Opinion: Close to a million people living in Canada still retain the ability to vote in U.S. elections. The potential influence of that many voters is profound and the stakes could not be higher.
My great-grandparents came to the U.S. by ship as refugees, arriving at Ellis Island in New York with only the clothes they were wearing. My great-grandfather supported his young family as an itinerant salesman travelling by horse and wagon, peddling mules and eyeglasses. The family eventually settled in southern Delaware, where they were able to do what would never have been possible in their home country: own land. They purchased farms, opened a store that provided supplies and free advice to local farmers, and eventually created an enterprise so successful that the family was able to send my father and his siblings to college, another impossible dream.
In 2001, when my wife and I decided to immigrate to Canada, a choice that our relative privilege allowed, my father simply could not understand. How could anyone raised in what he considered to be the greatest country in the world, the place that had provided freedom and prosperity to his family, leave? It was hard to explain to my father that we were not running away as much as we were running toward something — a community and a country that we had come to love and wanted to be a part of.
My father died in January of 2015, never having accepted that his youngest son had left the U.S. The gathering for his memorial included a large state police security detail in anticipation of the arrival of his long-time friend Joe Biden, who was then vice-president. In my eulogy, I spoke of my father’s love of the country that had given him so much, reflected on his deep personal commitment to the values of equal rights and democracy, and reflected on my own life and how it had been informed by his ideals.
My wife and I are now proud citizens of this wonderful albeit imperfect nation, but we have retained our American citizenship. Canada is our beloved home, but the United States is our homeland. Both hold a place in our hearts. And although we no longer reside in the U.S., we are incredibly distraught as we bear witness to a painful rupture in the American experiment being driven by the current president and the lockstep following he has in the Republican party. My father was loyal to the Democratic party, but he was more loyal to the idea that everyone had the right to their opinion and that America was a place where every opinion could be heard and respected. That foundational principle is now unravelling, as are many other aspects of a civil society, such as truth, a shared sense of community and purpose, and a mutual desire to protect the earth’s living systems that all of us depend on for our survival.
The U.S. and its policies have a disproportionately large impact on the whole world, and most acutely on those countries that share its borders. It is not just the smoke from climate-related fires in California, Oregon, and Washington that now drift across our border and into our lungs, it’s the rise of authoritarian rule that we once attributed to places like Russia or China, the racial injustice, the abandonment of civil discourse, the real possibility of widespread violence, and the seeming inability to act to prevent imminent climate collapse that impact everyone’s lives no matter where they live.
The current health pandemic may just be a trial run, an opportunity for each of us to look closely at how we live, discover the difference between what we want and what we really need, and re-evaluate our relationships to each other and the earth. But there is an even greater pandemic that no mask or social distancing will save us from — human-caused climate chaos. Now more than ever before, we need strong, clear responsible leadership to take the kind of bold action that will be required to save our home planet, our only ship at sea. The world will not survive another four years of U.S. climate denial under the current administration. A change in leadership is desperately needed.
Close to a million people living in Canada, dual citizens and permanent residents, still retain the ability to vote in U.S. elections through the state where they last resided. This is the largest voting block of any country outside of the U.S. The potential influence of that many voters is profound — if all of those individuals actually vote. In the 2016 U.S. election, less than six per cent of eligible Canadian voters voted, yet fewer than 100,000 people in a handful of key states determined the outcome of that election.
Imagine what would have happened if every eligible Canadian had cast a vote, imagine what could happen if every eligible Canadian actually voted in the upcoming U.S election. I used to say that every person on the planet should have the right to vote in U.S. elections, because the influence of the U.S. on the whole world is so overwhelming. But Canada alone can now actually tip the scales. The stakes could not be higher, those who can but choose not to vote will be complicit in the outcome.
I urge everyone in this great country who is eligible to register immediately through the state where you last resided. Do it now and vote as early as you can. A massive voter turnout, in person or by mail, will have a major impact on whether the outcome is accepted or contested.
The results of the upcoming U.S. election are no longer just an American problem — they belong to all of us.
About Michael Ableman
Michael Ableman is a Canadian-American farmer and author of five books. His writing has appeared in numerous publications, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle. He lives and farms on Salt Spring Island.