I’m getting ready to go to America.Â It is always a trip. I know the chocolate bars will be the same as in Canada, and the mall stores and the road signs. It looks the same but I am not fooled for long. If you don’t think the USA is a foreign nation you should go spend some time there yourself.
There are three things about America that always slap me upside the head.
The first thing that shocks me is the scope of the American class divide. Canada’s class divide is a wide valley, but America’s is a jagged faultline, a giant rumbling un-leapable chasm. The caste system in America is defined by educationâ€“those who get it, and those who don’t. If you go to a fancy prestigious collegeâ€”I always hear that word in my mind spoken with an Eastern Seaboard drawl: caaaa-lidgeâ€”your position in the socio-economic hierarchy is secured. You have a network of associates, an old-boys club, that can support you for life. What school you go to determines your future as surely as in India your caste determines if you will be a leather-tanner, a merchant, a lawyer or a prostitute. It determines if you will have health care, get your teeth fixed, or ever hope to send your children to a school which will in turn boost them up the social ladder. Tuition fees are in the tens of thousands of dollars. If you’re not born into it your only doorway is sports or military scholarshipâ€”the fabled ticket out of the ghetto. I eavesdrop on the well-coiffed residents of Santa Fe’s adobe mansions boasting about what caaalidges their offspring are applying to, and I know I am a visitor from a slightly different planet.
The second thing I recall is that America is a terror state. The terrorists are the corporations which manipulate the government, and they rule by fear.
I used to think that was just paranoid rhetoric until I spent a few months in Arizona in 2005. I liked to drop by the dusty little anarchist bookstore in Prescott where they sold bicycle zines, Che Guevara t-shirts, vegan cookbooks, and other such weapons of mass subversion. One day I showed up for a discussion group to find the shop yellow-taped and occupied by FBI agents. The owner had been scooped up in a sweep on ancient charges. He committed suicide in pre-trial detention shortly thereafter. An old friend of mine was nabbed at the same time in Oregon and tried as an ‘eco-terrorist.’ He spent the next three years in prison. Just about every person I met in Arizona had been picked up at some point for smoking weed in the park and tossed in jail for the weekend. Without trial. That is when I started to awaken from my comfortable Canadian stupor.
“Terrorism” is the term employed by the US government to describe ideological property damage, but it is also what it practices on its own citizens. The US has the highest percentage of its own citizens in jail of any country on earth. From exaggerated crime reports to tenuous health care to crushing student debt to the NRA, the American climate is one of unrelenting fear. And yet, so many are so brave.
Which brings me to the third thing that shocks me about America. In spite of all this, it is a nation full of peaceful warriors. Every time i cross the border i meet people who humble me with their pragmatic optimism in the face of such epic delusion and collapse. It may even be that somehow they have actually wiggled one of their own into the seat of President. And/or, it may simply be that the chasm is beginning to fall in on itself. I am not a political analyst, so really can’t say. I just go to America, to remember what is possible, and then I come home to Canada and kiss the ground under my feet.