September 20, 2016Michelle Obama and Me (and another 2,999 or so people) – 49 Days
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.