The fierce urgency of now

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.

Cynics Abroad

Today as my workmates surfed the net they discovered the Palin doll, an action figure based on McCain’s VP running mate. They looked to me to explain this, being the token American.

One of my younger workmates heartbreakingly asked, “You mean Obama might lose?”

How could I explain that this Palin, who could be a character out of the Simpsons– a corrupt, lying, moose-hunting, polar bear and wolf hating, anti-choice, creationist freak has actually tipped the balance of the race in McCain’s favour?

Who are the people who would now vote for McCain because this nut job is on the ticket? Who are the people yelling Drill, Baby, Drill during her acceptance speech at the Republican convention?  How can I explain  that I have never met these Americans.  They are not my friends nor family.  They must exist but they might as well be another country. Reading the coverage of the race has brought up all the old feelings of dread and frustration at my country which I no longer call home, a country I stopped believing in years ago.

Reading coverage of the election in the British press is refreshing.  There is a depth and breadth of coverage denied the American people who are only reading and viewing mainstream sources. Unlike American coverage that sees the electoral mudslinging as entertainment, the British media actually discusses the candidates in terms of policies and political records.  It was impossible to explain to these British co-workers that the election, in the American psychic landscape, is a battle of emotional manipulation, of branding and fear-mongering: something the Republicans know how to do better than anyone.

As we all sat looking at the Sarah Palin doll, another workmate, an obsessive autograph hunter, came to take a look.  He didn’t know who she was but he hummed lasciviously, apparently liking the look of the “school girl” Palin doll.  When we explained to him that she might be the next president of the US, given that McCain, if elected, could very well die in office of his heart condition or reoccurring cancer.   He had another look and whistled, “But can you imagine if she signed that?”

Yeah, now you’re getting it.

Where the Heart is

Part of the condition of the immigrant means the heart is in two places at once. Homesickness isn’t the right word for it, because were is home?

Today, after a friend sent me the amazing headline that the California Supreme Court has essentially legalized gay marriage I feel, well, homesick.

I used to live in San Fransisco before the dot-com boom pushed out most of people like myself living hand-to-mouth. Years ago I went back and visited San Francisco briefly during that moment when numerous gay couples were getting married to push the political envelope. City Hall was an OTT mass wedding centre and the whole city had this glow– more than it’s usual tender lighting– as if everyone was just a little in love.

I can only imagine the street parties going down there now. How I wish I was there. Cali, I love you.