Today is election day. Yesterday was Guy Fawkes day. My husband has been playing Assassin’s Creed III for nearly a week straight. I am surrounded by patriotism and revolution.
Guy Fawkes Day is something I cannot comprehend. It all has to do with the Gunpowder Plot to assassinate James I. It was that whole Catholic/ Protestant thing that seems to ire people for no apparent reason. The plot failed, and Fawkes was one of the conspirators. The wikipedia article is some pretty scary reading because it tells you what exactly they did to Fawkes, and what his public execution was comprised of. So basically, as far as I can gather, people in England light bonfires and set off fireworks because of the victory of the status quo. Also, it is very cold in England in November, and what is the point of having fireworks if no one wants to go outside to see them?
Nobody seems to pay lots of attention to Guy Fawkes Day, though. There’s a lot more attention paid to the poppies for Remembrance Day. When I was at my in-laws for Sunday dinner, my father-in-law was wearing a poppy and the whole family talked about the parade and other ceremonies. No one mentioned Bonfire Night at all until yesterday, when my husband and I were filling out mortgage forms at the bank and he had to sign and date something. The mortgage adviser saw the date and quoted “Remember, remember, the 5th of November.” Which is a poem about the plot, I think. (Wikipedia says yes.) And there were a lot of fireworks in our neighborhood, but it was freezing cold so we weren’t interested.
I’m trying to figure out the place of Guy Fawkes Day in modern Britain. Why is it centered on a dark spot in British history? Is it to get people to celebrate the fact that you will *not* win if you go up against the Crown? Is it about the stability and tradition of the British monarchy? Does it mean anything to people in England now? I honestly do not know. I spend a fair amount of time thinking about the Brits and their ways, and I’ve come to some understanding in places (like the tea thing. I get that).
The American celebration which comes closest is 4th of July, mostly because of the fireworks and celebrating of national culture. But the similarities end there–the country stops for 4th of July. It is about the freedom of summer as much as it is about the freedom of the Colonies. Which is the biggest difference–Guy Fawkes Day seems to celebrate the enduring power of the government, and July 4th is Independence Day, the date the Declaration of Independence was signed and the United States started a government from scratch, which, when you think about it, is a pretty rare feat. And also if you have never read the Declaration of Independence, it is awesome, in both the colloquial and literal sense of the word. And very hard to argue with.
According to my husband and the Assassin’s Creed games themselves (which I gather when he’s actually playing the plot of the game instead of messing around on his homestead), the Assassins’ enemies are the Templars, whose goal is to uphold order and structure, because humanity has a propensity toward chaos and needs to be protected from itself. Obviously the American Revolution is the perfect backdrop for this, because that’s a prime example of throwing off the shackles of the old order. Also, my tea-loving husband’s reaction when he had to participate in the Boston Tea Party was fantastically hilarious.
All of this coincides with election day, which is the very heart of the United States. After all, one of the early slogans was “No taxation without representation.” It still surprises me that British people don’t directly vote for their Prime Minister–they vote for the Member of Parliament who then votes for the Prime Minister.
But then…do Americans really vote for their President? I made a point of sending in an absentee ballot because I wanted to vote in this election, which I feel is pretty high stakes. But I know my state (New York) is going to Obama, and because everyone knows that, I get the feeling that the candidates feel my vote is worth a lot less than that of someone in Ohio, or Pennsylvania. That does make me feel like less of a citizen in some ways. I see the point of the electoral college, but since American politics has become more and more polarized, it’s made less and less sense.
Do the Templars have a point? Is modern day America better off democratically than we would have been if we stayed British subjects? That’s a weighty question, which I can even start to answer. The UK and the US today are both a long way from the government of the Gunpowder Plot, where the punishment for revolution is torture. All I can say is America has a tradition of change, and moving on to the new guard which we often forget about. Fifty years ago, segregation was still in full swing–now we have a Black President. When I was a kid, no one even talked about gay rights, now it’s everywhere, and more and more states have legalized gay marriage, with four putting the issue on the ballot today. I’m not saying America is incapable of cruelty–that would be an atrocious lie. But there is a capability in this young country to change, perhaps moreso than other countries steeped in centuries of tradition. The question of whether this is America’s saving grace or damnation leads to which candidate you’re voting for.
4th of July is America’s national holiday, but today is the most patriotic day of all. It’s about putting your money where your mouth is–whether people believe in their government enough to add their voices to it.