November 3, 2008

A bit of the American-abroad experiance leading up to the US election

My first Halloween in Amsterdam was a complete success. I made it to two different parties and was invited to a third around 4.30am, but I had to give up around that time to head home. The most important part of my first Amsterdam Halloween - well, besides riding around like a lunatic with two people on a bike dressed as monsters - was the fact that clearly, there is an all-night party scene for this holiday, which means I can live here for the rest of my life quite happily.

So with Halloween behind me, the only thing left to do is stress about the US elections. I've been asked countless times what I'm going to do on Election night, and the answer remains the same: I have no idea. I do know I'll go to work during the day and I'll go climbing in the evening, and when I get done with that it will still be prime voting time in the US and I will be cursing the time difference. If you listen to BBC or Radio Netherlands podcasts, you hear all kinds of positive things about how Obama is ahead in polls and it's impossible for McCain to win, but I just can't buy it. I have been living in a wonderful bubble for most of my life, surrounded by educated, liberal, like-minded people. I like my bubble, it's a happy place. But because of that bubble, I had no idea what the rest of the United States was really up to back in 2004 when Americans elected Bush again. That was a very, very depressing day.

A recent Deutsche Well podcast featured interviews with people in Africa and Europe talking about how they're volunteering for the Obama campaign. These volunteers are not American, have never lived in the US, have no plans to live in the US, and obviously can't vote for the US president. Yet they're taking part by encouraging their American-abroad friends or American tourists to register and vote for Obama with absentee ballots. Here in Amsterdam there are countless different events and parties going on. Things like this make me feel an intense pressure to have my country deliver the candidate that the rest of the world wants so badly, but I just have no idea if the same country that voted for Bush twice can turn around and vote Obama. I also have no faith in voting machines and I worry about an electoral college tie and find myself saying and thinking things I'd never thought I'd say. Like - good, I'm glad Obama is spending a zillion dollars to saturate the market with advertisements - you know, zillions of dollars that could be feeding starving people all over the world. In fact, let him raise even more, whatever it takes, hopefully the American economy will get even worse because that seems to help him out in the polls. I mean, honestly, I've said that stuff out loud! I can't wait for this to all be over so I can start thinking rationally again.

I also tell myself this: if McCain wins, my day-to-day life - and the lives of most of my friends - will not really change for the worse. It can not possibly get worse than Bush - that's the good thing about hitting rock-bottom with your elected officials, there's really no lower you can go.

So what's it like being an American abroad during this election? Well, while I don't get hit with radio and TV ads every other minute, the news about the US election is in every paper I read, in every (European) podcast I listen to, and is talked about extensively on the Dutch radio station I listen to every morning and night. I do get asked by strangers if I've voted and who I voted for once they find out I'm American. I get asked what I think is going to happen, and what it's like in the US right now - which I can't really answer since I'm not there. I can only tell my friends (and random strangers) here that everyone I know in the US is voting, and they're voting for Obama. There are already stories of people waiting for 6 hours on line to cast their ballots (early voting... though those votes won't start to get counted until the 4th of November). The Americans I know won't let anything get in their way of voting, even if they're overseas - from Columbia to Korea, they're all voting.

But that's just the Americans I know. I can't speak for the rest of the country. I just hope that we - the global community - get the result that will be best for the world. For now, we wait and keep our fingers crossed.


megan said...

You know, here in Colombia, people are much more split on the candidates. And me too, actually. I remember being so wildly enthusiastic about Kerry back in 2004 (and SO disappointed when he didn't win), but it was mostly a mandate on Bush. This time around, I've tried to stay moderate and level-headed, not just blindly linking McCain to Bush and blaming Republicans for the demise of the economy. I've read so many Op-Eds from both sides, and I go over to whenever I have an inkling of doubt about something. I like that Obama has energized and inspired a generation, but frankly, I have serious doubts about what he's actually going to do as president, and it kind of annoys me that more people don't. They really think of him as a savior, when apart from his campaign and his character (two very telling signs, to be sure), there's not a whole lot else that will predict for us what kind of leader he'll be. Something that puts me at ease about my decision, is that Obama's run a fierce campaign, always maintaining his integrity. Whereas as soon as McCain hired Bush's campaign gurus and Sarah Palin, he lost any moderate tendencies I might have. So, I have no doubt about my choice, but it wasn't made blindly or without some creeping doubts. And, frankly, it kind of annoys me when people (especially non-Americans) seem to think that it should be.

holly said...

here's hoping for the kind of win that down the road makes international travel easier for everyone. the kind of win that makes americans a little less hated and a lot more mobile. here's hoping...