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The America I love

Hey, look, it’s an American flag

I’m a natural-born American citizen but never lived here until my early thirties. I have a complicated relationship with the country: I never thought I’d live here until I suddenly did. As it happened, my parents moved back to look after my grandmother, and ten years later, I came here to look after my mother. I was 21 when Bush became President, having been the state governor who had executed the most people; I marched against the Iraq War from Scotland. There was never a moment where I thought, “America is a place I want to live.” But I wound up here anywhere.

The America I had no intention of being a part of is still very much here. It’s the America where people love guns and the right own semi-automatic weapons is more important than the idea that we need to stop children from being slaughtered in their schools. It’s the America where the state murders prisoners by electrocuting them or injecting them with poison or by gassing them, and where the police can gun down a person of color and walk away. It’s the America that organizes coups in other countries to further its own interests and nobody sees anything wrong with it because it keeps gas prices down. It’s the America that won’t take the bus because that’s what poor people do (and the word “poor” is doing a lot of work here). It’s rugged individualism and wealth-hoarding over community inclusion and equity. It’s racial stereotypes and old-fashioned values. It’s flag-waving. It’s Bill O’Reilly and Pat Buchanan and George W Bush and Donald Trump.

I’m sorry, but I can’t bring myself to love that America. It’s a bad place to live. Objectively, even.

But that isn’t the only America. It turns out there are lots of them: not just in the sense that each state is its own mini-nation, although that’s true too, but also in terms of layers that spread from coast to coast.

There’s an America I’m delighted to be a part of; one that I’ve come to truly love. It’s the America that understands the impact it’s had and has, both on its own communities and on the world, and genuinely wants to do much better. It’s an America that is anti-drone, anti-war, and against the military-industrial complex. It’s the America that wants to spread equity and uplift communities instead of individuals. It’s the one where nobody would ever think of banning a book or a news source, where public libraries are for everyone, where it’s commonly understood that education should be free and for all. It’s the one that loves art and literature, that provides platforms for diverse lived experiences, that believes in reparations. It loves people of all religions, and no religion, equally, and knows that the separation of church and state is a vital tenet for an inclusive democracy. It believes in democracy, come to that, and science, and data and experimentation. It believes in the common public good and in social contracts. It preserves nature and protects vulnerable communities and makes sure nobody falls through the cracks. It fights fascism of all kinds, from the loud politicians who seeks to turn the country into a theocracy to the small voices who shun difference in their local communities. It believes that immigration makes the country great, and it invites people to join as is without needing to assimilate or dissolve into a melting pot. It believes that everyone should have the right to marry whoever they choose, have the right to do what they will with their own bodies, and assert their identities however they need to. It doesn’t care how much money you make, where you come from, or what you believe: it asserts that you deserve to live well. It is inclusive, and welcoming, and beautiful. It’s Noam Chomsky and bell hooks and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Daniel Ellsberg and Chelsea Manning. It takes the damn bus.

I assure you that it exists, and it’s everywhere. I’ve traveled across this country many times now, and there are pockets of this America in the places you’d least expect, alongside the places where you would expect it. There are people trying to make a better country, a more progressive and inclusive country, everywhere you go.

It’s not the only America, and it’s not the loudest America. But it’s the best one, by far. I think it’s worth saying that I do love it; I want to support it; I want it to be the defining experience of being in and from this country. I don’t think that’s inevitable, but I think, if we all work at it, that it as every chance of happening. I would love that to be the case.

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