A lot of very exciting and very dull and very everyday things have happened since I last shared about life as a landscaper in rural Michigan (I still get weird shivers of wtf?! And yay! When I type that). However, the thing that has burdened my mind lately as we edge closer to November is my newly-established disenfranchised status. I very proudly became a United States permanent resident in August, and carry my green card around with me everywhere. For as long as I can remember I have been infatuated with the entire cosmic universe of ‘AMERICA’. I think of it lit up like a sign on Broadway with music and opportunity and fabulousness oozing out of every pore. I’m not stupid though. I know it’s a country littered with issues and seems to be very lost and divided as it searches for a new identity in this millenium. But there is an unshakeable ‘America’ core that still shines like a beacon to me and is what makes me proud to live here and have been accepted by this nation to join its residents.
The one thing I do not have, as a green card toting individual with an Australian passport, is the right to vote. Unlike many women, I grew up with no doubt that on the day I turned 18 and officially was recognized as capable of having an opinion, I would be an enfranchised citizen and able to fill out a ballot paper expressing who I wished to govern the nation of Australia. I often worked elections, counting ballot papers and running polling booths, and aside from the bonus paycheck, I always reveled in how bloody fabulous it is that the people of Australia would line up for a half an hour or more, eat their democracy sausage and freely and peaceably and privately cast an opinion for the next set of leaders. And I was secure in the fact I could fill out that ballot paper too. In fact I was blase about it. ‘Oh whatever I’ll just fill mine out later’ I’d say while dealing with how to allow citizens so old they couldn’t get out of the car to vote in a way that didn’t destroy the validity of their ballot (a true crime against democracy).
I am now disenfranchised. The United States does not permit non-citizens to vote in elections. The mid terms are approaching, and even in my little town in northern Michigan, there are political events everyday, door knockers earnestly telling you why you should vote for their candidate, I even went to a breakfast for a judge seeking election to the Michigan State Supreme Court (a woman, with four kids, significant private practice history, who volunteers for local problem courts? My new hero basically). I met the woman running against the current incumbent for our district for the state House of Representatives, who left sales to run her family farm when her father was dying of cancer and after a few decades of revolutionizing the farming community in her area has now decided to revolutionize the representation of the people in our area. Guys I feel galvanized by the passion of the Americans around me, who are speaking out on issues and declaring change all the while extolling the virtues of this amazing place that we live – in Michigan, surrounded by vast and spectacular natural beauty of lakes, and in the United States, the land of the free. But I can’t vote. And instead of thinking maybe it gives me a chance to avoid politics and stick my head in the sand and not have an opinion, I feel so decidedly left out. I can’t participate fully in the democratic system because I am an outsider. I can’t have a tangible voice in this. No skin in the game. Sure I can share my views and opinions on Facebook or through conversations with friends and family, and I can learn everything there is to know about the system and parties and people that create the framework of the nation. But that doesn’t mean anything when November comes around, and it’s the day to vote and I just can’t do it. I was on the fence about whether I would seek American citizenship, and I’m not eligible for a few years in any case. But this has been a fascinating time of reflection for me, because if I remain living here, which I intend to do, I will not accept not being able to have the right to declare my view by way of the ballot box about the way this country that I truly love and admire will go.
There is so much to contend with when you move to a new nation, but this may be the one that has surprised me most. Message: appreciate the full, dazzling beauty of being an enfranchised citizen.