Category Archives: politics

A Letter to My Daughter: To Read When History Tells You about Donald Trump

politics

to-my-dear-little-daughter

 

To My Dear Little Daughter,

You, my spunky girl, are the best person I know. You are unwaveringly nice. It has never, for one moment, occurred to you to judge anyone based on anything other than their kindness. Your world is limitless – it’s incredible. Being 3-1/2 is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever witnessed.

I know the world, and not just your doting parents, will sculpt and form you, as you grow, which is why my great hope is for you to live in the most just, accepting, generous, and intelligent realm possible.

So, today, I am just so profoundly sorry for this box of evil spirits that my country has loosed upon our world this week.


You know that you are American (and Australian, of course). What you know about America is that you love visiting your adoring family. You know that you get to eat a lot of hot dogs, and something called “nachos,” that you’ve never even heard of before. People are effusive towards you, you get gifts, and you always have the most incredible adventures.

I have to tell you, kiddo, that even though I’ve lived a bit more life than you, and have seen a lot more of America, that my perception of our country has always been pretty optimistic, too. Aside from two years in New York, I have always been a “Blue” in the reddest of “Red” states. John McCain was my Congressman. Then Newt Gingrich. Then Marco Rubio. I’ve known quite well the Religious Right. When I was in college, the KKK marched a block from my campus. My own father was an atheist with a PhD who, inexplicably, loved nothing more than a good riling up from his radio pal, Rush Limbaugh. Yet, despite some serious ideological differences, I always had this feeling that the people of America – the vast majority of them, anyway – had big hearts and an inherent sense of kindness. Blues and Reds might disagree on many things, but we could mostly get along, and there was a cultural thread of decency that knitted us together.

My girl. I am so sorry, but I have somehow gotten things wrong. Hence, the first President you will be able to remember is not the graceful, diplomatic Obama of your toddler years. It’s not, though it brings me to tears to say this, a woman who dedicated her life to people like you – children and girls. A woman who I believe to my very core is so much more good than not. Instead, America has risen to the highest literal and symbolic office in the world, a man who would judge you by your looks, on a scale of 1-10. A man who thinks it’s just “guy stuff” to grab your genitals, as if he owns them, not you. A man who thinks your biological functions are disgusting. You, my perfect little person, are nothing but flawed, in his eyes.

This election is historic. Maybe, when you’re old enough to learn about 2016, you’ll have some questions about where your mother stood. These are the things I’d want you to know:

  • I have been sickened by the words we’ve heard Donald Trump say about women, immigrants, refugees, the disabled, and minorities. His values are so far from the values I carry, and those that I would wish for you.
  • I would not, to my last breath on this Earth, cast a vote for a person who would strip away health care, reproductive rights, or the rights of our gay friends to marry.
  • I believe in science. Climate change is real. Vaccines save lives.
  • I cried big, sloppy tears when I cast my vote for America’s first female President. Those tears were for you, and for me, and for every warrior woman and girl we’ve ever known. And, for every man and young boy, too – they also need to see an amazing woman in the highest office, at least as much as we do.
  • Please know that more Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. That may go down as an historical footnote, nearly forgotten by the time you’re old enough to understand this, but I need you to know that there were more people in the United States who rejected hate and ignorance than who supported it.
  • I cast my vote, and I spoke my truth to my friends, but I could have done so much more. Remember that. In your life, when you see something that you know so fundamentally in your heart and mind to be wrong, you will never regret doing more to fight for what’s right. You will only regret your silence and inaction.

My best girl, I need you to understand that I can never stop being American, and I’ve always carried a quiet hope that one day it would be your home, too. Today, that feels like a distant dream. Today, I am angry, and sad, and for the first time in my life, pessimistic. I only hope that when you’re old enough to read this, society will be on the other end of this vile pendulum swing, and that the memory of Trump and his ilk will just be a strange blip from your childhood.

No matter how history unfolds, I hope you’ll see that your mother and father have never wavered from seeking to uphold our family’s values – kindness, acceptance, respect, equality, peace, curiosity, and education. No one – not even a President – can ever take these things away.

 

With so much love,
Your adoring, angry (not at you!), heartbroken mother

5 Things American Elections Can Learn From Australia

politics

Election day is upon the U.S. once again, and this one ought to be the dooziest of all doozies. Buckle in.

Though I haven’t physically cast a ballot in the U.S. in several years, I’ve done so many times in the past. I was one of those Democracy enthusiast people who voted in local school board elections and the whole lot of ’em. Luckily, I never encountered many problems at my polling places, but after voting in Australia a couple of times, I’ve taken away a few best practices that I’m certain would make the American election season and the process of voting much easier, and infinitely less frustrating for everyone.

And, just to be fair, Aussies don’t have everything worked out perfectly … those meter long Senate ballot papers?? We’ll chat next go ’round, Australia!

Short Election Seasons

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m starting to feel like I’ve aged dozens of years since the start of this campaign season – and that’s not just because of how many wrinkles screaming at the TV during the debates has given me. In truth, Clinton announced her candidacy in April 2015 – 19 MONTHS AGO – and Trump just one month later. In this insane amount of time, the campaigns have looked for increasingly wild ways to stay on top of the news cycle and keep voters’ attention. This involves doing nearly anything aside from talking about actual policy, which has been hardly a passing thought over this long, long, painfully long season.

My American friends, this is going to sound impossible to believe, but in Australia, an election must happen between 33 and 58 days after it has been called. DAYS. And, here’s what I’ve noticed about that – candidates have to get out there and hustle on the quick, and we, including the media, actually talk about issues and policy positions. Of course, there’s some mud-slinging, but I’ve yet to see it get anywhere near as personal and ugly as in these never ending American contests.

Preferences

There’s been a lot of talk this year about “not throwing away your vote” on a 3rd party. That it’s “too important to make sure that the other guy isn’t elected.” While I get the sentiment, I’m personally of the belief that you should vote for whoever reflects your values and the values you want for your country better than anyone else. The more voices in the conversation, the more interesting things get, in my estimation. And, frankly, some people are never going to vote for the major party candidates because they just can’t stand either of them.

In Australian elections, however, you don’t just choose one the person you like the best. You actually put your candidates in order of preferences, and if the vote count is close, those preferences come into play until a 50%+ winner is decided. For me, in the last election, I wasn’t crazy about either of the two major parties, but there was certainly one I liked better than the other. But, I really wanted to give my vote to a few of the small parties whose platforms reflected my interests a lot better. So, I preferenced two minor parties, and then the major party third, knowing full well that if it got close, my vote would go to the major party that I disliked the least, but I still got to give my nod of support to the smaller parties I preferred.

Who’s number 1?

Vote Anywhere in Your State

The first time I voted in Australia, I was in a bit of a tizzy because I was trying desperately to find “my” polling place. In the U.S., there’s only one local school or hall for the local area where you reside at which you’re able to cast your vote. If, for any reason, you’re not going to be near that particular location on election day, it takes some planning ahead – either voting early (where available), arranging for an absentee ballot, or just calling it too hard and skipping it, altogether. What I discovered about Australian elections, however, is that you can vote at any polling place in your state. You may have to go into a separate line if you’re voting outside of your council area, but it’s allowed. So, if you’re travelling or working away from your home area on election day, it’s no issue to cast your ballot.

Saturday Elections

Elections in the U.S. are always on Tuesdays. Do you know why? Because once upon a time, it took a full day to travel to the county seat from your little country farm (supposing you were a land owning white man and eligible to vote), so elections needed to be on a day that didn’t interfere with either Sunday church services or Wednesday market days. And, so totally logically, even though most of us don’t ride horse carriages to our polling places any longer, and Wednesday is just cloyingly best known as “Hump Day” now, we haven’t changed things … even though most people now actually have to go to work on Tuesdays. And, yes, employers are technically required to give you time off to vote, for many people it’s just too inconvenient, either because you’re too busy, too far away from your polling place, or your employer isn’t as supportive as they ought to be.

Yes, early voting – where available – does help with work conflicts – but, what if we just voted on a day when a lot more people have the day off? Like Saturday? Of course there are people who work on Saturdays – there is no perfect day – but far fewer than Tuesdays. I mean … Tuesday? Plus, when the election is on Saturday, it doesn’t hurt nearly so much the next day when you stay up all night watching the results come in, celebrating/drowning your sorrows.

Sausage Sizzles

Speaking of celebrating – can you imagine if election day was like a big ol’ party? Bake sales, maybe your kid can get her face pained or have a listen to the local school’s musical talent. And, do not forget the sausages! In Australia, the “sausage sizzle” is almost synonymous with elections. Get your “Democracy sausage!” Local schools and community groups use elections as fundraisers, and everyone sees taking part in the festivities as part of the experience. Polling places are a festive atmosphere, not an onerous chore to dread. Gives new meaning to “Rock the Vote!”

***You might notice that I left the biggest difference between American and Australian voting off this list – compulsory voting. Frankly, I like it, but I think there’s arguments to be made for and against it, and it’s a much, much, much bigger topic than this article. Let’s live through this election and then talk again soon, shall we?

Go get, ’em, America! And, Florida, don’t screw this up for everyone!

In This Election, We Chose Our Words With Care

politics

This post has positive things to say about President Obama. If this angers you for any reason, I invite you to scroll along to another article that will bring you joy. 


This American Presidential election season is a month away from completion, and it’s left me feeling battered, heartbroken, and confused. I’ve never seen such vile rhetoric splashed around like so many droplets of poison rain. I’ve seen whole swaths of the population reduced to vulgarities. A few days ago, I watched in real time on Facebook as a family was torn apart over political views that dipped into personal rights.

I have these pictures from the last time that we elected a new President, and it seems like a world ago. For me, it was a world ago. I was living and working in Sarasota, Florida. Australia was just a place on the map with kangaroos and shrimp on the barbie. I had work to do. Many of my friends and I did. We were going to show the world that we could elect the “Hope” guy, the one with the smarts and the class. It had been a long 8 years for many of us, and we’d complained – oh, we’d complained – but, we hadn’t sunk into hate, and we hadn’t lost our hope.

I’d been a Hillary fan, but by this point in the election season 8 years ago, none of that mattered. Florida had only gone Democratic once in the past 30 years, but things were looking favorable for this new guy. Everyone knows that Florida is important. And, it was in that spirit, on a cloudless morning in October that around 2,000 of us, in an historically Republican stronghold district, gathered together to walk together across the Ringling Causeway bridge in this absolute crush of smiles, joy, homemade signs, and impromptu dance parties. This was about the guy from Chicago, but it was so much bigger than one person. We were going to “bridge” our differences in this really positive way. It was time.

This day was nothing but sunshine, community and happiness.

Later that day, I had a phone banking shift at the local Obama office. Republican President Dwight Eisenhower’s granddaughter was in the office, talking to the press. She looked like a Republican granddaughter – polished, bouffanted, pearls and a pastel suit.Obama was her guy.

A few weeks later, on election night, about 20 of us crammed into a studio bungalow apartment that the theatre owned – the temporary actor residence of my dear friend, Andy. We all worked for the theatre in one capacity or another – actors, technicians, administrators, teachers, interns. We had a cheese plate and bubbly and a lot of nervous energy. And then, far sooner than any of us expected, the Florida map on the TV went blue. Corks were popped, cheers were let out. Even the Republicans amongst us had to at least admit the beauty of the fact that we were Florida, and we hadn’t messed up the election, this time!

It wasn’t such a late night before the election was called, McCain graciously conceded, and we sat in front of this 14 inch television watching our first African American President take the stage in Chicago.

We were America in that little house that night. Black and white. Straight and gay. Democrat and Republican. Hailing from communities across the country – rural and urban, rich and poor. Some had voted in their very first election. Some of us had been doing so for years. I’ve talked in these pages often about my trouble with patriotism – my sense that it’s odd to be “proud” of a place just because you were born there. But this night, and with these people, I have never been more proud. We were part of something historic. Optimism won the day, even for those whose candidate didn’t.

We chose to come together in the name of hope. That’s my American pride.

The Novice Citizen’s 100% Unofficial Guide to Voting in Australia

politics

The Novice Citizens 100 Percent Unofficial Guide to All Things Voting in AustraliaPolitics is my sports. This year, I get the equivalent of two Super Bowls. Of course, we have the Presidential election in the U.S. (and, boy, has that taken a lot out of me during the off-season), and this year – for the first time – I am voting in an Australian Federal election on July 2nd, thanks to becoming a citizen in 2014.

It’s taken me a few years to get my head around the Australian political system, but just in time for my first Federal election (*fist bump*), I think I more or less have the finer points worked out. So, for anyone who is also voting for the first time in this election, or will be a citizen in the near future, I’ve compiled this completely unofficial guide to what you need to know before election day.


Compulsory Voting

If you’ve already become a citizen, you no doubt know that voting is compulsory for all Australians. You’d be hard pressed to miss that fact. It’s hammered home pretty strenuously in the citizenship ceremony, where you’re required to add your name to the electoral role, and in case you forgot, a follow up letter from your MP a few days later will nudge you in the right direction.

Once you’re enrolled, failing to have your name checked off on election day will score you a cool $20 fine.
That’s almost six coffees. Why would you do that to yourself?

VOTE2

The Lower House and the Upper House

Like the U.S. (or rather, like England, where we all got the idea from), Australia has two legislative houses – the House of Representatives (“the lower house”) and the Senate (“the upper house”). There are 150 Representatives – also known as Members of Parliament (MPs) – who represent local areas and serve a term of up to 3 years (don’t get too comfortable). The Prime Minister is a member of the lower house. There are 76 Senators – 12 from each state and 2 each from the Northern Territory and Australian Capital Territory – who are elected to serve terms of up to six years (Six years! Settle right in, mates).

Australian Election

The Lower House on a quiet day. The Upper House is red.

The Government and the Opposition

We can split hairs about this, but in effect, Australia has a two party system, and the majority of our officials are either Liberal-National or Labor. The closest approximation I can make in American terms is Liberal = Republicans and Labor = Democrats – though that’s a sweeping generalization that’s probably unfair to the Liberals (#trump).

Whichever party wins the most seats in the Lower House does a little jig and forms the “Government,” and the leader selected by the party is Australia’s Prime Minister. Whichever sad party has fewer seats comes out swingin’ as the “Opposition,” led by the Leader of the Opposition. Its job is to boo at everything Government says.

The Prime Minister gets to pick his most-favoritist Ministers to help him with things like foreign policy, education, immigration, money matters, and all those important things. (S)He appoints a cabinet of Ministers to advise, sit next to him and make faces at the Opposition, and go on TV to say how smart the PM is. Not to be left out – and I think you’re going to agree that this is pretty bad-ass – the Opposition leader also gets to pick his darlings to talk to him about those same issues. These folks are the Shadow Ministers (right?!?), and they basically follow their Government counterparts around and tell them they should get stuffed.

Shadow Treasurer

Frontbenchers & Backbenchers

It’s kind of like high school: Gain favor with the leader of your party, often by winning big in the election, and become a Minister or Shadow Minister, and you get to sit with the cool kids on the front bench. If not, you’re out in back bench land with the band kids and the drama nerds.

It’s brutal on the back bench, it would seem.
“Ugh, I never liked it on the front bench, anyway.”
“Yeah, those guys are the worst.”
“Let’s egg their houses this weekend.”
“Cool.”

backbench

The Coalition

This is one of those phrases I heard on the news a lot, but never exactly knew what it meant. So, I looked it up. The Coalition is an alliance of a few center right parties who, together, form the Liberal-National Coalition. Oh, and here’s something I learned while researching this on Wikipedia – “At the federal level, the Liberal Party leader usually serves as Prime Minister and the National Party leader as Deputy Prime Minister.”

Friendsies.

Third Parties

Third parties. There are kind of a lot of them in Australia, and though they don’t hold that many seats (5 in the lower house and 18 in the upper house, in the last election), they can be influential when votes are close, particularly with a “hung parliament,” where neither of the parties holds a majority of seats. As you can imagine, there’s a whole lot of wheeling and dealing with the third parties. “I really like your shirt! Want to sit by me at lunch today?? I really like that thing you said about renewable energy. That was fun.”

They’re also important in elections, and I’ll talk more about that later.

The Greens are the most viable third party, at the moment, though at any time, there can be dozens of others. Some of them are pretty specific AND fun. – like the Motoring Enthusiasts Party, or the Help End Marijuana Prohibition (HEMP) Party, or, hey, the Sex Party. There’s also been a recent rise in independent candidates forming their own parties, like Palmer United or the Nick Xenophon Team.

I snapped this photo of part of a ballot from a 2000 state election while on a tour of the Parliament of NSW. Sample Ballot

Calling an Election

As an American, this is probably the craziest part of Australian politics to me. While I’m used to officials sitting for fixed terms, and federal elections are always held on the same date, here in Australia, the Prime Minister can pretty much call an election whenever (s)he wants to shake things up around the ol’ homefront.

OK, that’s not completely true – they can’t do it on their own. They have to get approval from the Governor General (who basically speaks for the Queen) for the House and the Premiers of each state for Senate. And, elections for the House must be held at least once every 3 years and once every 6 years for Senators (half of them every 3 years, usually coinciding with the Representative elections).

Double Dissolution

WHOA! Things just got really crazy in here. A double-frickin’-dissolution is when the Prime Minister says, “I HAVE HAD IT UP TO HERE WITH YOU LOT” and sends them all home to bloody well think about what they’ve done, and only come back if they get re-elected. Everyone. Representatives. Every single Senator. The whole naughty bunch.

That is what’s happened with this election. Basically, Malcolm Turnbull got in a real dither and said that if the Senate didn’t pass some legislation that, I swear to you, maybe 7 people in the real world cared about, that he’d see us all on July 2 (which makes me think maybe it wasn’t *really* just about the ABCC legislation, but who am I?). He had to go up to the Governor General’s house in this very dramatic fashion – the news was full of black sedans rolling up the driveway – and ask permission. And, off we go – see you at the polls!

There have only been six previous double dissolutions in Australia. This video explains the legalities and the tactic really well, if you’re interested in hearing someone who knows what they’re talking about explain it.

Turnbull

Campaign Season

Unlike my homeland, where the campaign season lasts for *literal* years, Australian candidates only campaign for a few weeks. The election must be held between 33 and 58 days after the elections has officially been called. Days.

What. A. Relief.

Preferences

I don’t know if it’s a blessing or a curse for the indecisive, but on election day, not only do you choose your top bloke or blokette for the job, but you also get to say who you think should have the job if your person doesn’t win. On your ballot, you number candidates or parties by order of “preference.”

Preferences are a pretty big deal because they can sway a marginal (“swing,” as we’d say in the U.S.) seat one way or another. To win, a candidate must receive more than 50% of the vote, but with a dozen or more candidates on the ballot, they don’t always get it on first preference. Soooo, they then start counting preferences for the lowest ranked candidate, then the next lowest, until someone has 50%.

Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Preferences

How to Vote Cards

All this preference voting can really put a lot of pressure on a person. Luckily, every candidate is here to help with your difficult decision with a “how to vote card.” It’s sort of like shopping on Amazon … “Customers who like Tanya Plibersek, also like…”. I’ve gotten a few in the mail, already, and volunteers stand outside polling places on the day, handing them them out – “Preferences! Getcha preferences here!”

By the way, the people handing those out are volunteering their Saturday to so something they believe in. Be nice to them, even if you don’t like their party, yeah?how to vote card

Donkey Vote

Despite the boon to the printing industry that these “how to vote” cards provide, some people still cannot be bothered. They show up to get their name ticked off because they know the value of $20, but  they have places to be, man. And so, they begin with the beginning and write “1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6,” in order, and done. That’s called a donkey vote, and though I think anyone who votes this way is a donkey, I’ve read that people voting can give a small edge to whoever is listed first on the ballot.

Donkey Vote

Above the Line or Below the Line

In a Senate election, you have two groovy options – voting “above the line” for just the party or voting “below the line” for individuals. Preferences are still important. If voting above the line, you must number your preferences 1- 6. Below the line is 1 – 12. So, basically, voting above the line is easier, while voting below the line gives you more say in who you’re voting for.

Senate voting papers are actually a really long sheet of paper with a literal line separating the two options.

Aussie Battlers

There is nothing more important in an election than the Aussie battlers. They are, ostensibly, the people every candidate wants voting for him/her, and they are also what they all purport to be. An Aussie battler is that person who is just working hard, scraping by an honest living for their family, keeping their head down, and trying to do right. Joe the Plumber, to my Yanks. They get a lot of notice around election time. You’ve gotta get that Aussie battler vote.

Sausage Sizzle

THE most important part of an election, just ask any Australian. Aussie polling places have almost a party atmosphere to them, thanks primarily to local community groups and schools setting up “sausage sizzle” fundraisers outside. For a gold coin donation ($1 or $2), you get a sausage on a piece of white bread, on which you can put some barbecue sauce or tomato sauce. Maybe even some fried onions, if it’s a fancy one.There’s even a website dedicated to mapping polling places with sausage sizzles. #snagvote

sausage sizzle site

So, if like me, you’re headed to your first Federal election, don’t forget your gold coins, or the experience of helping to choose your elected officials will simply be incomplete.

And, if this guide written by someone who has never even voted in a Federal election has somehow not answered all of your questions, I suggest checking in on the people who actually know – The Australian Electoral Commission, whose site will answer, seriously, any question you could possibly have.

Want to know who to vote for? Try Vote Compass from the ABC, which aligns your views with those of the candidates. 


Seasoned Australian voters – what have I missed? 
Are you putting BBQ or Tomato Sauce on your sausage?

2015 Between Roots & Wings News In Review

expat issues, Little Aussie, politics, Sydney

5How was your 2015? Are you dragging to the end, ready for a fresh start? Or, were you #blessed? I like the ritual of having a scan back over the year, even if it’s just to say, well thank George Washington that’s over.  So, in the spirit of seeing where we’ve been, I’ve complied the Between Roots and Wings 2015 News Roundup. This is what made the news in my world of toddler-rearing, expat-living, Sydney-siding, American-being, travel-hopping, coffee-loving, and just generally interested in the world-ing.

Before we cue the soundtrack (what song are we using this year, guys? I haven’t listened to any new music in half a decade at least!), I want to thank you. Sincerely. There are so many things you could be reading right now, and that you’re here is just the stuff. My little spot on the Internet is about living away from home, seeing Sydney (and beyond) through expat and parent eyes, raising my  third culture kid, and just being interested in the world and kind to each other. Meeting other people who care about these things in this space is just a wild, affirming thing every day of the year. So, if you’ve read posts here, left a comment, joined me on the ol’ Facebooks, Twitters, Instagrams, etc., THANK YOU. I hope your 2015 has seen love, and curiosity, and laughter, and generosity. I look forward to sharing more of those things and whatever else 2016 offers us.

Happy New Year! *Cue “Uptown Funk!”*


*January*

  • I lost the first two days of 2015 to travel and the International Date line, and so, there were only 29 days for interesting things to occur in my January, 2015. #expatlyfe
  • In breaking local news, the cubby house at my favorite cafe became a news story, one which burned for a day, then fizzled. *The cubby house still stands like a fortress guarding all that’s good about childhood.*Sprout cubby house
  • Australia’s Prime Minister made a royal error in judgment  in knighting Prince Phillip.
  • Starbucks introduced the pride of Australia, the flat white, to its menu. People liked it. I know, right?!?
  • My one year old became a two year old.2yr

*February*

  • Parks and Recreation ended.
  • My two year old gave up her nap. The days became very looooooong.
  • Rosanne Cash responded in the most wonderful way to something I wrote about her, and I went, “Gah! You guys…!” rctweet
  • Australia’s Prime Minister managed to keep his job, just barely. He promised to do better, pinky swear.

*March*

  • I was probably more excited than is normal to vote in my first Australian election.photo 1 (8)
  • A family of possums took a summer home on our balcony. Because Australia.
  • Australia’s Prime Minister stuck his foot in his mouth.

*April*

  • A lot of us put our time, hope, and energies into trying to spare Myuran Sukumaran and Andrew Chan a death sentence in Indonesia. We still mourn them. photo 2 (13)
  • Sydney had the wildest storm. It blustered and rained and gnashed its ugly teeth for days. That thing was crazy, y’all.
  • Australia’s Prime Minister had a 12% approval rating.

*May*

  • Johnny Depp’s poor dogs took a short trip to Australia
  • We didn’t know how old Rebel Wilson was. It bothered us. And then we did. Rejoice. wilsondepp
  • Prince Harry came to town, and Sydney was all like, “O.M.G., you guys! He is is SO cute!”
  • Emma and Lachie from the Wiggles got engaged, and I was all like, “O.M.G., you guys! That is SO cute!”
  • Australia’s Prime Minister was a little out of touch with the people. tony abbott again

*June*

  • The. U.S. just one day up and decided to get marriage equality. Are you kidding me?!? This was THE greatest day of the year. Rainbows for everyone! (Except Australians). I don’t say this very often (ever), but, U-S-A! U-S-A!
  • I did this interview about being an expat, which was kind of fun.
  • Donald Trump announced that he was running for President. Every person I met in Australia wanted to know – what the actual…? “Don’t worry!,” I told them. “He’s a joke candidate,” I said. …err… U-S-A! U-S-A! …?…
  • The Killing Season documentary on ABC was amazing. And, it reminded us of how charming our Prime Minister can be. tony abbott

*July*

*August*

  • Nothing happened. Seriously. It was weird.

*September*

  • Serbia
  • Greece
  • The refugee crisis
  • Oh and, fair go, Australia decided thought it would try out a new Prime Minister. Who could have seen that coming?

*October*

  • American had another mass shooting. This one was at a college. Australians to America: “Are you kidding me, bro?”

*November*

  • One guy on Twitter got his panties twisted about red coffee cups, and the Internet imploded
  • The Paris terror attacks were just too awful
  • Australian commentator Walleed Aly won the year by saying a lot of smart things

     

  • I gave thanks for many things. Some of my friends did, too.

*December*

  • We had a By-election in my district, or as I liked to call it a “Bye-election.” Bye to Joe Hockey, who said almost as many ludicrous things as Prime Minister #1 this year. Look out, America – he’s Australia’s new ambassador.
  • A shark jumped on a guy’s surfboard at Bondi Beach. They were both fine. ‘Straya, mate.
  • Christmas took over my life. It was perfect.photo 1 (23)

So, hey, that’s what my last revolution around the sun looked like.
What was the big news in your world this year?
THANK YOU, AGAIN, YOU GORGEOUS, FUNNY, MARVELOUS PEOPLE!

Because They Are Parents – On the Refugees We Met In Belgrade

europe, politics

refugeesMy little daughter, my husband and I were jet-lagged after 24 hours of travel when we walked to a neighborhood park in Belgrade, Serbia. There was only one other family there – a boy of about 8 or 9, a young man – presumably his father – and two women. “They’re refugees,” my husband told me. He knew I’d been thinking a lot about the Syrian refugee crisis in the days before we traveled, and I thought we’d probably see some refugees in the city, as well as in Athens, Greece where I was travelling next, but for some reason I had an idea we’d pass groups of them in a public square or train station. It hadn’t occurred to me that we’d be with them in the playground, though I don’t know why. Children don’t stop playing.

Though we’d landed not long before, we’d already heard a few opinions on the refugees, thousands of whom were currently residing in or had passed through Serbia, along with a number of other European countries. Some residents were welcoming. Some expressed concerns that Serbia is already a financially struggling nation, and the weight of the refugees would be too much of a burden on the country. I heard how the refugees seemed to be doing OK – “they all have smart phones.” Serbia is a struggling nation. This crisis is and will be a serious challenge to it. It’s also a nation that, my husband tells me, has a culture of welcoming refugees, particularly given their history. It’s complex, and it’s difficult for everyone.

I would take my smartphone if I were leaving home, too.

The father in the park did have a phone, and he was slumped over looking at it, while the women sat quietly on a bench. The child seemed to be bounding with that particularly fierce energy of young boys, but he was sheepish and sulked away when we came near a swing he was playing on. There were chalk drawings all over the concrete of the playground, and we started talking to Hushpuppy about them – “what animal is this?” “Yes, a whale!” “Is this a flower?” She was taken with them and rushed around, looking at one drawing after another.

One of the women, she was graceful, about 30, clad in a cobalt blue dress and hijab, shyly approached Partner-in-Crime and handed him a piece of chalk, so that our girl could make some drawings of her own.

I came to Serbia with a lot of ideas about helping the refugees, and a lot of assumptions about how little they had. I did not expect my first encounter with a refugee family to be one in which they offered something to me. It was a modest exchange, and we returned the chalk after a few minutes with our thanks, but it was a quiet reminder that we are united as families just doing what we can for our children – and for others, if we’re able and take notice.

Two days later, my little family sat down at the courtyard of a local hotel for coffees and juices to start the day. Next door, in an open lot, sat about 35 or so refugees on mats and blankets. I noticed a woman walk up to them with a grocery bag of food and hand it to one of the men, who thanked her and went over to share it with a few in his smaller group. I asked Partner-in-Crime if we could bring some groceries over, as well. We bought a half dozen loaves of bread from the store next door and walked over to the field. We handed four of the loaves to the largest group – mostly young men in their 20s, but a little further away, I noticed a family sitting on their own. Huddled on one blanket, trying to get shade under a tree, were a father, a girl of about 5, and a mother tending to a baby no older than 7 months old. They were quiet and looked exhausted. We offered them the remaining two loaves of bread, a sweet pastry (we’d bought too many for our breakfast), and a toy car, the only extra children’s item I had in my bag. It wasn’t very much, but the father clasped his hands together and bowed his head in thanks.

I wish we’d known we’d meet this family and shopped better for them. They had almost nothing. I couldn’t get them out of my mind, and found myself with tears running down my face, as I thought of them hours later. It was such a hot day. They had maybe a bag’s worth of possessions. I remember how hard and relentless life was when Hushpuppy was that baby’s age, even though I had a home, food, clothing, and security. I don’t know their story, but I do know that whatever drove them from their home, to risk their lives in whatever manner it took for them to arrive in that field in Serbia, where they knew no one and and didn’t speak the language, must have been harrowing, beyond my imagination. They did that because they are parents, and parents do anything it takes to keep their children safe.

I packed a bag for them that afternoon – toys, baby wipes, food, water, toiletries – but the whole field was empty when we returned. I assume someone picked them all up to take them to the processing center. We drove by it yesterday, and saw where the city and aid groups are providing bottles of water, medical checks, and other assistance. We saw many, many refugees living in a sort-of tent city next to the train station. I noticed so, so many children.  A couple of Halal food stands have sprung up next door. Presumably, most of these refugees are in transit, hoping to get to one of the wealthier countries, but I don’t know how many of them have access to travel funds or anyone to welcome them if they do make it.

I am no expert on the financial, social, or political ramifications of this crisis, but from what I’ve seen, I can tell you that these are real people, like you and me, whose lives have been in peril and who have lost more than most of us will ever be able to understand. We’re driven, as human beings, to just keep going on. We keep hope, and that’s one of the most incredible things we all share. The absolute minimum that we can all extend towards them is the grace of human understanding, and the courtesy to not look away.

Marriage Equality and the Expat Problem

politics

This post is brought to you by today’s sponsor: A MILLION HAPPY RAINBOWS spread across every reach of my social media stream.

Partner-in-Crime and I wore white knotted ribbons when we got married. Our wedding was fun – a little kooky and unhinged, but fun – but, the one part that irked me was that we were required by Australian law to have the celebrant say that marriage is “between a man and a woman.” I thought that was a gross thing to say, and we had the celebrant add an addendum after the legal bit that said we “hoped that one day soon all people would be allowed to marry.” Yeah, we got a little activist at our wedding, but truthfully,  it was never far from my mind on that day that I had many friends who did not have the same rights as I’d been afforded.

I cried all morning when I learned of the Supreme Court ruling making all marriages legal across the United States. I cried for the many, many gay friends of mine who must have just felt a little bit more included, a little bit more welcomed. Some of the tears were for friends who are already married but face so many logistical difficulties having to do with being in a marriage that isn’t recognized in every state. And, honestly, I cried the most thinking of my little daughter who will never remember a U.S. where some people are not welcome to the marriage party. I like that U.S. for her. I’d like that Australia for her equally as much.

There is one story that has always stuck with me when I thought about the importance of legal marriage in all states. A playwright I worked with and got to know a bit – a lovely woman, writer, and mother named Karen Hartman – wrote an essay in The New York Times detailing her nightmare scenario of marrying her female partner, then some time later – as many people do – deciding to divorce. Only, she couldn’t because she didn’t live in a state that recognized gay marriage, and the state she married in had a residency requirement for divorce. Her life was moving on, yet she was stuck in a historical marriage contract. From yesterday, this problem is resolved across the United States.

But, what if she’d moved to Australia?

With an increasing number of countries making all marriages legal, marriage equality is now an expat issue. I asked a lawyer friend what the law said about someone in a legal gay marriage coming into Australia. This is what he quoted me:

Pursuant to section 5(1) of the Marriage Act a marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life. Whilst many couples hold the mistaken belief that they can avoid adherence to Australia’s laws disallowing same-sex marriage, by marrying in a foreign country, s 88EA of the Marriage Act states that a union solemnised in a foreign country between a man and another man or a woman and another woman must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

In other words – no go.
(He also mentioned a bill introduced by Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young which called for the recognition of overseas gay marriages, which never went anywhere).

I started thinking about all the problems that would come with being married, but not recognized to be married, and I realized that it would be much the same as it has been for people in the U.S. married in one state then residing in or moving to a state that (previously) didn’t recognize gay marriage. My friend Rebecca has been in just that situation, and this is what she told me:

We got married long before it was legal anywhere here, then made it legal in December of last year. Hassles? Had to file two sets of taxes (joint Federal, single state). Before I could change my drivers license, I had to change my passport, so six months after we were married I still haven’t updated all my accounts with my correct name. We still had to have power of attorney and durable power of attorney paperwork because if it came down to it, someone could deny us rights to make decisions, etc. for each other. Couldn’t even contemplate adoption/foster care because we weren’t single and weren’t married in Georgia.

Not to mention, massive “imposter syndrome” every time I said I was married. Some people were incredulous that we weren’t recognized here, some were openly UGLY about my being married to a woman.

There’s a multitude of paperwork problems that being married, but “not,” brings about. And, frankly, it’s just crap to be married and then made to feel that you’re not. Really, just sit with that thought for a moment.

This world is too global for marriage equality to not transcend borders. Expats need to be able to move freely with the same basic human rights. Denying legal marriages is going to be an increasingly difficult and frustrating endeavor for countries, particularly so-called progressive ones like Australia.

The expat issue is just another on the list of reasons why Australia ought to be next in legalizing gay marriage. I’m talking to you, Tony Abbott. Get on the right side of history, or get out of the way of the global world. The rainbows are taking over.

 

News Roundup: This Week In People Being Complete Jerks

politics

It’s been a big week for jerk-face behavior in Australia. Douchery is just so on-trend this Winter! Here’s a quick roundup of the week’s highlights of people being awful.

We had a really meaningful national discussion about marriage equality…

…thanks to this couple:

…oh, no, sorry. That’s not them. That’s an adorable sock monkey couple getting married.
I meant these two charmers…

couple

This couple told a local Canberra paper that if gay marriage is passed into law, then they’re getting divorced because … I don’t know…  reasons that are totally logical and not at all homophobic or insane. They clearly hit during a slow news cycle because they’ve managed to make it into the national and international news for, like, 4 days now, which I think we can all agree is exactly 3 days, 23 hours, and 45 minutes longer than they ought to be entitled to. 

There are a lot of people out there with nutty ideas. Like, Uncle Herb who has a pigeon farm in his backyard to “keep the Russian spies in Idaho.” But, nobody is putting him on the front of the newspaper or hitting “share” on that story thousands and thousands of times.

So, to Mr. and Mrs. Sock Monkey Jensen, I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing your jerky, archaic views with the world, and good luck with your divorce, which will never actually happen because they take that stuff seriously here. I think we can all agree that the real winner of this story is the Canberra City News, who no one had ever heard of before this week, but has suddenly had their click rate increased approximately 20,000 times. Cha-ching!

The rich Treasurer gave us an educational what-for about how easy it is to get into the housing market.

The housing prices across Australia, and particularly in Sydney, continue to climb to baffling levels, to the point that some have begun to call it a crisis. The Sydney Morning Herald this week ran a piece showing that there are only 5 suburbs in Sydney (out of more than 600) where a minimum wage worker can afford to rent a 1-bedroom apartment. And, to buy a house, is no longer a reality for many, with the median house price in Sydney closing in on $1 million.

Showing that he’s quite concerned about and in touch with the problem, this week Treasurer (and my esteemed MP) Joe Hockey  reassured us that,
hockey

People took that pretty well. You know, people like teachers and nurses, who can finally get onto that Australian Dream business if they’d just get themselves one of those good jobs.

Meanwhile, ol’ Have a Go Joe is selling his farm in Queensland for $1.5 million (a proposed profit of almost $900,000 from when he bought it 12 years ago). This is because being Treasurer is a “good” job.

We decided not to ugly up Australia

wind farm

Get thee from my sight!

Not to be outdone by his Treasurer on the Jerk Move front, our Prime Minister Tony Abbott expressed, in no uncertain terms, his desire to reduce (and I literally quote the PM here –  “R-E-D-U-C-E. Reduce.”) the number of wind farms in Australia.  Never mind that they create safe, clean, inexpensive, renewable energy, Tony thinks that they are “visually awful” and “they make a lot of noise.”

Unlike his beloved coal mines, which are gorgeous. G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S.

And, in local news:

My two year old discovered a new phrase this week – “MY TURN!”

photo (44)Our clever opportunist has taken the phrase she hears often at the park and playgroup, “wait your turn,” and appropriated it for her own nefarious means like trying to get ahold of my iphone or using kitchen shears. She has what you might call the Fox News delivery of this phrase down – a perfect balance of self-assured conviction and volume.

This is, reportedly, just a phase of toddlerhood. However, given the news of this week, I think we’re going to make it a priority to work hard on lessons of inclusiveness, generosity, and kindness of spirit, lest she end up a shameless polluter, belittling hard working people’s dreams, or shilling offensive click-bait on the front of the city paper.

 

The U.S. Presidential Election Down Under

politics

I don’t follow sports, but give me an election, and I get myself hyped up like a kid on too many pixie sticks, which I think is akin to how my sports fan friends and family turn on big game days. The competition! The team spirit! The feelings of moral superiority! The mascots! It’s all a lot of drama on which I am easily sold, hence, my love for debate and election watching parties. Sports are more fun in a bar with equally riled up buddies, and so are elections. For the last presidential election, I hosted or attended no less than four parties. I’m talking about parties with games and even hats. So, for my first Presidential election Down Under, I was so happy that some of my American friends were attending a big results-watching party, and that I have a flexible enough schedule to take the day off.

I have always kept my politics off this blog, but there is no way to proceed with this story without acknowledging my preferences. And, in this once-every-four-years instance, I do want to proceed because I see this as an expat story, more than a political one. So, if you’d rather not know who I voted for, if you’re not feeling too happy with the results, or if you don’t want a “spoiler” on who won (hey, maybe you Tivo-ed it?!), please don’t read on.

OK, so…

The Sydney chapter of Democrats Abroad is, I believe, a pretty large and organized group. We’ve attended one or two of their functions before, but I was mostly excited to attend their election watching party with some of my American friends. Everyone managed some time off work, as the election results began rolling in on Wednesday early afternoon here. By the time we arrived at 1pm, the event was in full swing with maybe 150 people in attendance. We were lucky to snag a table and settled in to hyping ourselves up and watching the results. Partner-in-Crime provided a “swing state” map for us to consult, as well as state by state results from the previous three Presidential elections. Baseball fans, you will appreciate how much this nerdy examination of the stats makes things so much more compelling.

Partner-in-Crime and I had already set a time in the early evening past which we did not intend to stay, as we fully expected that the Ohio and Florida (Florida voter here and, once again, aren’t I proud …) vote counts might carry on for days, leaving us with no winner until at least some absurd hour. Until then, we were ever so happy to be among the revelry or pain of the group experience.

Got a kick out of this –
thought this guy looked like he was
with the Secret Service.

The Sydney Dems, most of who seemed to be American, but with some Aussies along, were a pretty diverse looking crowd that crossed a lot of demographics. All were glued to the televisions with a constant crowd at the bar for drinks and pub food. Loud cheers would go up whenever a new state was declared in “our” favor. A cardboard cut out of Obama had a steady stream of people taking photos with him all day. I’m not too proud to tell you that I took a few with photos with the Prez (which should not surprise you, as I’ve already admitted to hosting parties with hats).

After only a few hours, we were shocked to see CNN calling the election. A huge cheer went up through the crowd, but our table really just sat there in disbelief for awhile. We didn’t have any sound on the TV in our corner, so we were completely perplexed at how it could be called with so many states still out. We just kept staring at the TV for another few minutes, dazed, until we finally had to agree that maybe this was really it.

I high tailed it to the bar for a bottle of champagne. Somehow, the champagne made it all seem official, as our confused group was finally up on its feet looking lively. We toasted happily and I determined that it was enough of an occasion that even I could indulge in half a glass.

We found a more comfortable spot in front of a TV with sound and settled in to watch the speeches. In that long stretch between the announcement and first Romney’s speech and then Obama’s speech, we got a kick out of people-watching, pontificating, remembering where we’d been in elections past, and lots and lots of megabytes spent on Facebooking the whole thing. There I was in a pub in Sydney Australia, sharing this election with friends across the world, including many who I have shared election victories and defeats with in the past. I thought a lot about my friends at home and abroad, both those who were happy and those who were quietly less so, and thought about what the next four years might look like for them, for the U.S. and for us.

Right before Obama’s speech.

When Obama finally took the stage, everyone in the room got quiet (as we also did for Romney’s speech – it was an almost completely respectful crowd) and there were many tears and bursts of applause.

After the festivities, we went off to dinner with a couple friends from our party, and it was so surreal to pound back onto the rainy Sydney streets and for the entire election “night” to have gone by and it only be 7pm.

For all my love of voting and elections, I am not a blind optimist, and in my logical mind, I actually believe that we imbue the President with much more symbolic power than he (“he” for now, as I am convinced we’ll have a female President in the next decade) actually possesses. But, the part of me that loves spectacle – the part of me that would go crazy at a sporting event if that were my thing – is grateful to have shared this event with friends and compatriots. I add this to a treasured stack of election night memories that I’ve shared with people across the U.S. and now all the way around the world.

Special Edition: Public Service Announcements

politics

Today, I am chock full of Public Service announcements.

1. Sydneysiders, I am sure you are aware of the anti-American protests last weekend that turned violent. The U.S. Consulate issued warnings to American citizens that there may be more protests planned for this weekend. 
“U.S. citizens should avoid Sydney’s Hyde Park and its perimeter area and Martin Place on both Saturday, September 22 and Sunday, September 23. “

They also mentioned possible protests in Melbourne and Perth. I think that the number of protesters inciting violence is small, and hopefully nothing will come of this, but just better to be aware and stay safe. 
Most of you probably already know this, but if you’re not aware, American citizens can register their presence abroad and receive updates about possible security threats from the Consulate. Your interest in doing this would depend on how comfortable you are with the government knowing your whereabouts, but I personally felt the benefit of the consulate having a record of my presence outweighed my latent libertarian tendencies, so I registered that I live in Australia.
2. Vote! Maybe you’ve heard that there’s an election coming up? 
It’s going to be a tight one, so make sure that you go to the trouble to vote. I don’t care who you vote for (I mean, I have a preference and if you need a recommendation, drop me a line. I’ll be happy to advise. 😉 ) – just vote in an informed way!
Americans living abroad can register for an absentee ballot using a number of different websites. I have used Vote From Abroad (I think that it has a mild affiliation with one party, so you might hunt around for other sites if you’re not comfortable with that, but they don’t try to convert you into darkness or anything. This is just what I’ve used successfully in the past). Even if you’ve registered in the past and have been receiving ballots, be aware that you must request a new ballot every year. Since this is looking like such a tight election, you really want to make sure that your ballot is going to be valid!
And thus concludes my public service announcements for today. The more you know, people. The more you know…