Friday, October 17, 2008

Voting From France

The other day, I met Fiachna and David at one of our favorite little cafes in "Little Africa," or the Paris neighborhood called Chateau Rouge. We sat together outside, drinking coffees and pastis, and watched the bustling world go by. At one point, a woman was walking towards us on the sidewalk, and I noticed that not only was she wearing a t-shirt with a big Obama logo, but she also wore a black beret with an Obama logo tilted jauntily to the side. I caught her eye. She looked at me a bit sideways, not fully confident, as she continued past us on the sidewalk. I raised my hand in a thumbs up, and she smiled.

I'm in Paris, mind you. Four years ago, I'm not sure that you would ever have seen French people walking down the street wearing the campaign garb of an American presidential candidate. Based on the incredible success of Obama's appearances in Europe a few months ago, I think you can see that the rest of the world is poised in anticipation of the results of this election. It has world focus, and people from Baghdad to Paris are as emotionally attached to its outcome as we are. Early in the primaries, when my baker noticed my bad French accent and asked me if I was German, I answered that I was American. His eyes lit up and then he did a frowning thumbs down gesture and said, "Juhorjuh Boosh." But he smiled broadly when with a thumbs up he cried, "Eelahree Cleentone!"

I didn't have the heart to tell him that she was not my favorite choice for a candidate. It would have been complicated for me to find the French I needed. But I suppose I could have simply said, "Je préfère une femme, mais non cette femme."

America has been a world force in a negative way in the last eight years, especially when it plays its self-ordained role of imperial policeman, warlord and jailer. Yet it has also played a hugely positive role, because there are many Europeans I have encountered who still dream of seeing America. They want to stand on a beach in California, look up at the forbidding sky scrapers of New York, stare at the uninterrupted expanse of Texas, ride a horse through ghost towns in Arizona, and gaze at the gaudy 24-hour glitter and listen to the ka-ching of Las Vegas.

What an opportunity we have during this election and afterwards, to live up to that dream.

I traveled to Paris with my 80-year-old Dad and my brother soon after 9/11, and no matter where we went, be it to ask a question at the Metro or in restaurants or tourist attractions, when the French found out we were Americans, there were grand gestures of concern and, well, fraternité. They felt for us, and told us so, in language and kind gestures.

How terrible that we stepped on this graciousness with the jack boot of a typical maligning right wing horse shit tactic like "Freedom Fries," just because those damn socialist Frenchies had de gaulle to say no to mighty BushCo's fake and illegal war with Iraq. I have always been deeply embarrassed to be associated with such ignorance. It is the same brand of ignorance that McCain and Palin are feeding and stoking in hopes they can move the ignorant to vote for them. I don't care how much Bush and Cheney and Rove snicker at their supreme court supported, voter suppressed and electronic voting machine manipulated robbery of the 2004 election, how slimy it must feel to know, deep down inside, that the only way you won was by breaking laws and telling lies to stupid people.

If Obama wins, it will be because he won the hearts and minds of the people, without chicanery. I believe that makes him the better man.

Three days ago it took me a few hours to research and complete my absentee ballot for the election. I had to vote against the despicable ploys of fanatically religious people who want to declare that marriage is only between a man and a woman. I had to vote against xenophobic anti-Hispanic measures too. I liked it when I read later in one guy's blog that he was a bit disappointed with the ballot, because "Fuck No" wasn't one of the vote choices. I can relate.

My next step was to go to the post office and get the ballot mailed. As with most experiences for an expat in a foreign country, I had to figure out how the post office worked. There's always a line in my post office, but that day, there were two lines. I stood in the line I usually stand in, while I watched the other line to see what was up. There was a gal behind a small counter and she seemed to be dealing with quick mailing purchases, so I switched to her line. She was helping a woman fill out a form. I watched them for a while too, still worried that I might have chosen the wrong line, as I worry in the grocery store, when I try and decide which line will move faster, make my decision, and still watch the other lines so I can chastise myself if I made the wrong decision.

It was then that I realized I was standing in front of a very cool self-service machine, where you can place your envelope on a scale at the top, and then press buttons to determine the necessary postage, pay and then get a sticker at the end to place on your envelope. It was easy as pie, and within moments I had a sticker for 1.70 Euro. But, where was the mailing slot? I was sure there would be at least three, one for Paris, one for other parts of France, and the third for étrangers, or foreign countries. I walked to the front of the post office, to the back, and then outside. Nothing. So, I returned to my line and the woman behind the desk noticed me and I held up my precious envelope and asked her where I could put it. She took it from me, looked down at it, and then back up to me. She said in French, "This is your vote." and then glanced to the other woman she had been waiting on. They both looked at me, expectantly. I said, "Oui....Pour Obama!" They both relaxed, and smiled.

I bowed to the envelope, my hands in prayer form, and said, "C'est très important!" and they nodded solemnly. I have a feeling my envelope received more focused attention than most envelopes that day. Vive la Fraternité.

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