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Leaving America: The Land I Want to Move To

This is a question that comes up in almost every conversation I have these days. Almost every single Muslim friend of mine asks the same question. Many Hispanic friends. Quite a few gay/lesbian friends. Many progressive friends.

“Where would you move to?”

The tone is always the same. It is a hushed kind of fearful concern. It is a different tone now than it was a few months ago. Back when Trump was a walking Oompa-Loompa Orange joke with a bad hairpiece, it was almost a kind of wistful joke.

Haa haa haa. Look at us. We’re posting articles about most desirable places to live around the world. You know, like this list of best cities in the world and this piece on Norway being the best country to live in and this article on the 10 best places to live abroad. Sure, we would love to have a place with socialist policies of Scandinavian countries, Mediterranean weather, and Vancouver/Toronto cosmopolitanism.

My friends and I would have long, semi-serious conversations. Here are the places that many of my friends have suggested: Turkey? Love, love Turkey. Amazing, cosmopolitan history of Muslims, Jews, and Christians living side by side. Istanbul, truly one of the most gorgeous cities in the world. Problem: increasing authoritarian tendencies in the government.

Canada? Oh sweet, friendly neighbors to the north. So cosmopolitan. So polite. So much like America, but with a better socialist healthcare system. Fewer guns. Until recently, there was the problem of having a Prime Minister who was basically George W. Bush-lite (Steven Harper). But now he has been replaced by an amazing Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who exudes class, cosmopolitanism, welcomes refugees, dances in South Asian parties, and for God’s sake, has great, great hair. But, it’s just so cold in most of Canada. And Vancouver, sweet beautiful Vancouver. Heavenly Vancouver where the mountains meet the ocean. How lovely you are. And how totally unaffordable, and how very gray. Sigh.

London? Gorgeous London. Truly one of the cosmopolitan cities of the world. So many Muslims. Great food. A heartbeat away from most of Europe. But again, so expensive, so gray. And there is that language barrier.
Dubai? One of the new crossroads of the world. Can get to almost anywhere from there. So much creativity and entrepreneurship. But, the whole society functions on the second-class status of South Asians and other immigrants, creating one of the most unjust and divided human societies. Rarely has the gap between the super-haves and the absolutely-have-nots been so great.

Malaysia? Lovely SE cosmopolitanism. Crossroads of so many cultures. But rising Saudi-influence means hostility towards Iranians and Shi‘a.

New Zealand? Truth be told, our Lord of the Rings fantasies lead us here. Wonderful reputation for organic life, very naturally beautiful setting. But to be so far away from family and loved ones…

Switzerland? Quite possibly the most beautiful place on Earth. But also quite expensive.

Scandinavia? Fulfills all of our socialist fantasies. A place where many politicians see Bernie Sanders as a good start, and would want him to link his socialist policies to a more full-throated critique of American militarism. But, even in this cold corner of paradise, there is a rising wave of anti-immigrant sentiments here. And did we mention cold?
The tone now is different. These days they are asking not so much, “Where would you move to?” It is more, “Where will you move to? Especially if Trump becomes president.”

Commuters on the Montreal subway during rush hour. Image by Ames Lai/Flickr, Some Rights Reserved.

Yesterday, as I was picking up my daughter from school, I ran into an old friend, a lesbian mother of a child we have known for five years. My kids’ school, an amazing inclusive and progressive community, was started in the 1960s as a place for white kids and black kids to go to school together. In time, it also became a haven for the gay/lesbian community in our state. She said that she too has been thinking about moving somewhere. She was frightened and said, “I have never been politically active. I just wanted to raise my kids, but I am really scared now. We waited for decades to get rights and get married. Now, it could be gone, all gone.”

Yes, so much of this has to do with Trump’s bombastic language, directed against Hispanics, Muslims, immigrants, women, gays/lesbians, poor people. Everyone has a theory on what we are seeing. The Guardian says that this is the face of new global rightwing populism and neoliberalism unleashed. Noam Chomsky attributes it to decades-old fear and hatred rooted among white supremacists. Chomsky also went on to talk about the same social breakdown that we saw during the rise of Hitler. The Atlantic talked about the eight causes of Trumpism.

After Super Tuesday, and the apparent inevitability of Trump as the GOP candidate, and the brokenness of the Democratic Party where the so-called superdelegates could push the establishment candidate (Clinton) over the more revolutionary radical candidate (Sanders), the “We are moving to Canada” chorus is getting louder.

Many articles offered insight on how to take on this journey. The New York Daily News published a guide on how to make the decision on migrating out of the United States. Canadians themselves offered YouTube videos to the neighbors from the south:

A Canadian island even has put together a website inviting Americans to move there. A video from a Canadian Muslim, Sana Saeed of AJ+, offers a response, trying to pull back on the idealization of Canada. No matter, after Trump and Clinton’s success in the Super Tuesday primaries, the “how to move to Canada” Google searches trended.

This kind of fantasy, I realize, is itself rooted in a kind of privilege. To pretend that one can simply pack up and move somewhere implies having liquid assets, a transferrable skillset, and no obligations to those around us. Back in November, I had dinner with a dear friend, Jamillah Karim, an amazing African-American author, intellectual, and community leader. It was an intimate dinner among Muslim friends. I asked the question of “Where would you move to?” All of us talked about the countries that we would move to. Jamillah said, “Nowhere. We are not going anywhere.”

I asked if it was because African-Americans are less directly impacted by Trump’s anti-immigrant hysteria. She said no and that, in particular, hijab-wearing African-American women are frequently targeted by Islamophobic attacks. What she went on to say moved me to tears, even now writing these words. Professor Karim added:

“When immigrant Muslims or others talk about leaving the U.S., it is because what they are seeing around them shocks them. This is not the America that you have known. You don’t recognize this America. For us in the black America, America has always been violent. This is the America we have known, the America that we have grown up with.”

Yes, for many Americans, far too many Americans, America has always included slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, police shootings, surveillance, COINTELPRO, and more.

I also hear the plea of many of my fellow progressive friends, “Please do not leave us. Stay, resist, fight, organize, mobilize. What is needed is not any one candidate, but the need to create a mass movement to divorce politics from the corrosive effects of big money, address the vast income inequality, confront the structures and institutions that perpetuate white supremacy, and like Star Wars, openly admit that the Republic has become an Empire.”

No, let’s be honest. We are not going anywhere. It’s actually not about Canada, Australia, Turkey, or anywhere else. When people like me talk about “leaving America,” what we really want is to leave behind what we have become. We want to leave behind racism, leave behind income inequality, leave behind bigotry, leave behind anti-Semitism, leave behind Islamophobia, leave behind homophobia, leave behind sexism, leave behind American exceptionalism.
I go back and search what our elders, our upholders of prophetic wisdom have to tell us, have to teach us at these times. I go back to my old, dear beloved mentor Vincent Harding, whose gentle fierceness I miss so much these days. Vincent used to say, quoting Langston Hughes, that America was:

“A land that never has been yet.
And yet—must be.
The land where every man [read: human] is free.”

Make no mistake about it. We love America, the promise of a more perfect Union. We love America, provided it’s a realization that the American dream has never been for all of us — though it should be.

We love America, though like Langston Hughes we remember “America was never America to me,” yet:

“And yet I swear this oath
America will be!”

You know what country we want to leave behind? No, not America. We want to leave behind ‘Murica. We want to leave behind AmeriKKKa.

Do you know what country we really want to move to? We want to move to an America that has not yet been, though it will be.

As Uncle Vincent used to say, quoting an African proverb: We are all citizens of a country that does not yet exist.
Yes, that is the land I really want to move to. But to move there, we have to build it. If we build it, we will come.

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