Yo Soy Centroamericano

Why vote Kerry? Exhibit No. 1: George W. Bush has shamelessly hired the dangerous figures behind the Iran-Contra Affair into senior diplomatic posts.

"He took out a Bible. He took out a gun he had in his holster. And he had a flag. He described the story of Nicaragua as the story of Abel and Cain. 'You people will lose, because we are the only people who can win,' he said. 'But I'm feeling good today, because it's Sunday, and I'm a Christian, and a Catholic. And I'm going to spare you your life,'" Mestayer says.

For decades, Mestayer had difficulty recollecting events that day in the Managua police station. When she saw photographs taken from Abu Ghraib prison of Iraqi prisoners being humiliated with hoods over their heads, though, her memory became crystal clear.

"Abu Ghraib, that was it for me. There's a different being in me now. It's like, 'I've seen your face again.' To see these Iraqi men, they're Nicaraguans. They're Latin Americans," Mestayer says. "I've been there, and I know what a horrible feeling it is. This happened to me more than 20 years ago, and it's still happening now, and the same people are in office.

"This government has crossed every line. Where else can [Bush] go?"

Which begs another question: Where can San Franciscans with passionate feelings about the Nov. 2 elections go? For starters, www.electionprotection.org, a Web site that directs potential volunteers to poll-monitor training events, and then coordinates poll-watching groups in various swing states, including Florida, Ohio, and Arizona.

"We give election volunteers a cell phone, a disposable camera, and copies of the state's voter bill of rights. We stand 50 feet away, and if voters coming out of the polling places aren't wearing an 'I voted' sticker, we say, 'Hi, are you having problems voting today?'"

Another group, Driving Votes, www.drivingvotes.org, makes regular trips from San Francisco to Reno and Las Vegas for get-out-the-vote campaigns run by America Coming Together.

"We have a huge trip heading to Las Vegas Oct. 29," says Jenny Kane, 27, the group's S.F.-based national field director. "We'll most likely stay at the Howard Johnson's, then spend the day canvassing. People walk away transformed by the experience."

I hope, passionately, the Nov. 2 elections transform the rest of America, too.

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