by Julie Tisdale
City & County Policy Analyst
Tonight, millions around the UK are setting off fireworks and lighting bonfires to commemorate Guy Fawkes Day and the foiling of the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. 400 years on, it makes for a pretty good story. Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators, who were Catholic, found themselves suffering religious persecution at the hands of a Protestant king. Feeling increasingly desperate, they decided that the solution was to assassinate the king and replace him with a Catholic monarch. And what better way to do that than to sneak barrel upon barrel of gunpowder into a chamber under the House of Lords and then, when the king arrived for the official opening of parliament on November 5, blow the whole thing up, taking out the king, the Lords, and the leaders of the Church of England, who would all be in attendance. Effective, and quite the spectacular display.
But somehow word got out. The authorities got a tip, searched the building early in the morning on November 5, and discovered the gunpowder. They tortured and questioned Guy Fawkes, the one discovered guarding the gunpowder, the plot was foiled, and King and Parliament were saved.
So now, every year on the 5th of November, Britain celebrates with fireworks. And who doesn’t love fireworks. It’s a bright, fun evening in the otherwise cold and dark days of early November.
I like the story and I like the celebration, but today, on the day after significant elections across America, I can’t help but think how far we’ve come. 400 years ago, Guy Fawkes had no hope that the leader at whose hands he was suffering persecution would serve a couple of terms and then be gone. There was no coming election in which he could hope to see the King replaced or major changes made to the composition of Parliament. Assassination wasn’t a great option, but there were few legitimate means available to bring about change.
In contrast, millions of Americans went to the polls yesterday and cast ballots that resulted in a US Congress that will look very different next year. Governors and legislators were replaced. Judges and district attorneys and county commissioners lost their jobs. People said clearly that they wanted something different. And every single candidate will respect the results. Those who lost their seats will clean out their offices and leave voluntarily. Losing candidates made concession speeches and phone calls. And no one feels the need to start amassing gunpowder.
I don’t love all of yesterday’s election results. I voted for some people who won, and I voted for some others who didn’t. But I’m thankful for a democratic process that allows me and millions of other citizens to effect change. Guy Fawkes Day reminds me of just how valuable that is.