I won’t be voting for Barack Obama on Tuesday. Mine is a vote he cannot have. Not because I will cast my vote for the right, however. I won’t be voting for a simple and defining reason: I cannot vote at all. Honorary American though I may be, and a yellow-dog Democrat to boot, I don’t have the papers or the legal status to prove it.
This election matters to me, having to watch it from the side. Or across an ocean specifically. Where the decisions of next week will flow on down; the cultural currents between us are swift after-all. A profound shift to the right in matters of equality, and the inching (running?!) together of Church and State will be keenly noted from battlegrounds here. Where our Cardinals talk about gay marriage as a “grave offence” to children whilst protecting decades of abusers from their pulpits, and our Archbishops softly advise our brides to submit. Where our opposition leader calls abortion a “national tragedy” and a woman is still paid on average $250 a week less than a man.
It is true that the bigger implications of an American Presidency are these – the wars you engage in, your economic troubles, your relationship with other players on the world stage. The impacts of 9/11 in particular have flowed downstream. A list of Australia’s 242 casualties in Afghanistan can sadly attest to that. But your cultural reign is another tie that binds, and has a global impact just the same.
America, you are the maker of manners, you see. Art has always influenced culture; art informs the way we live, and we consume your art in every way. Since the early 1980’s, 60% of all films screened in my country have told your stories. Seven of our current top ten singles are from American singers and bands. Six of our ten best-selling books from 2011 were written by US authors. Our television stations rush to show your hit shows right after they’ve aired stateside (the rest we can find on the internet). About the only cultural aspect you don’t dominate is our sport. But then, alas, you suck at rugby! We know your icons and your heroes America – the actors, the singers, the sporting and the political. We mourned the loss of Camelot too.
The stories you tell matter. The stories you tell about yourselves matter. How you treat your women matters. This crazy war on women that the right is waging, their re-defining of rape, their push to make women incubators, the attempts to close down vital providers of women’s health – these are all stories you’re telling our men and our boys. Our young girls too. In a country that supports a $10 billion dollar porn industry but gets jumpy at the idea of sex education (teen pregnancies cost you just about the same by the way) this retrograde view of women and sex in particular informs your culture and it informs mine too. It keeps the word slut in rotation, it sexualises the violence of rape, and it tells the world to get pissed off at me when I don’t get the joke. I repeat: the stories you tell matter.
And they don’t just matter to someone who looks or lives like you and me. This cultural disempowerment of women, the allowing of the religious right to change and control the narrative on women’s reproductive choices, it will cause a tidal wave for women in developing countries if Romney wins. Actually, if Republican precedent is anything to go by, it will be the very first act of President Romney – a reinstatement of the global gag rule, the policy that bans US funds from going to any aid organisation that so much as provides information on abortion. Information. This is the party that makes silence consent.
This sacrificing of vulnerable women to the alter of the right breaks my heart. I have lived in a developing nation, amongst the very women this gag rule affects. I’ve spent time in stinking, under-staffed hospitals with 14 year old girls holding swollen bellies, with women trying to feed another mouth after their husband dies of HIV. I’ve watched bibles not condoms destroy communities from the outside, in. Romney and his men will cut off money to The United Nations Population Fund and other such organisations who do life-saving work with impoverished women. They will essentially shut these organisations down – for providing information, for offering choice. It is not called the gag rule for nothing.
Which brings me to this. A blog post unlike my others – but connected. I am a writer and a feminist, for me they are one and the same. I write about women at body, remember. About flawed, passionate, courageous women. I don’t believe in angels and whores, and you will not find heroes here – only stories. And every so often the story is mine.
You have to vote for Obama.
There, I said it.
Vote for the man who rescinded the global gag rule. Vote for the man whose first bill signed into law was the Equal Pay legislation of The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act (which Romney opposed). Vote for the man who expanded VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act (chipped away at by the Republican Party). Vote for the man who says “Rape is rape. It is a crime.” (when the Republican Party seeks to dilute and re-define it). Vote for the man who repealed Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell and supports marriage equality – for the man who understands that gay rights are civil rights too. Vote for the man who put two women on the Supreme Court, including the first Latina Justice.
Vote for the man who turned around the US auto industry. Who ended the war in Iraq. Who passed Wall Street reform and signed into law the Recovery Act. Vote for the man who got Bin Laden. Vote for the man who is providing healthcare access to 11 millions kids living in poverty, the man for whom Obamacare is not a derisive term, not when you consider how the Affordable Care Act provides universal healthcare for the very first time in your country’s history.
You have to vote for Obama.
He is the story you want to tell. The son of a black Kenyan and a white Kansan. Raised by a single mom and his grandparents. A community organiser, a civil rights lawyer who rose from poverty to become the first African American President. Whose journey to your highest office personifies the American Dream. Right when we thought we had lost it.
I am a writer and a feminist. That capital F on my chest doesn’t ensure I get things right all the time. It doesn’t make me a superhero – this blog is primarily about all the mistakes that I’ve made. But it gives me a voice and I’m using it now. As loud as I can, across the Pacific. The personal is political, after-all.
I hope that I’m singing come Tuesday.
Me hopeful (and nervous) on the eve of the election, 2008.