‘I am a refugee’

Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.

Why?

Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.

After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.

As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.

In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.

At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.

When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.

Protest Postcard #11 of 50

Continuing the fight for Civil Rights

In the past few years, I’ve been rereading much of the writings from the  civil rights era in the US. Familiar names like Martin Luther King, Jr. and John Lewis along with the works of  James Baldwin, Angela Davis and Malcom X and histories detailing the lives of Emmett Till and Medgar Evers have featured amongst my reading lists.

It’s crazy how relevant those works are today despite being 50 or more years old. Many of these writings could have just as easily been written today. We still need to make further progress vis-à-vis racial equality, basic rights and justice, particularly in making right generations and centuries of oppression and injustice along with a fair amount of racial violence.

Granting further for others does not intimidate me nor leave me fearful that my own rights will be somehow diminished or limited. More rights for you means I will not enjoy a benefit or privilege based simply on my race or class or standing granted by birth within a particular category. Understanding my own privileges helps me understand what systemic changes are necessary in order to achieve equity and in order to right historical wrongs, whether perpetrated by myself or my ancestors. Generational pain is real and persistent. Understanding that helps me do better and helps my communities become more inclusive and more just.

I’m thankful for a new generation of writers like Ta-nehisi Coates
and Ibram X Kendi and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I’m enormously grateful to the many writers and activists who share their histories and their guidance on how we can be better allies and antiracists.

But, I’d be even happier if such works highlighting our need to continually work towards a more just society were unnecessary.

Protest postcard #10 of 50

In this house…

I’m a bit behind — work and rest both kept me from posting a daily protest postcard here. [In my defence, I’ve done so elsewhere!]

In our house, we live by each of these phrases, particularly the phrase in the middle.

We are not threatened by equality; we embrace and work towards it. And, those individuals who strive towards equality are truly quality folks we’d like in our circle.

We seek to ensure that all human rights are honoured, particularly amongst and for women and girls.

Black lives matter. Full fucking stop.

Love is love, and it is a thing to behold and celebrate. The day marriage equality became a reality for all in the US was an incredibly happy day for us.

And humans can never be illegal. Their reasons for being undocumented are varied and complex, and largely depend on bureaucracies just as difficult to navigate as their journeys and attempts to escape unnamed or unknown horrors.

Standing up for any one of these principles doesn’t negate us or any of our own struggles nor does it diminish our own worth. In fact, standing up for the rights of others strengthens rights for all and helps to enshrine these principles into our society and community. And, that renders each of us more valuable and our communities more just and inclusive.

Protest Postcard #8 of 50

Diversity is beautiful

I love diversity.

It is not something that instills fear or anxiety in me. In fact, monotony does that.

When everyone looks the same, acts the same, believes in the same things, I am filled with a sense of uneasiness. Group think has never really been my thing.

I live now in a place where most people look very much alike. And I miss and long for the diversity that I found comfort in from my communities in the US. In many ways, I feel like I took that diversity for granted when I lived in the US. Whenever we leave Finland now, it’s always shocking to realise just how homogeneous becomes normal. But, in the US, those communities and all those in them were beautiful to me. From the people, to the accents, to the landscapes, to the foods, I’ve found beauty in those differences.

As a nation comprised of immigrants and their descendants, the country’s canvas is a vast tapestry of stories and histories rich and varied. Those histories are not always happy nor pleasant, particularly when we add in the horrific histories of indigenous people and slaves those of us who claim European ancestry abused, exploited or decimated. I’d like to think we can learn from our past mistakes and try to atone for and correct them. But, that’s a longer post, and beyond the scope of today’s protest postcard.

To me, the people of the US in all of our diversity are what make us who we are and provide us with a uniquely rich collection of beliefs, traditions and ideas.

That’s worth celebrating and protecting. It’d be bloody boring if we all looked and acted the same, no?

Protest postcard #7 of 50

Intersectionality

Does the intersectionality of race, gender and sexuality really need further explanation?

Spend five minutes on social media and it’s clear that it does.

Perhaps it’s the anthropologist in me, or just a matter of my personality. I’ve long been interested in the interconnection between things, particularly the social constructs we humans use to inform our realities and world views. Specifically, how we decide who represents us versus who we view as them fascinates — and, at times, horrifies — me. But, those intersections and interconnections between categories, which place each us in various positions of privilege or groups to which discrimination and stigma are directed, are also used to divide us by the powers that be.

If we’re fighting one another, we cannot fight them. Hell, we might just miss what exactly they are doing to begin with.

My feminism is one which examines those intersections and attempts to empower those with the least power. It gives voice to the voiceless. Makes visible the invisible. Accepts the unacceptable.

I cannot divorce my ethnicity from my class from my gender from my sexuality. In my world, no one should need to. But, I can and try as much as possible to recognise where I fall along the intersectionality continuum. And, I attempt to work towards minimising the distance between categories along that scale for those less advantaged whilst aiming for the creation of an equitable, just and empowering society for all.

This is what democracy looks like

‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Free speech and the freedom to assemble are so incredibly precious. And a free press allows us to remain informed as voters as well as citizens and residents. But, they are also crucial to the functioning and survival of the ideals of democracy, if not democracy itself.

To me, free speech is a fundamental component of a healthy exchange of ideas. It means being able to voice your beliefs and notions of what society should look like along with the shape of its institutions. It also means listening to the ideas and beliefs of others without them fearing retribution or retaliation. Not deciding that one group is the only voice that matters. Not declaring one belief system superior to all others. Not demonising individuals or groups who think differently. But, forging a path towards understanding and allowing room for discussions and consensus to flourish.

I may disagree with someone; but I will defend their right to speak up and be heard so long as they do so peaceably and respectfully. I only ask that they do the same for me.

This right — freedom of speech — is delicate. And in too many places in the world, it is not guaranteed. The line between critic and dissenter is so blurred that any voice of concern becomes threatened. In some places, voices of opposition are beaten by authorities, jailed and tortured. In others, those expressing their opposition are disappeared.

I genuinely fear that soon enough that first and most precious right — endowed to us all in the United States through the First Amendment because it is so crucial to every other right — will be shattered. That voices of dissent will be silenced and opposition ostracised if not persecuted. It looks as though it’s already happening given the events of 2020.

To me, protests are truly American. Indeed, our country began as a protest against a king. And these posts are my way of showing solidarity with all those who continue to let their voices be heard, especially when it is difficult and the outcome uncertain.

Protest Postcard #4 of 50

(Un)healthy opposition

Heather Cox Richardson is a hero to me. Her near-daily summations of the daily mayhem in the United States have been not just helpful and insightful, but at times necessary.

Today’s was particularly poignant.

Having lived in Russia and seen the remnants and return of a one-party (or one-leader) system, and being married to a man who grew up in a one-party system and only knew that reality for most of his life, I understand and shiver at the idea of this becoming a reality in my own country.

I think this, more than anything, is what has troubled for me quite some time. Perhaps traces of the demonisation of the opposition reflect the very initial conversations I had with my conservative family, particularly my uncle ca ’92 or ’93, regarding politics, and his insistence that all Democrats are bad. (Never mind that I’ve pretty much self-identified as an independent for most of my adult life.)

Yes, I am a progressive and fall far-left on the US political spectrum; but, I welcome consensus-building and compromise. I understand that ‘my ideals’ are my own and may not work for a behemoth like the very large and diverse United States, thanks to discussions with friends of mine willing to have some tough discussions (I’m looking at you Cissy Walker & Todd Hoven). But, fundamentally, I’ve always believed that we as a country should be ‘united’ — not divided and at each other’s throats, out to destroy and tear one another down. And, beginning with Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America, it’s felt increasingly as if anyone who isn’t a Republican is painted as a traitor whilst anyone who openly questions or attempts to compromise on any issues supported by the GOP is some sort of pinko communist who hates America. (I have been labelled as someone who hates her country by people I love, an accusation that cut me to the core.)

It’s probably been more than a month now that Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Know Your Enemy‘ has been on constant repeat in my head. And, every day that I read posts, comments, etc regarding the issue or news de jour, I can’t help but wonder how we are ever going to collectively escape or emerge from this particular moment.

The United States, when it was united and parties worked together rather than with a winner-take-all attitude (think post WWII and during the Civil Rights era) was strongest, when we understood that we were a work in progress and needed to continually do better. Was it perfect? Hell, no. As a feminist, I’m very much happy to be living now rather than then. However, changes were possible (VRA and the Civil Rights Act come to mind along with women’s rights in general), and we could at least image a better future for our children and grandchildren.

But, more importantly, those we elected had that simple notion in mind — working together and collectively towards a better future.

All I see today is a party that is fighting tooth and nail along with its mouthpieces a la various talking heads to rip us apart and create a view of ‘the other’ as the enemy. (And, yes, I am speaking of the Republican party and the likes of Fox and worse.)

I support free speech, the freedom to assemble and the freedom to choose to worship whatever you deity you believe in.
I support fairness and justice. For all.

I love my country and still think the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence are incredible documents, even if they failed to recognise me as a woman or any person of colour as equally deserving of protections — they were designed to be amendable, and that’s bloody brilliant.

And, I desperately want to be able to discuss rationally and reasonably how to make the great experiment that is the United — emphasis on united — States of America a better place for all of us. All. Of. Us.

I understand that those conversations won’t be easy. But, they are necessary. And, even if you choose to elect officials I would not and with whom I disagree or whom I personally find reprehensible, I will fight like hell for you to be able to cast your vote. Why? Because every vote matters and every single vote should be counted, whether it agrees with mine or not.

Good trouble = voting

07/30 Mike Luckovich: John’s bridge, Atlanta Journal Constitution

John Lewis, who literally fought like hell to ensure black Americans (and all Americans) could secure the same rights, not least the right to vote, that you and I have, will be laid to rest today in Atlanta. He fought his entire life for justice and to ensure that those who had no voice were not forgotten and would be heard. And, his work and legacy are far from complete.

I have a confession.

I took voting for granted for a long while. I voted regularly and researched the candidates I’d be voting for to ensure they reflected my own vision for my community. But, I also occasionally missed a local election or voted straight ticket out of laziness or simple complacency. I voted, but… I could have done better.

It wasn’t until I watched my husband—Cuban by birth and to the core, and an exile from his own country because he dared think outside the state-sanctioned box—vote the first time we were eligible to vote in Finland, our home by default. He was in his 50s at that time, as we left our neighbourhood polling station. He looked at me, and told me it was the first time in his life that he knew definitively that his vote mattered and would be counted. And, that he felt heard and seen.

I no longer to take voting for granted. I think of my husband’s words each time I sort through the details of ensuring I can vote overseas now. It matters. And, not everyone enjoys the same rights that we do to exercise our voices freely.

Please, check your voter registration details (and register if you haven’t) to make sure everything from the spelling of your name to your address is correct and up-to-date. If you plan to vote by absentee ballot, request your ballot now and know what you need to research and how you’ll vote (scroll down to ‘Know Your State’) before your ballot arrives. And, given Covid and issues with United States and other Postal Services, make sure you send your ballot with sufficient time to ensure it arrives in time to be counted.

If you have done as much of the above as you can, pour yourself your favourite beverage and spread the word to your friends and family. (Hell, you can just share this post, if you want, although, just sharing the link vote.org is fine, too.)

If you are healthy and feel confident enough to volunteer as a poll worker in your community, do so. So many poll workers are retired and they are at an increased risk for Covid. Do a quick Google search to see what the rules are in your state / community. And, if you have teenage kids and want them to understand the importance of civic duty, even if they cannot vote, they may be able to work the polls.

There are so many ways you can help make this specific election matter. But, it requires doing something. So, let’s do some good and do something.

John Lewis fought for all of us and shed his own blood on that bridge in Selma so that we and others wouldn’t need to. He got into good, necessary trouble his entire life so that our voices would be heard and counted. Now, it’s up to us. The best simplest sort of good, necessary trouble we can get into and perhaps the most patriotic act is the simple act of voting.

Vote. Please.

I voted weeks ago.

The process as an overseas American voter was relatively easy and straightforward for me. My biggest concern was that my voter registration information made its way to the Voter Registrar’s office in Connecticut by the deadline, and that I’d receive my ballot with plenty of time to mail it back ensuring its arrival before election day.

My registration arrived. My ballot arrived (via email—a first for me). I printed it off that day and mailed it back in early October. My civic duty was fulfilled.

This process is not new to me, given that I’ve voted via absentee ballot in every election since 2000.  I miss the I voted stickers, naturally. But, each year, I complete and fill in the overseas voter registration forms, mail them off and wait. It’s a pain, but it is necessary. Particularly now.

Please, vote. Far too many individuals do not take the time to exercise their right and civic duty by voting, particularly in mid-term elections. Far too many individuals assume that their one vote doesn’t make any difference at all. Far too many individuals think that politics has absolutely nothing to do with their daily lives.

There was a time in my life when I didn’t think of mid-term elections or my one absentee ballot as all that important. That changed in 2012, when I watched my husband vote in a municipal election in Finland.

Because we are residents in Finland, who have lived here for more than two years, we are granted the right to vote in municipal elections — not national elections since we are not citizens. But, we can exercise our voices on matters related to community-level issues, issues which perhaps affect us more. Those elections coincided with elections in the US, and I found myself researching candidates on both sides of the pond for both of my homes. But, I also watched as my husband took his civic duty incredibly seriously.

It wasn’t until after he voted that I fully understood how meaningful that experience was for him. Immediately after he voted, he said to me, ‘That’s the first time in my life that I’ve voted and known that my vote would be counted and it mattered.’ He was 52 years old at the time.

As a Cuban, who lived at times in the US and Russia, he was never able to take part in elections other than those in his home country. Cuban elections are not exactly ‘elections’. Given this experience, he understands perhaps more than most just how important showing up and exercising that privilege is. And, he understands voting as a mighty powerful privilege granted to few. He has not nor will he miss an opportunity to vote in Finland since being granted that right.

[To give you an idea of how seriously he takes this, during the last municipal election, he again researched candidates and platforms, discussed it at length with me, and then voted, and helped me get to the local polling station before they closed. Those elections coincided with a particularly awful bout of the flu which had me bedridden. As much as I was ready to blow off voting, he all-but offered to carry me to the polling station. I ended up voting about 30 minutes before the polling station closed.]

Voting is a beautiful thing to witness. That democratic process carries immense power, if only we exercise it. It conveys even more meaning and power to those who enjoy it later in life and do not accept it as a given. Voting is precious and can just as easily be taken away. We must exercise that right and we must protect by making informed decisions which matter not just for our own personal selfish reasons, but also for our society as a whole.

Please, vote. Encourage your friends and family and strangers to vote. Take the time to help someone vote if they need assistance finding or getting to their polling station. So, so many individuals wish they had the opportunity, right and privilege so many of us take for granted.

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