Two confessions up front.
First, credit where credit is due. A comment about my post on Bridge-Building in the city of Peace and Justice, left by fellow expat and talented writer/blogger Russell VJ Ward*, served as the impetus for this
Second, I am a self-confessed policy wonk and international affairs junkie. I’ve studied it, worked it, lived and breathed it. Still do, despite a career change taking me down a different path.
That said, I get that not everyone shares my level of interest in topics as diverse as political implications in the aftermath of last year’s Arab Spring; details of stimulus packages in various countries as they try to claw their way out of the global economic recession (spending cuts and increases, tax relief and targeted incentives: oh joy!); efforts to build workable coalition governments (Greece, Netherlands, I’m looking at you); the fate of the Euro and by extension, several more European governments; Aung San Sui Kyi’s release from years of house arrest, election to the Burmese Parliament and receipt yesterday of her first passport in 24 years; the state of nuclear weapons programs in North Korea and Iran; the Mali coup; progress in post-earthquake, post-tsunami Japan; gay marriage; human rights; global campaigns to eradicate human trafficking and piracy on the high seas; resolving global refugee and displaced persons situations, and so on.
I get it, I truly do. I’m a policy nerd.
My fixation with such issues is another person’s stamp/coin/wine/antique collecting, competing in 5Ks/10Ks/marathons/triathalons, cooking classes, knitting, fixation on Scandinavian crime novels, watercolor painting, bird-watching, hiking, spelunking or other such hobbies.
No efforts here to turn you into a political aficionado. I promise.
But the fact that the country I live in and the country I come from are both facing national elections this fall has not gone unnoticed.
I keep up with issues in the latter because I am a registered voter there.
I consider casting a ballot a privilege, one of the highest forms of democracy in action.
When so many people suffer under autocratic governments, tyrants and despotic regimes, I would be remiss in casually tossing aside my right to vote.
(That, and it promises to be a tight election. But I’d vote regardless.)
It’s a matter of principle.
And I care. I care deeply about the nature of American politics. The reasons are many and complex, but over the past couple of decades political discourse has become more polarized, devisive and rancorous.
Yes, there are extremists on both sides of the political line, wrapping themselves in their moral certitude and spewing venomous rhetoric.
The majority of people aren’t like that. They may not grab the headlines, but they are good people who care deeply about their country, society, community. On a number of issues they courteously agree to disagree. But disagree they do, so it’s my responsibility to vote.
I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of Dutch politics or current affairs, but I do try. It’s a different political system than I’m used to, and while it’s a bit confusing, it’s rather fascinating as well.
(Okay, sorry, that’s the political geek in me talking.)
I’ve learned that the coalition government of Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s liberal VVD party and the centrist Christian Democrats collapsed recently, largely because they had to rely on the unlikely support of anti-immigrant, anti-Islamist, Eurosceptic and ultra-conservative political lightening rod Geert Wilders and his PVV party.
The issue that broke the proverbial policy camel’s back? Austerity budget measures.
The same issue that has cost Berlusconi in Italy, Sarkozy in France and Papademos in Greece their jobs. The same issue that threatens Faymann in Austria, Cameron in the UK, perhaps even Merkel in Germany and others.
The Netherlands is grappling with rising unemployment, necessary budget cuts, a backlash against immigrants, a fractious conversation on Islam and cultural assimilation, a backlash against the aforementioned immigrant backlash and cultural assimilation dialogue, among others.
The Dutch are even closing their infamous coffee shops (an interesting euphemism for marijuana/hashish parlors) to tourists.
Television, radio, newspaper and magazine articles and internet websites and blogs are obviously ready sources for keeping up with the basic issues affecting the country and culture in which you live.
Do a little digging, and then take it a step further. Get out there and ask your neighbors, colleagues and friends their take on these topics.
Asking Katya ‘what do you think about…’ or Anneke ‘why do you think…’ questions gives me incredible insight into the similarities and differences that make up our world. They in turn feel free to ask me questions about American politics.
Despite differences in government, culture, economic structure, language or religion, we’re all dealing with similar issues.
Emma has written about education, elections and Jamaica’s disappearing children on her blog Petchary, and Aisha has shared about censorship, mental illness, Canadian environmental efforts, and a highly sensationalized Muslim murder case at Expatlogue. Jane has tackled the Dutch health service, taxation and truly international affairs (of the heart, or at least of the body) on Wordgeyser.
In essence, we’re all representatives of where we’ve come from and where we’ve been; we’re all citizens of where we are now.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned, the more we think we’re different, the more we find we’re really the same.
So I’m truly not trying to convert you to my level of zeal for political intrigue, economic drama, the suspense of social issues.
What I am suggesting is that by opening your eyes, ears, heart and mind to the presence of difficult local, national and international issues plaguing the world — your world — you’ll find a level of connectivity to others.
What hot topic issues are in the news where YOU live?
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*Please check out ISOALLO and you’ll see exactly why it was a finalist in the fiercely competitive Best Australian Blogs 2012 competition. Well deserved, well done mate!
[Image credit: taoty, portfolio 2692, FreeDigitalPhotos.net]