I haven’t been very politically involved this time around. In 2006 for the Senate elections I voted absentee, and in fact one of my Kiwi co-workers at the time volunteered to carry my ballot down to the post shop because, and I quote, “that way I can feel like I’m doing my part to change America!” I was traveling for most of the primaries though and wasn’t anywhere long enough to vote in those, and now all of a sudden it’s six weeks to go and I’m rushing to get my Florida drivers’ license so I can vote here and I’ve had to educate and motivate myself and remind myself of all the times I’ve had The American Conversation and think about my place in the intersection of the personal and the political.
I just haven’t been that into it this year, even though, hello, it’s a crucial election (like every election) and even though I am really damn sick and tired of how things have gone the last eight years and even though I really believe that the privilege and the duty to vote are inextricable—in fact one of my favorite dorky things to say on the subject is “Oh, I’m totally a feminist, but only because I like owning property and voting!” When I was traveling it was sort of hard to keep up with the news but not really, actually, because the NZ papers were always full of election stuff and people were always going “So! Hilary or Obama?” to me when they heard my accent.
I didn’t forget about politics in this country while I was abroad, especially not from the foreign policy stuff (one time on the bus I saw a button that said “Aotearoa is NOT a suburb of America!”) but I was a little…insulated, I think, from certain aspects of what living in the US is like. I got used to same-sex civil unions and four weeks of holiday a year and cheap prescriptions and a woman head of state. I learned about proportional representation and about a viable multiparty system. It was interesting to me right away to see that my political proclivities changed instantaneously the minute I crossed the international date line: I went from being reasonably liberal in the states to sliiiiightly right of center in New Zealand—the American Democratic party, for example, is considered WAY more conservative than their super crazy rightwingers. I started sighing in relief about certain things that directly affected my life there and only saw that I’d begun to take things for granted when I got back here.
Now—unemployed, without health insurance, with some different political experiences under my belt—I’m seeing things a little differently. I’ve been a Democrat since before I could vote—in 1984 when my fourth grade class held mock elections I was one of about three kids out of forty who went Mondale/Ferraro—and I don’t see that changing anytime soon, but I’m feeling a little disenchanted lately, even as I get angrier and angrier at the McCain/Palin campaign every morning when I read the news. It’s easy to freak out about the other side but I guess I’d like to feel more into my side—I’d like to feel slightly less like I was in an abusive relationship with the Democratic Party, who kind of represents me a little but not that much, actually, and who seems to be saying to me “WHERE YOU GONNA GO?” whenever I express the thought that Obama is all well and good but that I do have some reservations about the change that his administration, if he wins in six weeks, will be able to foment in this country; I don’t know how soon it will happen, and how far reaching it will be.
But then last week I read my beautiful friend Eliza’s post about what happened to her in her hometown café when she was wearing her Obama shirt and…I just got really angry and thought about all the times that this current administration has told me and people like me that we don’t matter, that we’re not real Americans, that we’re crazy hippies who don’t live in the real world, that we don’t work hard, that we don’t deserve a government that works for us or even basic respect. Her entry reminded me of a terrible conversation I had with another American when I was in Golden Bay in April, where he stood up over me and screamed in my face that I, Chiara, was what was wrong with society today (because I am a social worker and I support affirmative action, among other things—he all but called me a race traitor) and demanded that I apologize to him for all the trouble I had caused and the damage I had done to America. I was terrified…I was alone with him in a room and he could have so easily become violent and I did exactly what he wanted me to do because I was so afraid: I shut up, and didn’t stop shaking for an hour.
So when I read Eliza’s post and remembered how awful it felt to be jerked from my safe liberal bubble (in two hemispheres, now), and how this election (like every election) is about some very fundamental rights and requires from me a little more engagement than just reading the blogs and shaking my head in frustration. I read it and then went to sign up to volunteer for the campaign, and just RSVP’d to see Obama speak on Friday. I’m going to revisit my election promises from 2004 and see how I can change them up—hilariously, I really am leaving the country, man (I hope!), regardless of who’s in the White House next January, but I’ll be retaining my American citizenship and all the rights and responsibilities thereof, so there’s plenty to be done there.
If nothing else I want to try, at least a little bit, to give up my ennui and my intense focus on my own life lately, and to believe in change for everyone involved (i.e. the whole world), and to approach the audacity of hope.