I haven’t written anything about this U.S. election.
After two years of living abroad, I’ve found it comfortable to let myself pretend the circus is happening to someone else. Not my country. Not my election. Not my problem.
Except, oh wait, is that “United States of America” written on my passport? Yes—yes it is.
As nice as it is to crawl under a rock in times of turmoil—cosy and quiet and oh-so-dark—it’s (unfortunately) not real.
The elections, on the other hand, are real. And as a concerned citizen, feminist, lover of love and tolerance, and Jewish granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I find the rampant hate, bigotry and most of all the apathy downright terrifying.
The following quote sums up my fears about American society this season.
It comes from a work of fiction by brilliant author Margaret Atwood. It is more than 30 years old. The premise of the novel’s dystopian future is obviously far-fetched, but this particular passage somehow strikes an eerie chord.
It gave me chills when I first read the book in January; now, it basically turns me into an icicle (remember, it’s the idea, not the actual circumstances, that touched a nerve for me).
“It was after the catastrophe, when they shot the President and machine-gunned the Congress and the army declared a state of emergency. They blamed it on the Islamic fanatics, at the time.
Keep calm, they said on television. Everything is under control.
I was stunned. Everyone was, I know that. It was hard to believe. The entire government, just like that. How did they get in, how did it happen?
That was when they suspended the Constitution. They said it would be temporary. There wasn’t even any rioting in the streets. People stayed home at night, watching television, looking for some direction. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on…”
~ Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale (c. 1985)
That’s exactly what could feasibly happen (in such circumstances), isn’t it? We’d blame it on “fanatics,” go home, and quietly wait for instructions from our televisions.
No! Please tell me that is not what we would do.
There wasn’t even any rioting. There wasn’t even an enemy you could put your finger on.
I think sometimes, faced with so much going wrong, we can find ourselves frozen in inaction. Here’s the thing, being frozen and being complacent and apathetic look pretty similar from the outside.
What does not sitting around complacently while our world turns to flames look like? Here are three suggestions:
> Vote. If I can do it from Morocco, you can sure as hell drive five minutes to your nearest polling station.
> Act. Don’t like your options? Welcome to the club. Share your opinion with a wider audience than your 500 like-minded Facebook friends. Or protest. Or do something.
> Learn. Find sources. Lots of them. Don’t just get your facts from the television. Talk to people People you disagree with. Learn about this mad, beautiful world we’re trying to heal.
Margaret Atwood’s words may be chillingly on-point, but they don’t have to be.
We can do better, can’t we?
Author: Toby Israel
Image: Tom Blunt/Flickr