their Canon digital cameras and Flip camcorders, documented everything that transpired as their school was transformed for a day from an institution espousing democratic practices to one that housed them. For many students, this was the first election they’d ever seen or participated in, because they were either still in exile or too young during the elections five years ago, and it was an opportunity that almost slipped through their hands. Before the election, the government announced a ban on media at polling places, reasoning that negative coverage would limit turnout.
The government lifted the ban at the 11th hour under pressure from the international community and members of the press, so at Marefat, the students learned they would indeed be allowed into their school with their cameras.
While the votes were tallied, the new documentarians crept along the corridors of their school and into the classrooms commandeered by election workers. Though many students couldn’t yet figure out how best to shoot in low light, the photographs from the day communicate the students’ fascination with the democratic process, and yes, it might also be said, with the cameras in their hands.

View the student photographs at

Discussion Questions:

Is your school used as a polling place during local or national elections?

How are your students involved in elections?

How can your students capture what it means to be one of We, the People?

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