I began considering leaving the US during George W. Bush’s first term in office. After spending years organizing against the wars in Iraq and for reproductive rights, his presidency was a cynical seal on my activist burnout. As he was sworn into office for a second term, I was booking a flight to the UK and dealing with visa paperwork.
If I could have put any quote on my American Passport it would have been Woolf’s “As a woman, I have no country. As a woman, my country is the world.”
But the years I have spent in England have taught me a great deal and probably the most complex lesson has been that I am at heart an American and will always be. I didn’t come to London because I’m an anglophile or even because London had charmed me, which on previous visits it had not. I came because it seemed of all the places in the world, London would have me.
Landing in Heathrow was a bit like jumping from a cloud. My four years here I have wondered at all the people who have been there to catch me in various ways, regardless of where I’d come from or why. This is why I love this place: in London, everyone gets a second chance, though you may pay dearly for it.
For the first three years here I tuned out American politics. I took a long sabbatical from doing the cassandra song, reacting to Bush. I couldn’t bear the sound of his voice, his brutal misuse of language, the chaos he seemed to court while America went to hell.
With the election just two weeks away I’ve turned my ear back to politics, gingerly at first– and now rather voraciously. I first heard of Obama in the context of the anti-war movement. His speech in 2002 to the crowd gathered at the Federal Plaza in Chicago were the first brave, true words I’d heard about the war from a politician. He was one of the first mainstream politicians to not treat the anti-war movement like the the madwoman in the attic. Yeah, the dems wanted our vote but could we please just play nice and tick boxes?
I also remember Hillary voting for the war and feeling betrayed– it’s why I couldn’t get behind her in the primaries. Could she look me in the eye as an activist and shake my hand or would the ones who do the grassroots work still be at the kiddie table, being told to be quiet?
I remember hearing Obama’s speech in 2002 and thinking, “He should be president”– but it seemed some crazy thing that would never happen. I’ve had my hopes dashed at election time before, always settling for the lesser of two evils, but there’s one thing that’s different this time. Obama is a fighter. Read his speech from 2002 and it’s still relevant today. People say he’s all rhetoric but after 8 years of Bush’s misuse of the language, what is wrong with wanting someone who can use the language in all its power to reassure, persuade and embolden?
For the first time in my life there is a candidate who speaks directly to me with immediacy and relevance, making me consider again the potential of innocence. Not the innocence of ignorance but that of hope. To be free of cynicism, to believe in renewal. I recall, without apology, that this feeling is exactly what it is to be American.