I Can’t Vote, But You Can

There is a very specific type of agony for a person living in the United States in 2022 who is civically engaged, passionate about social issues and cannot vote. Hi, that’s me. I’m Canadian. I’ve been in New York City for 24 years and one month. I have given birth to an American. But I do not have a green card and I am not eligible to vote.  

Because I am Canadian, I am now going to engage in a time-honored expat-living-in-the-States tradition: debriefing on the vagaries of my visa status. The real ones know. And by “real ones” I mean “people who have been stressed out a whole heck of a lot at job changes and border crossings over the years, and probably pretty expensively.” This is a TL;DR for anyone who wants to get to the ranting part — I promise, it’s coming! — but every immigration story is a window into how hard it is to get into this country, contrary to what Fox News may suggest.  

I moved here as a lawyer on a TN visa in 1998; after a few dabbles with TNs (NAFTA visa for business professionals) and I-visas (for journalists) I entered on an O-visa (“alien of extraordinary ability,” thank you very much) which has an extensive application process but a glorious three-year term, which I then proceeded to renew, and renew and renew. I always planned to apply for a green card but the renewal was cheaper, and as a lawyer-turned-journalist the math always suggested opting for cheaper. Once my kid was born I had planned to apply for a green card on my next renewal, but that fell within the Trump years. My immigration attorney advised that it would be prudent to rock zero boats at that time. I have renewed twice since then (the three years only lasts as long as your sponsor, so if you switch jobs, you have to apply — and pay — again) and I am now finally ready to apply for my green card, and from there, apply for citizenship. None of this will happen in time for November 8, 2022. Ergo, the headline above.

So yeah, I can’t vote. But I have a heart. I have a brain. And I have a uterus! So, duh, I am a supporter of the Democratic party. I was a nasty, nasty woman in 2016 and I still am, always and forever. In 2016 I wrote an election PSA with a pun I am still proud of, and in 2020 I ran an online fundraising telethon of artists and performers to raise money for Biden-Harris. Both times I assumed it was the most urgent election of our lifetimes. They were, then.

Turns out, this is the most urgent election of our lifetimes. It’s like a grab-bag of urgent, fundamental issues that are all on the line. 

  • Reproductive rights! As in, your rights to your own body and uterus, and needed medications and procedures. Your daughter’s and your son’s right to not suddenly have to parent a kid (see Gabrielle Blair on this one), or even people you don’t know personally but you’d prefer that they don’t die from an ectopic pregnancy or sepsis or preeclampsia or even just have to carry an unwanted child to term. None of this is difficult! And yet.
  • Guns! The gun laws are getting less restrictive, the 2A activists are getting scarier and the mass shootings are real and persistent and terrible and terrifying. Thinking of Uvalde makes me sick, and then I think of St. Louis, less than a week ago. How do guns have more rights than women? How did I just type those two categories and I’m not even close to being done listing existentially-urgent issues in this election? 
  • Climate justice! We are living on an exponentially-warming planet and the Republicans want to step on the gas (metaphor) on everything from coal to fracking to spilling tankers of oil in the oceans, confident that there’s a bunker somewhere with their names on them, probably engraved. 
  • LGBTQ+ rights! Regressive bathroom bills, Orwellian “Don’t Say Gay” regulations blanketing classrooms, dark mutterings about reversing Obergefell (that’s banning gay marriage). Remember “love is love?” Banning that).
  • Voting rights! This is literally the election where you are voting on whether you will have the right to vote. Restrictive voting laws, election deniers not only running for office but running the elections themselves, extreme and egregious gerrymandering, make-believe rules applied and enforced unevenly. About a zillion more urgent issues being put before a Supreme Court with four questionably-appointed-justices (oh hell yeah, we’re including Clarence Thomas) that throws out precedent and ignores facts and is about to give themselves additional legislative powers — and one particular justice who doesn’t recuse himself from January 6th cases even though his wife is an insurrectionist election denier (oh hell yeah, this is about Clarence Thomas). 

This is not even close to an exhaustive list.

I know you know this. And yet, I feel like the urgency is missing. This could be because in the fall of 2020 we were all still confined to our homes, without a vaccine and desperate to DO something, anything. There was also a massive horrendous demagogue to topple. 

By contrast, the last two years have been… good. Order restored at the executive branch, a blessed freedom from sudden manic tweetstorms that seized news cycles, shredded norms and upended our days, an economy that was being restored, a return to in-person school, vaccine rollouts, a halting and hopeful return to normalcy. But also, January 6th, election denial, misinformation, disinformation, anti-vaxxers, “my body my choice” applying to everybody but pregnant women, climbing home and rent prices, falling purchasing power, more misinfo and disinfo, escalating anti-semitism, escalating violent political rhetoric, escalating political violence, escalating misinfo around the escalating political violence, and fucking Elon Musk taking over Twitter and becoming the Chief Twit Conspiracy Theorist within a fucking day. I AM SO TIRED OF TYPING ALL OF THIS AND THIS IS NOT EVEN CLOSE TO AN EXHAUSTIVE LIST!!! 

Listen, it’s pretty hard not to feel weary in the face of all this. Samuel Alito guts Roe and justifies it with a callback to the godfather of the Salem witch trials and the only media outlet to drag it sufficiently is SNL. The January 6th Commission lays out an airtight case against Donald Trump as the knowing, seditious force behind the January 6th insurrection — meant to topple democracy and seize the government by force — and it gets less airplay than Olivia Wilde’s salad dressing. Smug pundits decry “cancel culture” while around us we see the baddest of actors prancing around on consequence-free sprees of grossness and privilege. This feels like any scene in an epic, sweeping saga where the ragtag, righteous army climbs to the top of some cliff and, horrified, sees the dark enemy forces arrayed out before them, lined up and ready to die fighting, as far as the eye can see, as somewhere, Sauron or Voldemort or whoever is laughing evilly. Remember when it felt ok to say “Voldemort” and not then oh GOD remember who wrote him. And that’s FICTION. Greg Abbott and Ron DeSantis are real! AND EIGHT, EIGHT, I FORGET WHAT EIGHT WAS FOR and once again, this is not even close to an exhaustive list.

So, what do we do about it? What do you, a voter, and I, a non-voter, do about it? There are literally seven more days, and this one actually IS an exhaustive list.

  1. Write postcards to voters, under the wire. 
  2. Sign up for Mobilize and take a phonebanking shift. Or better yet, go knock on an actual door
  3. Donate. (I have it on good authority from every other email in my inbox that chipping in just $5 by midnight will help get Mark Kelly, Val Demings, John Fetterman, Raphael Warnock, Catherine Cortez Masto and the WisDems over the finish line! Sigh. This is not even close to an exhaustive list.) But, yes, donate. Would you like to save the planet, have bodily autonomy, not see your marriage license revoked, and vote without submitting to the Proud Boys Enforcement Commision On Voting Integrity? Fine, maybe the price of a cup of coffee is worth it. 
  4. Wear merch. Wave signs. Post that shizz. Show your skin is in the game. Use your platform and, like all women of a certain age must, be visible AF. VOTE. The most important thing you can do. But just once, ha ha (even for Republican candidates!) and where you actually live, ha ha (even for Mark Meadows!) and early if you can (this actually the rare case of having MORE hours to do something than Beyoncé has in a day), and actively henpeck the ones you love to do it, too (proud henpecker of an American boyfriend, right here). 

We don’t know how this thing is going to go. Really! Anyone who knows anything says so. (And  the pollsters definitely don’t know.) But as a non-voting Canadian living in the USA, here is something I do know: Where there is hope, there is fight. And a country, a planet, a uterus? Worth fighting for.  

We have one more week. Let’s go.

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