I take a very keen interest in US politics. I began studying the system and history thereof when I was sixteen, when taking an A-level in Politics, continued into university, and observed from across the border when I lived in Canada. The ridiculous rules of Pepfar funding were one of the things that caused me to change my career path. And I will never forget watching my dear friend from Texas weep with joy when Aretha Franklin began to sing at Obama’s first inauguration. We were sat in my living room, feeling slightly astonished still.
US politics continues to hold interest for me for so many reasons, not least because of the shared history of genocide and torture with South Africa, the links forged between the two countries by South African cultural heroes like Hugh Masekela, Miriam Makeba and Abdullah Ibrahim, and the way so many things that happen in the two countries mirror one another.
As I’ve mentioned before, I listen to about four hours of podcasts a day. On the drive to work, whilst out doing errands, when I’m alone in the workshop or the shops sorting beads or doing renovations, and when I’m cooking my supper. A couple of my current favourites include Pod Save The People and The United States of Anxiety. It’s through these programmes, and of course the Daily Show, that I came to know of Stacey Abrams.
When I moved to Cape Town thirteen years ago, as a naive and excited 23 year-old, I set about painting my new home from top to bottom. In those days, and for the next three years, my area had no access to ADSL at all, and my only connection to the internet was the half hour of dial-up I could afford at night! So I listed to SAFM a lot. It happened to be the point in time where the electoral commission were encouraging people to register to vote. And when I say ‘encouraging’, what I mean is that every second advert on the station was the same IEC jingle. At first I would sing along, but after a while it started to drive me a little to distraction! I felt a strange guilt at my inability to register!
Watching the recent voter suppression tactics in the US has reminded me of those days. Shown me, actually, how much of a privilege it is to live in a country where people are almost harangued to register. The hideous, Jim Crow Era methods by which people are being discouraged or outright banned from voting in the US are a horrifying return to the norm there, and a stark reminder to all of us that, once won, civil rights victories have to be closely guarded.
I woke extremely early a week ago, in time to speak to that same Texan friend, and to commiserate over what looked like Stacey Abrams’ defeat. Despite knowing how deliberately the odds had been stacked against her winning her rightful seat as governor, I had gone to sleep with hope, and it felt like that had been thoroughly dashed. As I often do when heartbroken, I began planning a piece of beadwork so that I could spend time processing that heartbreak while I worked, and so that, in some kind of physical form, that grief could be shared.
In the past week, while I’ve been making it, things have shifted a little. I won’t go into details, because they are easily searchable, but suffice to say that things aren’t quite over yet. So the piece that began as heartbreak, became a contemplation rather of the immense strength of a womxm who isn’t easily silenced.