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A Canadian in Raleigh

A Political Bouillon Editorial: Campaigning for Obama and What it Means for Canada

When I started telling people about my intention to take a week off school and head down to Raleigh, North Carolina to campaign for Barack Obama, my liberal American friends were thrilled. After all, anyone who knows me at all knows that I have been a huge fan of Obama since the speech he gave at the 2006 Democratic Convention as Illinois Senator, and interested in American politics for even longer. Others I spoke to, needless to say, were less amused. The best reaction I got was, “It’s a pretty sad state of American politics if we need to import Canadians to help get out the vote”.

I’m not the only Canadian who’s obsessed with what happens south of the border, however. There ought to be a club for disgruntled liberal Canadians bored with the lack of dynamism in our domestic politics who turn to America for a dose of political excitement. To give us credit, we do try: but somehow, hating the National Post for being the most right wing (read: barely right wing) news source seems ridiculous in comparison to the vitriol that Fox News spews, and Rick Mercer just doesn’t have the star power of Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert or Rachel Maddow. Everyone in Canada is so moderate. How boring.

Thus, down to North Carolina – and to the heart of the political action the whole world was watching – I went, for the remaining week of America’ s 57th presidential election. I was placed in Organizing for America’s main Raleigh field office, and from there I was sent out to canvass every day, mainly in the low-income African American neighborhoods – Obama’s bastion of support in otherwise Republican North Carolina.

In the beginning, I have no doubt that it clearly shone through how apologetic I was for being, to some, an agent of “American democratic subversion”. But as the days wore on, and the number of doors I had knocked on grew into the hundreds, I shed my Canadian protective blanket and engaged with the voters. This election was important, and I had my own reasons as an equality-loving human being for wanting Obama re-elected. I was there to support the first gay-marriage accepting leader of the free world, who will hopefully be a beacon of hope to the repressed LGBT community worldwide.  I was there for my female American best friends, who deserve the same rights I have in Canada to maintain control over their own bodies. I was there to show support for the president who ended the Iraq war, introduced Wall Street reform, and helped prevent a worldwide Great Depression. All of these issues mattered to me and will always matter to me, so I started talking. Through all of the conversations I had, whether making sure someone knew where their voting location was, or even convincing them to cast their vote for Obama, I became increasingly aware of the power of organized political action and my own power as an agent of it.

I returned from North Carolina completely humbled. I have seen what change and political action look like, and I have witnessed firsthand the difference that one person can make. After all, while Obama didn’t win North Carolina this time, we did win our district, and in 2008 he won the state by an average of five votes per precinct. In the end, however, one of the most moving parts of the trip for me was seeing North American style poverty up close for the first time. Having grown up in Brazil and spent time in Africa, I’ve seen extreme poverty before, but never in a culture or city that could so easily be my own. The absence of electricity and running water in some of the houses, and untreated cancer due to a lack of insurance in others served to convince me that this was a place where there was a seriously critical absence of government – and made me wonder what kind of poverty is in front of me in Montreal that I choose not to see because, sadly, it’s not exotic enough for me to care about.

I feel more engaged than ever before in Canadian politics. The varying range of issues we face here are just as pressing as the social issues that matter so much to me in America. From the inadequacies of the Indian Act, to protecting the Arctic, to our current pathetically unengaged foreign policy, there is work to be done in Canada that requires the same political mobilization that I engaged in to get Obama re-elected in the States. We Canadians must be brave. We must stop waiting for our own version of Obama to come along and tell us what hope and change look like. We must define our vision for Canada ourselves and organize to keep our politicians accountable and our democracy alive. We owe it to ourselves and to this great country of ours: we don’t deserve apathy and indifference, we deserve election fervor every day; for, believe it or not, Canada is a place worthy of it.

But, until that happens … #4MOREYEARS!

–  Clara Bonnor


(Featured photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative WorksBarack Obama, Creative Commons, Flickr)

About Clara Bonnor

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