In 2008, I travelled to Washington DC to campaign for a young long-shot presidential candidate named Barack Obama. I joined my American friends to go door to door in Virginia to identified Democrat households. We were tasked with reminding folks to vote and seeing if they needed a ride to the polling station on Election Day. Some people said Canadians had no business being in the US for the campaign, and maybe that’s true.
But I was there because I believed in Obama. I believed in his great American story, I believed in his offer of change for America, which would – and did – have vicarious ripple effects in my own country. I remember walking between the sprawling mansions and the tightly packed town homes in Virginia, marvelling at the two contrasts over a few short blocks. At one rickety house, we memorably danced with some older ladies on their front porch – they were giddy at the very prospect of a President Barack Obama. Later, we joined one hundred thousand people packed into a Virginia farmer’s field, patiently waiting for Obama’s last campaign speech. He arrived late and tired, sorrowful about his beloved grandma’s recent death. He did what he had to do and still fired up the crowd to get out to vote. And vote they did.
The next night, I was privileged enough to attend an election party in DC. Once CNN announced that Obama had won Virginia, the election was over. Strangers whooped and hugged each other and burst onto the streets, unable to be contained inside. In DC, the bluest of all of America, people were laughing and dancing, spilling onto the road with the honking cars, so hopeful for their futures. America was now everybody’s America, which is what this beautiful photo by White House photographer Pete Souza captures so well. This little boy could be president one day. That shining star entered his reality on Tuesday November 4, 2008.
Eight years later, I have no clever commentary about last Tuesday’s election results. This time I had more skin in this race. Earlier this month, my eldest son received his American green card to solidify his life in the US with his new wife, who is Mexican American. I now feel only a chill of fear for their future.
Zoom to a few days later. Just for fun (and in the disability world, what we call respite for beleaguered parents) my husband and I bought tickets for a Funk and Soul Dance night. The dance floor was tightly packed with a whole world of people: suburban 50-ish white people (wait, that was us), old Italian nonnas, gaggles of young Asian girls, and yes, many black people too. The crowd was a cross section of the diversity that is our planet Earth – old/young, fat/thin, rich/poor. At that point our differences didn’t matter. We were all laughing and dancing together, the music helping us forget, all as one for a few hours deep into the rainy night.
Moving slowly the next day, I felt another wash of melancholy. From my throne of white liberal Canadian privilege, I recognized what I was mourning. The US election had unearthed a profound fear of ‘the other’ – which I now realize had been there all along – I was just sheltered and naive enough not to see it. Millions of people voted (and not voted) to slide backwards towards a more homogenous, less tolerant nation. Every day, I am reminded that my youngest son is an ‘other’ too, and I also fear for him in this (not) brave new world.
In Canada we must be vigilant to ensure more intolerance and hate does not bleed across our borders. Do not think that it cannot happen here, for it already has: in how we treat our Indigenous peoples, in the rising force of people like Kellie Leitch and her ‘Canadian values’ movement. Do not be fooled.
I oscillate wildly between preaching love + kindness for one’s neighbour and vibrating with white hot outrage at the injustices that litter our world. Now is the time for us all to be wary my friends, and to stay alert – as others have been doing while I’ve stupidly had my head in the sand.
We are all one. We all belong. Do not allow anyone to tell you any different.