Category Archives: Campaign Diaries

Meeting the People – 50 Days

18 September 2016

King Street is a pulsing artery of pedestrian traffic. It was Art Festival weekend in Alexandria. The weather, while still warm and humid, has turned comfortable and inviting.

We had been pushing hard to get volunteers into shifts for this Weekend of Action and a good crowd turn up tonight for our “Pub Crawl Voter Registration”.

We’re not drinking while doing voter registration but working the crowd wandering up and down King Street at pub o’clock and, after we’re done, we get a beer.

Here are a couple of stories from the night:

As my colleague was briefing our volunteers a fellow approached. He said he was impressed with our ground-game – that the Democrats could have so many people out registering voters on Sunday evening in September. He’s a Republican and a government worker. We had a very interesting chat in which he said he fears the Republicans may never again win a national election, that the math just doesn’t add up. He also knows, or at least has met on several occasions, Donald Trump – and is voting of him.

We had a very pleasant conversation about the state of American politics. I told him my story, that I live in Sydney and came over to help and am doing some writing about what I see here. I asked if we might have a coffee sometime and continue the conversation and he said sure and gave me his contact details.

I’m very much looking forward to following up with him, should be fascinating.

Later, I was standing with, Christalyn – who I mentioned in an earlier post about door-knocking. A slightly (or more) drunk man in his late 50s, clearly military, came over for a chat. He was on us, saying we were voting for Trump and other kind of nonsensical Trumpish things. As I am now Australian and pretty well trained at spotting when someone is taking the piss I could tell he was taking the piss. But poor Christalyn just couldn’t be sure and couldn’t help but take the bait. She admitted later that this is, generally, a problem for her.

For a while I left her to it as I tried to answer a man’s questions about early voting. He was North African, I’d guess. His English was fine but not great. He needs to register and do early voting as he’s soon travelling to Saudi Arabia and will be there for six months. So I was focused on trying to give him easy to understand information about what he should do while poor Christalyn was arguing with a man who, really, was just taking the piss.

My North African friend shook my hand in thanks, the drunken military guy’s Uber came, and we got back to asking the passing traffic if they were registered to vote.

A trio of women approached saying they were so glad to see Hillary people out, that they felt like they hadn’t seen enough people working for Hillary. So I asked if they’d like to volunteer. Turns out one lives in DC – she’s working for the new, just about to be opened, Smithsonian African-American History Museum. I signed her up for a shift of voter registration after the official opening. Her companions were her mom, who lives in Florida, and her roommate from law school, visiting from Arizona. We wouldn’t end the conversation until they’d promised to volunteer as soon as they get home.

I also met a woman named Happiness – who said, as I took her name, “I couldn’t make that up.”

Michelle Obama tomorrow.

The Gentleman is Committed to Hillary – 51 Days

17 September 2016

It’s late in the day and I’d planned on writing about seeing Michelle Obama speak at George Mason University yesterday. But that will take actual writing and a bit more work than I can handle right now.

We’re half-way through a Weekend of Action for the Hillary Clinton campaign. Goals are raised – ring more voters, knock on more doors, register more voters. So I’ve spent the day entering data and answering questions.

In the gap between the last data from the door-knockers and the final round of voter registration cards to come back in I went for a jog along the Potomac River – the setting sun gleaming off the buildings in Maryland opposite, the Capitol Dome on the western horizon.

Now I’ve had a couple of beers and dinner with a fellow volunteer and our organiser at a local.

So, I’m spent – no time or energy today to yet write up yesterday’s rally.

Instead I offer you this story.

Canvassers, door-knocking volunteers – are asked to complete an end-of-shift form. One space asks: Tell us your favourite story from the day. A volunteer returned with this:

He was not on our list but we met him next to one of our stops, on the street.

[This gentleman], dressed in a dapper black suit with white paisley tie, had just come from the funeral of his childhood friend. At age 84, he was committed to vote for Hillary and to get his 18 siblings in North Carolina to do the same.

He said, “we need a woman in the White House! I surely will vote for Hillary. We need all the young people to vote for her too, she’s the right choice.”

When my husband said, “We are all one” he recalled that in the 1950s when he’d been told in a restaurant, “We don’t serve n****rs,” that he’d reply. “I don’t eat n****rs, I eat hamburgers!”

Thanks for the chance to meet [this gentleman].

Tomorrow we do it all again. And so on for the next 51 days.

Australian. Volunteer. Fan. – 52 Days

16 September 2016

I’m less melancholy today but I still want to finish this story of how I went from politics, to baseball, and back to politics again, and back to baseball as a fan again.

I have three favourite stories from the Sydney Olympics. One connected me to Australia. One took years to play out.  The last is just a quirk of fate.

Sydney was a city on a high for those two weeks in September 2000. The weather was stunning. The sport spectacular. People were just happy.

I went to the seven USA round-robin games plus the semi-finals, the bronze and gold medal games.

The most fortuitous moment for me came on a train ride back to the city after one of the games. I fell into conversation with Tom Nicholson, then director of MLB operations in Australia and Oceania.  I told him a bit about my background and, as I was then a student, asked about an internship. I would end up working for him for 14 years.

But that’s not one of my three favourite stories.

The first happened on the night of 25 September when I was at The Oaks Hotel in Neutral Bay to watch Cathy Freeman run.

Catherine, as she prefers now, is an Aboriginal woman from northern Queensland. Relations between indigenous Australians and the White dominated non-Aboriginal majority have always been difficult. Sometimes horrifyingly, murderously, genocidal, shockingly, terrible. Sometimes just tough and uncomfortable.

In 2000 Cathy Freeman was 27 years old and favoured to win her race. She carried the weight of all Australians who were hungry for something promising – even something symbolic – in the country’s herky-jerky start-stop movement towards reconciliation.

In the bar, as the TVs showed her and the other runners taking their marks – silence fell, nervous electric silence. It felt like the emotion of the moment stretched in every direction and encompassed the whole country.

They were off. Some viewers held their breath, others whispered their encouragement. In the stadium the 100,000 plus on hand roared, willing her on. At the Oaks, as she pulled ahead after the final turn and crossed two strides ahead of the silver medallist there were whoops and claps and tears.

Lots of people have written a lot of words about that race and its importance or lack of importance. I don’t really have much to add other than to say I was there. I was in Sydney when Cathy Freeman ran. I felt what that felt like to be there and that was a big step on my path to belonging in Australia.

It remains my favourite sporting moment ever.

The following night my friend Laura and I were watching the US play South Korea in a semi-final baseball game. It was tied in the 8th when rain began to fall and the game was delayed. We found the coffee cart and there we fell into conversation with a couple of guys scouting for the Arizona Diamondbacks. One was their Australian scout, John Wadsworth, and the other their director of scouting, Mike Rizzo.

We chatted about baseball and Chicago and life in Australia and whatever else. Eventually the game resumed and we, and about 15 other people who had stuck it out, watched the USA plate the walk-off winning run in the bottom of the 9th.

We travelled back into town together, had a few drinks, became friends and, off-and-on, have maintained that friendship ever since.

This would be the quirk of fate story. I’ll come back to this in a minute.

The final favourite story I didn’t know anything about at the time, and it really only became a great story years later.

On the evening of 27 September the United States squared off against Cuba in the Gold Medal game. Ben Sheets threw a complete game and the United States won their first ever Olympic Gold in baseball (strange but true – this was the first Olympics where MLB allowed minor leaguers to play; baseball has only been played in five Olympics.)

In the usual way, both teams had bat boys. These kids were selected from among local players. Rich Thompson, 16, was in the Cuban dugout and Trent Oeltjen, 17, was helping Team USA

Both would go on to play in the Major Leagues, becoming the 25th (2007) and 27th (2010) Australians to do so, respectively.

Their journeys in some ways paralleled mine. I began working for MLB in the 2001 season. Pretty quickly I stopped following my teams (Cubs and Orioles) because I was following the Australians – they became my team. There were always a couple dozen of them slogging away in the minor leagues, maybe a few in any season in the Big Leagues.

Rich Thompson, for one, was a kid I met when he was a wide-eyed 18-year old just signed by the Angels. His MLB debut, like those of most of the Australians over those 15 years I was with MLB, was emotional for me. I was invested in these kids and hoped like hell that each and every one of them would succeed.

Working in the game meant watching games wasn’t just for joy, but reminded me of work. So I drifted away from being a fan.

That’s how the twist of fate comes in. Mike Rizzo, who I met in the rain delay of the semi-final, is now the General Manager of the Washington Nationals. And still a friend.

So last October while I was travelling I passed through Washington DC and was able to have lunch with him. We’d not seen each other in 15 years or so but emailed once or twice a year. Reconnecting this way, well, I started paying attention to what he and his team were doing.

It was the off-season so I followed the trades and the free-agent signings. Started to get to know a bit about their players and enjoyed the building excitement of Spring Training – as something pure and simple and pleasurable –  for the first time in a very long time.

When it became clear the Republicans were nominating a fascist as their standard-bearer I began thinking of coming over to help Hillary win. Virginia, I thought, Virginia will be important. Virginia will be a good place to help. And Virginia is just across the river from Nationals Park.

It’s been great, coming back to baseball as a fan. I know this club as well as any I’ve ever followed. I’m loving watching them play.  They are better than any team I’ve ever followed – it’s exciting and fun.

I’ve been to a few games since I’ve been here – some on my own. I’ve been reminded how much I love going to baseball games by myself – it’s like three hours of perfect mindfulness for me. I can really just be present with the game not thinking too much about other stuff.

Politics, baseball, politics, baseball … what funny threads to have running through my life.

What, then does this long tale of the Olympics have to do with this election and my role in the campaign?

Well, I think it’s a tale of coming and going and about the rising and falling of passions in life.

I feel like I’ve come back to baseball and politics in a really pure, basic, simple way. I’m a fan. I’m a volunteer.

Tomorrow I’ll wake and devote my day to helping Hillary and my evening to cheering on the Nats. It’s not making me any money but it’s a good space to be in.

When I’m not feeling all melancholy that is.

Sixteen Years Ago – Melancholic Memories – 53 Days

I’m in a melancholic and nostalgic state of mind today.

Sixteen years ago, on 15 September 2000, Cathy Freeman lit the Olympic flame in Sydney.

I watched that Opening Ceremony at the Lord Raglan Hotel in the city’s Redfern neighbourhood. I was there with a fellow American; we had both moved to town recently.

I was in Sydney as a student – the easiest, but most expensive, way I could get into the country.

We enjoyed the night with the barflies and I drank way too much.

Late that night I spoke, for the last time, to a man who – I won’t say he broke my heart so much as our relationship had broken my heart. It happens. But I was haunted, for a very long time, by having unexpectedly fallen in love with him.

So I was in a melancholy state then too.

Back “home” the 2000 presidential election was heating up – Gore, Bush, Nader. For the first time in a long time I wasn’t paying much attention; I was happy to be on the far side of the world thinking about sports.

I’d always been interested in politics. I’d consumed every children’s book about John F. Kennedy and I still remember those stories in detail.

I was on the rope-line for an event with Walter Mondale during the 1976 election and remember how it felt to hear Geraldine Ferraro speak in 1988.

I read the paper every day. I wrote letters to the editor. I protested in front of the Chinese consulate after Tiananmen Square and went to the rally in Chicago to welcome Lech Wa??sa.

In 1990 I travelled to North Carolina to volunteer for Harvey Gantt as he tried to unseat the evil-old bastard that was Senator Jesse Helms.

At the University of Oregon I majored in political science and, there, helped reform the College Democrats (which had been taken over by the socialists) and led Students for Clinton.

I was a delegate to the 1992 Democratic Convention and won a competitive internship with the California Democratic Party. The Inauguration. The White House. More campaigning. Travelling in advance of the President and First Lady arranging events.

And then, after the 1996 election, I was just kind of done with it and maybe it was done with me, too.

I wandered back to my other childhood love: baseball.

I moved to Baltimore and became an Orioles fan. I was working in public affairs in DC and going to games most nights at Camden Yards or watching them at my local. I tried to get a look-in for a job in baseball with no luck.

For my 30th birthday, in 1999, I finally got to Australia. I’d had a fascination with the place since I was twelve. I’d had many plans to get there over the years but none had come to fruition. Now, at long last, I had a real job, with a real salary, and paid vacation days. I used them to visit Sydney and it was everything I hoped for. I moved there 16 months later.

And so it was I was in a bar in Sydney, looking forward to getting to all of Team USA’s baseball games, and I was not thinking much about Al Gore’s presidential bid.

Before this one, the one we’re engaged in now, 2000 was probably the most important US election of my lifetime – of course none of us knew that then. Would the attacks of 9/11 happened if Al Gore was president? It they had, I think we can be sure the response from the US Government would have differed with Gore in charge rather than Bush. There certainly would have been no war in Iraq and, just like that, everything changes.

But at the time, this time 16 years ago, I was just looking forward to USA v Japan on 17 September.

Tomorrow, more.

Sweltering for Democracy – 54 Days

I find weather to be a difficult thing to imagine accurately.

I lived in Washington DC in the 1990s and know what summers are like here but in the cool short days of Sydney’s winter the battering heat of summer sounded great.

Nearly all of the 41 days I’ve been here the temperature has been in the mid-to-high 30sC (mid-90s-low 100sF) with humidity averaging nearly 70%. The skies have been clear and the sun unrelenting.

These are sweat-drenching conditions in which to conduct voter registration drives.

I spent an hour in the sun in front of the new Aldi smelling the heat off the fresh black bitumen and feeling the wet of it in my lungs.

I’m wearing thongs (flip flops) and the tops of my feet are sweating. There are I sweaty patches on the knees of my trousers and in unfortunate spots of my shirt.

I ask each arriving customer “Are you registered to vote at your current address?”

On Monday and Wednesday afternoons we cling to the sliver of shade at the King Street Metro Station waiting for the sun to begin its dip expanding the area where our brains won’t cook in our skulls.

It’s already gotten to mine though and I’m a little spacey while asking: “Are you registered to vote at your current address?”

One Friday I go with a Bangledishi volunteer to a mosque.

We sit in the shade of the building squinting into the sundrenched carpark enjoying one of the great pleasures of voter registration: the excuse for simply watching the parade of humanity and having reason to look into the eyes of many and ask them: “Are you registered to vote at your current address?”

Here, at the mosque, that parade is at its most beautiful and diverse.

I see people of every possible hue of the human rainbow from a man so white as to be nearly translucent through to women who were nearly blue-black.

There are people from Eastern Europe, and all sides of the Mediterranean and Arabian Seas. There are Central Asians and blue-eyed Afghanis. I see North Africans and sub-Saharan Africans. And, of course, as this mosque was built by them – Bangladeshis and other east Asians – Pakistanis, Indonesians and Malaysians. Not all are US citizens but most are on their way, so too the many children in adorable “dressed for the mosque” outfits – American kids.

These are the people who terrify Trump’s voters yet they give me some hope for America.

From the mosque attendees to the Aldi shoppers, the commuters at the metro and evening strollers on King Street the main response we get, when not ignored, is one of genuine gratitude.

“Are you registered at your current address?”

“I sure am! But thank you for being out here!”

“Thank you so much” they say, and they mean it.

It is, at times, so sincere I am reminded of the greeting I received when I flew into LAX on 20 September 2001.

Ours was among the first flights in after the attacks of 11 September. A border security official stood directing US citizens to their place in the queue and to each of us she offered a “Welcome home” full of genuine emotion.

Even then, when I’d only been living in Australia for 14 months,  America had begun to not feel like my home.

I read a quote once from an Irish writer who said that the country you leave disappears as soon as you go. It begins to change immediately – things happen that you aren’t there to witness, or be part of.

I was in Australia for the hanging-chads and Supreme Court intervention in the 2000 election; 9/11 happened at night in Sydney; I watched the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq through Australian eyes.

So sometimes I’m not entirely sure what I’m doing here now.

I’m not as emotionally invested as the voters thanking me or those new immigrants anxiously moving toward citizenship and who have imparted their children’s futures to America’s.

But here I am, sweating in the heat, and registering voters. I’ve signed up maybe 100 so far, personally – maybe more, I haven’t been counting.

George W Bush “won” Florida and the presidency by 537 votes.

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At the Coal Face for Hillary – 55 Days

Yesterday, while the organisers for Alexandria made their daily allotment of phone calls to recruit and schedule volunteers they fielded a lot of questions about, and good wishes for, Hillary Clinton’s health.

This is both sweet and funny.

To be a field organiser is to be as far removed from the nerve-centre of activity surrounding the candidate as you can be. Yet every single thing the campaign is doing is meant to make your job easier.

For those of you watching from overseas, in particular, you would rightly think of US presidential campaigns in terms of the rallies and adverts, debates and tv arguments.

But Americans, when they vote – if they vote, vote locally. There are 50 separate elections as each state chooses who their Electoral College voters will support.

Each state is broken up into Congressional Districts and, ultimately, down into precincts – in urban areas these are walkable areas sharing a polling place.

The City of Alexandria, in the 2014 mid-term election, had 86,500 registered voters divided amongst 36 precincts.

These precincts are gathered into groups just large enough to challenge even a very good organiser and are called, at least in this campaign, turfs.

So I’m working in the turf which takes in Old Town Alexandria – a place which reminds me a bit of Paddington, or Balmain, or Glebe (for my readers in Sydney). There are narrow streets, some still cobbled, lined with 18th and 19th century homes which originally housed merchants and dockworkers. Now it is mostly gentrified but with some areas of working or middle class families.

The high street is called King Street (there is also a Queen Street and a Princess Street – demonstrating the towns pre-Revolutionary history) and is lined with shops, restaurants, bars, and ice cream joints. It fills with locals and visitors most nights and all weekend.

It’s the job of field organisers to find the people supporting our candidate, or leaning toward our candidate, and make sure they are registered and get to the polls on election day.

This is the coal face of American elections and here’s how we fill our days: we phone likely Democratic voters and invite them to help out as volunteers, we register voters, and we knock on the doors of likely Democratic voters to ask if they are with us.

And so it was that last Friday afternoon in the seemingly endless sweltering summer heat Alexandria has suffered under since my arrival that a colleague of mine and I were knocking on doors looking for Democratic voters.

We were filtering back and forth over a street dividing a low-rise, low-density public housing development from a low-rise, low-density private development. At one of the first homes we visited we chatted with a young Black man – shirtless and tattooed, visiting from North Carolina and definitely voting for Hillary. Peering around the door – his 7-year old niece said of Trump, “That man is cray cray” and her brother, 5 or 6, added, “We want the girl to win.”

An hour or so later, the last door of the afternoon was cheerfully flung open by a well-coiffed, stylishly attired, Southern-accented White woman in her late 50s or early 60s. (For those who can, imagine a mix of Julie Bishop and the Sugarbakers from Designing Women.) When we had delivered our spiel she said, in so friendly a tone I thought at first she was joking, “Oh y’all are at the wrong house! We think she’s the Devil!” All-righty then, thanks for your time – have a nice weekend.

Oh America, you are a funny old place.

How I Became a Den Mother for Hillary – 56 Days

I read something recently which suggested that it’s easier to do things 100% than less than 100%. The argument is that if you are 100% committed to being a writer, say, then you write every day. It’s a priority, not something you fit in around other things.

When I came to the United States to help defeat Donald Trump and help elect Hillary Clinton I came with the idea of writing about it. There were two things I would give 100% to – the campaign and the writing.

I have been writing but not sharing. Time to change that.

With 56 days until Election Day, I am committing today to giving 100% to sharing this story beginning today.

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First, let me get you caught up, briefly.

I have settled it to helping the organiser in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia.

I chose Virginia before Hillary Clinton chose Tim Kaine as her Vice Presidential running mate (he’s a senator and former governor from here).

When I booked my ticket Virginia promised to be a battleground state. It was historically solidly Republican – it’s a Southern state, a one-time state of the Confederacy, it has an enormous military presence between the Pentagon and the naval base in Norfolk. But the suburbs of Washington DC have been growing exponentially – filling with immigrants and transplanted northern and western liberals.

From 1952 to 2004 the Republicans won Virginia in every Presidential election except 1964 when they went with Johnson over Goldwater. (Johnson won all but six states: Goldwater’s home of Arizona and the five states of the Deep South: Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina).

Barack Obama won Virginia in 2008 and 2012. Hillary Clinton needs to hold on to it. I used to live in Washington DC and have friends in this area so it seemed a good place to land.

And it has been, while also not being perfect.

The day I arrived I met with a state-wide organiser in a meeting arranged through a friend. He encouraged me to think about taking on a full-time paid organising job in Hampton Roads (the metropolitan area of Southeast Virginia encompassing Virginia Beach, Norfolk and Newport News). To that end he suggested I spend time with one of the best organisers in Northern Virginia and see what I thought.

So I met with Emma and folded into her team. She’s a bright, ambitious young woman, unusually worldly for Americans her age – she has European family and spends a lot time there. This election, and a coming stint teaching English in China, is her gap-year between an undergraduate degree from Georgetown University and beginning law school at New York University (NYU). After that she’ll get on with changing the world beginning with fixing America’s gun problem. She’s originally from Newtown, Connecticut – best known for the suburb of Sandy Hook and the massacre of school children they suffered in 2012.

I had genuinely been thinking of taking a paid position but quickly ruled it out. I no longer have the energy or passion for this game to give it 15 hour days for what would have then be 80+ days. The money it would have brought into my ever diminishing coffers would have been good but not enough to push me to Yes.

Plus, Emma had other ideas for me. She had done advance for Hillary Clinton; I had done advance for both the Clintons back in the day. As an American-Australian I have an outsider-insider’s view of this country – which she does a little bit too. She had recently secured the use of a house in Old Town for the remainder of the campaign. Democratic supporters had put it on the market but had decided to pull it back until November and let us make use of it until then. She needed someone to help with the house.

Emma believes in fate. She believes my arrival was meant to be – she wanted me as the den-mother for the house and to learn all the roles of her team so I can be a pinch-hitter, stepping in wherever I’m needed when I’m needed. As den mother I’d live in the house – which solved a big problem for me.

Tyler, the state-wide organiser, tried once more to tempt me into a full-time organising role – this time in Brunswick County, home to some 13,000 tough-going battlers nearly evenly split between blacks and whites on the North Carolina border. I admit it was more tempting than Hampton Roads but not tempting enough.

I want to have time to write and see friends who live around here and get to Washington Nationals baseball games – none of which would be possible if I were driving around a poor rural county for the next couple of months.

So I’m here, in Alexandria, and so I shall remain but for some forays to visit other parts of the state and maybe even areas a bit further afield like Pennsylvania and North Carolina – states that are battlegrounds.

I’ll leave it there for now, tomorrow I’ll tell you a bit about Alexandria and the work we are doing here.

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Why Donald Trump Has Scared Me Back to the US

Last month I wrote and published this piece in the Sydney Morning Herald

I grew up in Ronald Reagan’s America and moved to Sydney 16 years ago. I have made regular short visits to the US, but none have been as long nor as important as the one I’ll embark on soon.

President Donald Trump would be a dangerous disaster. His chances at success have been dismissed for months yet he is the Republican presidential candidate. I cannot sit idly assuming that Hillary Clinton will defeat him. It’s time for me to go and help.

In 1992, I loved both Bill and Hillary Clinton. After 12 years of Republican presidents, the promise of the Clintons in the White House was heady. They were young and part of a generation just coming into their own. It was an electric feeling, being in my early 20s, and helping bring change to America.

I was elected a delegate to the 1992 Democratic National Convention, served on the Clinton campaign staff, worked on his 1993 inaugural committee and then in the White House for most of a year. Even after I went back to finish my university degree I occasionally worked on events for the president and first lady, including President Clinton’s first visit to Northern Ireland and his 1996 re-election campaign. I was proud to be part of what they were building.

But as the century ended I had become disillusioned. I hated the way Monica Lewinsky, the young intern with whom President Clinton had an affair, was treated – by the president, by the first lady, by the media, by the gossips. She was abandoned and sacrificed. The president’s denials and the investigations they led to abused the commitment of many loyal staff. The waste of a year of the presidency was, to me, unconscionable.

I moved to Australia, happy to leave American politics to those with stronger stomachs. I could fall asleep beneath the Southern Cross thinking, “Not my problem.”

But this year is different. It’s different because Donald Trump is dangerous. It’s different because  against all logical predictions a majority of British voters want to leave the European Union, demonstrating that seemingly ridiculous political propositions can prove more popular than expected. It’s different because Pauline Hanson is back in the Senate reminding me I should never underestimate the polling power of fear-mongering and scapegoating. Fascism has a habit of arriving as populism, being dismissed by intellectuals as buffoonery and bringing darkness to the lives of many.

I spent most of the last year in Europe where I thought much more about Nazism than I’ve had occasion to in the past. At a museum in Munich I copied down this quote from Karl Zuckmayer, a writer who, having seen him speaking in the beer halls of Bavaria in 1923, said that Adolf Hitler knew “how to rouse those sullen crowds … not by arguments but by the fanaticism of his performance”. Crowds he described as “distraught petit-bourgeois citizens whose world was crumbling due to the degeneration of their accustomed values”.

I thought immediately of Trump and his comments about Mexicans bringing crime and diseases to the US and his suggestion to ban Muslims from entering the country. These are not policy proposals. This is Trump trading on the fears and insecurities of his core constituency: working-class white Americans whose world is “crumbling due to the degeneration of their accustomed values”.

When we talk about Nazis our focus is on the awful end of the story. We lose sight of the subtleties of the beginning. It’s easy to categorise Hitler and his fellow Nazi leaders as the embodiment of evil, as monsters.

But in the beginning they were men with ugly ideas and an angry populace who fed on them.

It’s not the monster we have to be on guard for, it’s the human being on the road to becoming monstrous. It’s the people who are convinced that monstrous acts will solve their problems. Do I think President Trump will round up Muslim Americans? Or build a wall on the Mexican border? Not really, but most people never thought the Nazis would murder six million Jews. History has shown it’s better to err on the side of caution when dealing with fascists.

When we talk about Nazis our focus is on the awful end of the story. We lose sight of the subtleties of the beginning… But in the beginning they were men with ugly ideas and an angry populace who fed on them.

So I’m going to leave Australia for a while and help elect Hillary Clinton, a candidate I support but I don’t love. I am going to do what I can to stop Donald Trump while he is merely an ugly human being.

As the Italian-Jewish Holocaust survivor Primo Levi wrote: “It happened, and thus it can happen again.” Vigilance is the price of liberty – and simple decency, too. It’s time to stop commenting from the sidelines and re-join the battle.

Elizabeth Everett Cage is an American-Australian writer.

Some Thoughts Before I Go

This originally appeared on my Facebook feed:

Tomorrow at this time I will be crossing the Pacific en route to Los Angeles.

I’ve done the laundry and made my bed – this is as it will be when I come home in 15 weeks. I’ll sleep in it tonight and then not again until either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump has been elected President.

In either case I’m confident I will be glad, on that night, to fall asleep in this room, in this city, under the southern stars. I will be glad to be home. But I will be changed.

When I left for my midlife gap year one of my fears was that it wouldn’t change me. I feared that it would amount to a long holiday and nothing much more. I know it has changed me but I’m still not really sure how.

This, this journey, this campaign – I think will affect me profoundly.
I visited America for about two months last year and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d feared but I was just passing through. I was visiting friends; I was looking; I was simply being there. Now I am going to engage with the place. Election campaigns – when you are in them are intense, consuming, bonding. I’m going to have to open my heart to America again to do this, to do this well. And there’s no point in going if I’m not going to do it well.

My midlife gap year did give me a stronger connection to Australia. When I longed for home, as inevitably happens when you travel for a year, there was no ambiguity about what I meant. Home when I ached for it, imagined it, daydreamed about it was always Australia. It was Sydney. And my family of friends here.

So I think, having made that journey, and come home, been home for a while – I feel grounded and connected, sure about my place here. Sure that this is my place. Certainty here gives me strength to engage anew with the United States.

I was just thinking of the analogy I sometimes use when I think of America and that is of an ex. America as my ex-boyfriend, ex-husband, I’m not sure which, but it’s my ex. My first big ex.

My second big ex – my once-husband-of-11-years – I haven’t spoken with him in 2 ½ years and, now that I’m a writing this, I realise we split up three years ago yesterday. Wow.
It seems like a lifetime ago. Who was I then?

This much I’m sure of I was not as confident then as I am now. I was not as comfortable in my own skin as I am now. I was more frightened, more worried. I was less honest – not in a deceitful way but with myself. I was less willing to see truths that maybe I didn’t like. I was less likely to admit my need for friendship and support. I was less willing to tell the people I loved that I loved them.

I could not then have made the journey I am now set to make.
I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know where I’ll end up working or what I’ll be doing or in whose lives I’m going to become involved. Even more than when I left for my gap year I feel like I’m leaping into fate. I’m going to go. I am going to help. I am going to write about it.

And then I’ll come home. To this room. To the bed I will have made 15 weeks earlier. And some yet newer version of me will fall asleep beneath the southern stars – hopefully with some satisfaction and contentment.

And then I’ll have find a job.