I did a lot of thinking this weekend about the countries I’ve lived in, and the countries I’ve visited, and how they compare to life in the United States. It’s given me some perspective around the election and upcoming inauguration, particularly around the issues we have in the United States with racism, sexism, and homophobia.
Perhaps surprisingly, it’s made me more optimistic – though feeling just as much urgent need – when it comes to improving the society we live in.
I also read Gigi Griffis’ recent piece, recommending where to live to match your values. She suggested France for quality healthcare, Germany for self-employment, Spain for LGBTQ rights, and many other places. Consider this a companion piece; a recommendation for why to stay in the United States, and why to take action now.
And as Gigi reminds us all in her article: “If someone wants to move abroad for any reason, that’s their decision. Let’s respect it.” So please, take this piece as it is intended: as a sharing of information, not a judgment on those who do decide to leave. Knowledge is power.
1. We do have freedom of speech.
If you’re looking for freedom of the press, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, then do like Dorothy and look no further than your own back yard. I often forget how important free speech is. It doesn’t just mean that the press can report on the president. It also means that you, in your own home, can speak out against what the government is doing without fear of being killed or imprisoned for it.
While Trump threatens to kick the media out of the White House, our freedom of the press and personal freedom of speech still exists. Trevor Noah, Samantha Bee, and Stephen Colbert have all commented on the fact that in many countries, including Burma and North Korea, people are arrested for saying things we say without a second thought.
This is not to say “oh, everything’s fine,” but rather a reminder that we have the power to protect our freedom of speech. To learn more about censorship, and the limitations within freedom of speech, check out how other countries protect freedom of speech or limit it, within the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and what countries have outright censorship.
2. Racism (and sexism) is everywhere
Racism is a huge issue in the United States, and contributes to some of our other key problems, including classism, income inequality, and the war on drugs. We’re seeing racists come out of the woodwork more and more since Trump’s election, and I’ve heard many people say they want to leave the United States to go somewhere where this isn’t a problem.
I have bad news for you. Racism is a problem in most places around the world. Across Scandinavia, as refugees seeking asylum come into Sweden and Denmark, race conflicts are on the rise. The UK has seen an increase in hate crimes since the Brexit vote, but racism has long been a problem. In South Africa, racism has been a problem both under apartheid, and more recently toward those who are not “black enough.”
My personal opinion is that we see more issues with racism in the areas where an established ethnic group needs to help a group that has been oppressed for one reason or another. The established group resents needing to help the other group, perhaps resents needing to take responsibility for the generations that came before, and perhaps fears losing power, whether real or imagined.
Similarly, I’ve encountered sexism around the world. In Barcelona (Spain) as a woman, I was not allowed to join in Yom Kippur services. In Marrakesh (Morocco) I was harassed if I walked down the street without a man (yes, even wearing long sleeves and a long skirt). In Brussels (Belgium) I was proposed to by a stranger who ignored when I said no, and then tried to force me to go home with him to meet his parents. In Accra (Ghana) people would only speak to the man I was traveling with, and not to me. In Boston (USA) I have worked with a male client who patted me on the shoulder after shaking hands with the men I work with. It’s everywhere.
The last thing I want to do is normalize racism or sexism. But I also don’t want to spread the misbelief that the United States is the only place where we need to fight harder and create a better and equality-based community.
3. We live in a Democratic Republic
No, we can’t storm the White House, we can’t fix everything by electing a Democrat next time, and it won’t get better with the perfect viral tweet. But there are actions we can take – actions we can all take that will make a difference.
- If you don’t understand the process and want to learn, check out CGP Gray’s fun yet informative videos on YouTube. His Politics in the Animal Kingdom series helped me finally understand the voting process.
- If you’re looking for ways to resist authoritarianism, download (and read, and follow) this Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda
- If you think a Democratic House, Senate, and President are the answer, join the Flippable movement to stay apprised of campaigns and elections that need your support.
- If you are onboard for calling representatives, follow this “We’re His Problem Now” calling sheet, complete with a call script and phone numbers.
- If you are short on time but want to make a difference, sign up for My Civic Workout and get a weekly email with suggestions of 5 minute, 10 minute, 30 minute, and 1 hour+ actions.
Ignorance is not bliss. Knowledge is power. Make informed decisions, and take small actions.