In 2004, when our self-proclaimed ‘war president’ was reelected, I left the country. I was twenty-two years old and felt politically disenfranchised. Moving to South America and seeing the world wasn’t anything like post 9/11 America feared it was, was one of the best things I have ever done in my life.
This election cycle reminds me a lot of that time twelve years ago when I was so frustrated with my birth nation. This time might be worse. It may be even more alienating to politically engaged youth today.
Our options go beyond choosing the lesser of two evils.
When I left it was scary. I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t speak the language. I didn’t know the culture. All I knew was that I was frustrated with what was happening in the United States and wanted to remove myself from it.
I had spent three years believing that electing the right people, marching at protests and organizing teach-ins was all we needed. We could present our case, we could show that war and xenophobia was unnecessary and wrong, and if we were right and we worked hard enough we would prevail. And we worked hard and spoke loudly, and the bombs fell anyway. Then we reelected the people who orchestrated it all, even after it was known that they intentionally manipulated public opinion and mislead us to that war. It was too much for me. I had the sneaking suspicion that the people we were bombing were not so different from us; that the world we were told to fear was not so scary.
To live in South America made me see the world in a whole new way. I moved to Ecuador, a nation that usually doesn’t make the news but when it does it’s almost always bad. I may have suspected the world was better than I was lead to believe but to see it with my own eyes, to feel it with my own hands was powerful and uplifting.
Fight for a better world, and do it on your own terms. That might mean you campaign for a candidate you don’t like, it might mean you have to live a life in opposition. But it doesn’t have too.
When I left many people told me that if I disagreed with the direction the nation was headed then it was my responsibility to stay and try to change it. I’m sure people would say the same today. It’s noble to try to make the world a better place, but the world is much larger than the confines of the United States. One of the reasons I wanted to leave was because of a nationalism that seemed to opine that people and actions within the US were more valuable than those outside it. For me, that was much more a reason to leave rather than one to stay.
I could have stayed and fought to stop the next war, but I was tired of fighting to make the bad more palatable. Instead, in Ecuador I worked at a free university and participated in some amazing social movements that disposed a corrupt government and replaced it with a better one. I choose to work toward speeding the positive rather than slowing the negative.
To be fair, you can devote yourself to the positive in the US as well. There are some wonderful things happening here that could use your help. I found it easier to pursue while abroad. And it’s worth noting that America is not equal. For many people, picking up and leaving is not a realistic option. I was twenty-two, had no children and little debt.
I moved back to the US in 2010 and have been in and out ever since. I have a job with the United Nations in New York every autumn and tend to live elsewhere the rest of the year. I haven’t completely given up on the US, but I’m happiest with one foot out.
Despite what a presidential candidate might say, and what far too much of the electorate believes, the world is a wonderful place. Consider experiencing it for yourself.