Sunday, March 06, 2016

My feminism extends beyond US borders, and it informs my first-ever vote as a new American citizen

Police in Honduras repress women protesting violence against women. Photo via Telesur.

In the days and years before January 22, 2016, when I became a US citizen, the question of whom to vote for was always a hypothetical one for me.

Oh, that doesn't mean I didn't think about, write about, and discuss endlessly at our dinner table all the good, bad, and ugly features of every candidate vying for the votes of my husband and two of my three sons, US citizens by birth. The Huz is our main breadwinner, without a doubt, and we live where his business lives--as opposed to where I would prefer to live--making him the de facto head of the family. But as the saying goes (certainly as it goes in the so-called traditionally "patriarchal" countries I've lived in), the man may be the head, but the woman is the neck that turns the head.

So it would be dishonest of me to say that my interest in presidential politics was just academic. It would be disingenuous of me to say that in researching, analyzing, and discussing the candidates' records and policy proposals; their personal histories and present-day characters; and their values (insofar as it is ever possible to assess those with 100% accuracy when the person one is evaluating only exists in the electronic boxes in one's home), that I was merely indulging a hobby. A rather masochistic hobby.

I was amassing the data, evaluating it, and applying it to the progressive values we've taught our kids, the values that my family and I strive to uphold in all areas of life, not just politics. I was doing my job as "the neck".

In 2008, I was genuinely torn. To my mind, there was not that much difference between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. All things being equal, I told myself, my feminist self, I would have to support the woman candidate because she would bring to the nation's highest office a range of experiential qualities that a man never could. In the same way that, prior to giving birth to my first child, I always thought I knew what agonizing physical pain was (I had, after all, broken long bones while riding horses, and I'd suffered through a few tropical viruses) but in reality could not possibly know what it was really like until I'd gone through it myself. Likewise, then, a man--even a man who was the most empathetic creature on the planet--could nonetheless never truly understand what it was like to go through life as a woman in our culture.

That mattered a great deal to me. (It still does.) I connected with Hillary Clinton on a number of levels, just as the data tells us that women in my demographic tend to. We've experienced sexism and harassment; we've been underestimated and underpaid; we've seen our perceived worth reduced to our fuckability and outward appearance, even as we are simultaneously told to cover up those attributes lest we cause a helpless male superior at work (or else some rando dude in the parking lot) to accidentally rape us. (Ah yes, rape. That vile and violent power-display thing.)

Only a woman could truly know, at the experiential level, what all that shit feels like. How it talks to us, deep inside our brains, telling us we are not as good, not as smart, not pretty enough, not thin enough, too thin, too pretty, too loud, too quiet, and now, for me anyway, too old. Even as we manage to do well in the face of all of that because (if we were lucky) we had a role model or two in our family or circle of friends who insisted that we could, or else, we found in the literature or art or cinema some small gem of wisdom and affirmation that made us realize we could--indeed, look at what we've been through, we already have.

At the same time, though, and despite the powerful impetus to link arms with Hillary Clinton and support her in her quest to become the country's first woman president, I could not ignore her Iraq vote. The two candidates were so similar, in so many ways, but that one difference meant a lot to me. I believed 2008 Barack Obama when he said he would end the wars and bring everyone home. More than that, I believed him when he said he did not go along with the herd--he did not cave to pressure from war hawks, and this, in turn, indicated that even as a young senator, he had his own mind and he had the right ethics--the kind of ethics that had him standing up to the murderous George W. Bush and his colleagues.

Our dinner conversations began to center around Barack Obama. We read his book, Dreams From My Father. (Well, I did--I can't say for sure if the boys did.) I still longed for a really left-leaning candidate, one who broke free from the neoliberals in the Democratic party, the way that terrific, outspoken Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders did in the Senate. "If BERNIE ever runs for president," I declared, "I'm becoming a citizen so I can go with you guys to the poll and vote for him myself."

Fast-forward to last year. Bernie announced his run and I filed for citizenship, something I know well I should have done years ago--I've been eligible since 1979!--but didn't, because a big part of my heart still lived in England, where other Socialists like me were living (and living in the sunlight, unashamed and unassailed), and I felt it would be unethical to become an American when that English part of me still had blood flowing through it. Bernie, a Democratic Socialist, possibly becoming president? Well, then!

And here we are. We're looking at the increasing inevitability that, despite a heroic run by Senator Sanders, Hillary Clinton will be the Democratic nominee. But I can't vote for her, even though I am now a citizen as well as a feminist.

It's the war/foreign policy thing again. The foreign policy history that Secretary Clinton forged between 2008 and now. It's about Libya. And, especially for me, Honduras. The latter received such scant coverage in this country, it broke (and continues to break) my heart. But it matters a great deal. You see, I lived in Honduras as a young teen--lived through the 1974 Coup--and another part of my heart is with the people of that country, too. Last week, an activist for the indigenous people and campesinos (small farmers) and women of Honduras, a brave and beloved woman activist named Berta Cáceres, was shot dead in her home. What does this have to do with Hillary Clinton? In 2009, as Secretary of State, Clinton shepherded in the new, hard-right, School-of-the-Americas trained military junta who ousted a democratically-elected president, Manuel Zelaya. "Ousted" is not quite the right word: after a contentious back-and-forth between Zelaya and the (far) more rightwing factions of the government, soldiers broke into the president's house, beat him up, held him at gunpoint, and dragged him onto a plane--still in his pajamas--and flew him out of the country.

A bit of background: Mel Zelaya was himself a member of oligarchic society in Honduras. As you are probably aware, Honduras is practically a case study in what goes wrong when income equality gets too out-of-hand. You have a tiny few owning everything, and you have multinational corporations joining forces with them to seize every resource there is, and you have a vast many who have virtually nothing. "Nothing" often means: no electricity, no running water, no shelter, no food. You have fifteen-year-olds with AKs strapped to them stopping you in the street at gunpoint to ask for your ID, and when you hand them your passport, they look at it upside down because they don't know how to read. (True story.) You have indigenous people being abused at every turn, having their waterways seized for dam projects, their land and mountains destroyed by mining interests, their fields taken over by corporate fruit industries. You have a population kept in line by all the traditional fascistic means: sexism, hard-line religion (in the case of Honduras, the Catholic church), and militarized police forces who beat and kill. Who make people disappear.

But Zelaya, despite his upbringing, had the heart of a leftist. Once elected, he set about making birth control available to poor women. Even Plan B. He stood up and apologized for the country's history of persecuting LGBT individuals, and told them they were okay, they would be safe now. He constantly advocated for the poor, for the indigenous communities, for the campesinos. He worked alongside Berta Cáceres, and other activists like her. He was in the process of pushing for a significant raise in the country's minimum wage when he was "ousted".

When the coup happened, in 2009, President Obama at first condemned it. As did the UN, as did the OAS. Many Latin American leaders were calling for the US to do something--to demand that Zelaya be allowed to return to his country, where tens of thousands of people were marching in the street, peacefully protesting and calling for their president's safe return (and getting beaten and shot for their trouble). In a few days, the press moved on. Suddenly, our US president was saying nothing. 

Hillary Clinton's emails, released last summer, tell us why. She was very actively involved in supporting the installation of the new, right-wing government. This has been covered by Democracy Now, TeleSur, and other "alternative" media. This piece in The Nation, written by noted Latin American scholar Greg Grandin, is a good one to start with.

Why is this important to me, and why should it be important to every feminist who is voting in the presidential election? Because of what happened in the aftermath of Zelaya's violent removal from office in 2009--in the years between then, and 2016.

Draconian abortion laws were put into place. Birth control became unaffordable once again and Plan B was banned.

LGBT individuals were beaten and killed, after they had just begun to feel as though this was their country too, they were free. Now it was, Oh, sorry, you're actually NOT safe. You will be beaten if you're lucky; murdered and mutilated if you're not.

Multinationals got their footholds strengthened as militarized police forces beat and killed protestors.

And, well-documented at this point, the ensuing chaos and mind-bending levels of violence that beset the largest cities, particularly San Pedro Sula, led families who feared for their children's lives (many families had already lost loved ones to drug gang violence) to send them on a long and frightening journey to the US border, where they hoped their kids would somehow find asylum and safety.  Meaning these children would have to travel through Honduras, through Guatemala and the entirety of Mexico (parents reading this, please imagine how desperate you would have to be, how dire your circumstances would have to be, for you to kiss your small kids goodbye and put them on a rickety bus and hope against hope they would make it to safety).

Secretary Clinton said they should be sent back, these kids. Said this would "send a message". I actually watched the debate during which she said this, and shouted at my television: Send a message to WHOM?

I know I've rambled on (to put it mildly), but I was finally moved to speak, and I had a lot to say. I have been reading the discussions, everywhere, about people's support for Secretary Clinton based on feminist principles, and always the discussion turns to the same questions: Why are you denying my experience as a woman? Why can't you see how important it is to me, as a woman, to have a woman be able to rise above all the things we have all faced and be elected to the country's highest office? Why aren't you listening to me?

Meanwhile, I--a feminist, a mother, a target of sexual harassment and sexism--am asking, Why aren't you listening to ME?

The world does not begin and end at the US borders. Back-channeling deals to install rightwing military juntas that impose and enforce draconian reproductive laws is NOT FEMINIST. Back-channeling deals to install rightwing military juntas that silence--by bullet--more than a few women activists, is NOT FEMINIST. When LGBT people are beaten and killed; when women who are raped can't get abortions; when women who live in a highly patriarchal culture cannot even access ways to plan their families, which in turn seals their fate as permanent members of the underclass so favored among multinationals who need cheap, motivated labor...these results are NOT FEMINIST GOALS.

Thanks for reading. Now you know why, when I say I "feel the Bern", I really mean it.

This post also appears at: RadioOrNot