Saturday, June 10, 2006

To Stay or Go through a Foreign Pair of eyes

It’s a perennial argument, one of those old conundrums. An evil regime comes to power. What does one do? Go into exile? Stay and wait it out? Stay and resist? Some infinitely complex combination of all three? Are those who leave cowards who are giving up? Are those who stay complicit, responsible for propping up the regime? And what about those who cannot leave?

“Come on and let me know, Should I stay or should I go?”

After November 2004, it was an argument that folks from the U.S. had quite a bit. As someone who lived there for a long time, and as someone who’s not terribly good at staying put, it’s one I have a stake in.

Many of my close friends in the U.S. are non-nationals. When I think of them, it's with a low-grade anxiety, a nagging fear and a sense of threat, as though a door were slowly, almost imperceptibly, closing on them. Increasingly I feel that same worry and concern for my friends who are U.S. nationals.

I think that the presumption that those who leave are giving up, abdicating their responsibilities, abandoning their brethren, or turning their backs on political activism, is deeply mistaken. I think that presumption weakens our ability to resist the Bush regime by blinding us to the fact that all politics - even the most local of politics - is ultimately global in its implications.

We live in a world where `all the planet's little wars are joining hands.' (apologies to The The )

But so are all the world's little struggles for human rights.

I don't think it matters where you push back, so long as you push hard. It doesn't matter to me whether you want to fight primarily on the terrain of anti-war activism, or ending torture, or anti-racism, or electoral reform, or combating homophobia and heterosexism, or opposing sexism or any of a number of other human rights issues – so long as you do so in a way that recognises that all these struggles are linked.

Similarly, the geographic region of the planet that you happen to live while you're pushing back doesn't matter to me either. It does, however, matter to me that you get to choose where to live: one of the ways that I push back is by supporting freedom of movement.

It is true that only U.S. citizens vote in U.S. elections, but they don't have to be in the U.S. to do so.

And they sure as hell don’t have to be in the U.S. to take part in struggles for human rights. These are global struggles: they are not national.

Say it three times fast - the struggle to get rid of Bushco and his supporters is international not national. Even within U.S. borders. Maybe you can't tell just by looking around you, but I'll guarantee that the next time you're out on a big protest march some of the people you're marching side by side with will be foreigners. That was true in 2004: it is even more so now.

Let me tell you a story.

Shortly before I left the United States, I was talking with an old friend from a sophisticated, vibrant, thriving, lively metropolis - one of the greatest cities of the world. I'm from a small, provincial, little city on a small sparsely populated island. Both have their beauties, both have their uglinesses. But if we'd stayed put and not ventured into the wider world, we'd never have become friends.

We're both long-time foreigners and activists – well all our adult lives, anyway. We were talking about why he had decided to stay and why I was leaving (or rather why I was glad to be leaving, since leaving for me had rather little to do with choice).

He quoted John Lennon, "If I'd lived in Roman times, I'd have lived in Rome. Where else? Today America is the Roman Empire . . ."

And I thought about that for a bit. Neither of us were huge fans of empire. Indeed, several years earlier that John Lennon quotation had been a small part of why I had moved to `Rome.'

I answered, "Give me a lever long enough and a firm place to stand" or words to that effect.

And our conversation drifted on to other topics.

Perhaps because we'd both been foreigners for a long time and because we'd been through some rough fights together, there wasn't any talk of betrayal, or abdicating political responsibility, abandonment, or complicity. He didn't accuse me of giving up the fight. I didn't accuse him of propping up a military empire through his taxes.

I know I can count on him to be pushing hard in his corner of the world, whereever that may be at any time. I'm pretty damn sure he knows he can be counting on me to be doing the same in mine, wherever that may be at any moment.

Being a habitual foreigner is costly - I don't think it's the easy option some think. You end up missing a lot of people and being homesick for a lot of different places. I still see ghosts all the time - my good right eye tricks me into thinking I see old friends in places where I only have new friends. It's easy to be lonely. Everywhere is home and nowhere is home. Everything is transient and temporary. Contingent. And you never quite fit in, you never simply `belong.' Not even when you go back to the places you first came from. Always, you must answer questions about `where are you from?' - questions to which there are no longer any simple answers.

But the costs are also the prize. And the prize is that the old national allegiances don't fit any more. Because you have friends and allies strung out across the world like pearls, and your loyalties are to them and to the ideals that you share with them and these are the property and product of no single nation. And through them your loyalties are to the world - and not to the little patch of dust and earth where you happened by pure chance to be born.

This is a dusted off and tidied version of something I posted back at dKos on 1/4/05, when someone was being hauled through the coals for having the temerity to announce that he was emigrating.


Blogger Nanette said...

I've thought about this from time to time.

My tethers aren't of nation but of people. My mom is too old and ill to really go far, and my daughter and so on.

But even without tethers my thought has been... where to go? So many countries nowadays seem to be moving to the far right, and while things in some of them are not as drastic as they are here (I don't think), I am not sure they are all that far behind.

Then, add to that the increased racism that comes along with the right wing and there is yet another layer.

But, I agree... one can fight for the same things on whichever soil on stand, because those things are universal. Something that too many people forget.

I'm glad you reposted this!

6/11/2006 2:48 am  
Blogger dove said...

Hi Nanette, I'll have to wait until tomorrow to respond properly, but wanted to at least acknowledge brilliance. (it's 4a.m. and coherence is eluding me but yes,issues around family and choice of destination are huge)

Off topic, just dropped you a line.

6/11/2006 4:14 am  
Blogger dove said...

Yes -- both times leaving people was the hardest thing.

Where to go? There are no utopias, that's for sure.

I think the U.K. (at least in the North -- there are some huge political fractures in this country) has a left -- not a left with political representation right now, but nevertheless something that exerts some power. I think too that at least in the North, that while there is not less racism, there is at least less silence around it. When I lived in the U.S. it struck me that it was a subject that many white people were very silent about indeed. That may be a class thing too though.

I am heartened by what's happening in France with the RESF and also by Berlusconi's downfall though.

6/11/2006 11:16 am  
Blogger Nanette said...

The time might come when I am untethered enough (or desperate enough) to go somewhere, but I have a feeling maybe not.

I'd like to wander around just to wander, and maybe one day I will, but I've decided that since people get to make up stuff about what happens after they die (heaven/hell, energy forces, reincarnation and so on) that I am going to just plan on traveling through countries (and time and space) when I'm dead.

Well, and when I'm alive too, but the other has the advantage of bypassing all the airport security and lost luggage hassles. I think.

I actually think I prefer less silence around racism... when it's silent you have to look for other clues (refusal to look you in the eyes - or look at you at all, really, drawing kids away and so on) which is tiresome. Then again, I'm not sure I'd like blatant, in your face racism either, ;)

It's sad that it seems it would be more of a concern now than it was even 10-15 years ago. Again, I think, a measure of right wing gains, in the US and I suspect other countries. Also though, so much of the underlying gunk has never fully been taken out and burnt to a crisp somewhere, so it's probably going to continue to come and go in waves, depending on who has use for who is likely to hate which group.

6/12/2006 3:43 am  

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