COC

Crossing the Threshold of Hope: Seeing the U.S. Elections and Financial Crisis Globally

Center of Concern | Thu, Oct 9, 2008

By Theresa Polk
As the unraveling financial crisis has shown this week, for all the walls we may attempt to build, our borders are far more porous than we ever could have imagined. What happens here reverberates far beyond, not only from Wall Street to the proverbial Main Street, but to Italy and Germany and India and Peru.

I recently had the privilege to participate in a planning meeting in Rome for an international campaign on climate justice (look for our launch in December!). Strangely, the first question out of anyone’s mouth had nothing to do with climate change or the campaign plan before us. Or, rather it had everything to do with it, and what kind of world dynamic we are planning this campaign to debut in. The first question anyone asked me, from the staff of our partner organizations, to the woman sitting next to me in a café, to the man who sold me my bus pass, was: what’s going to happen with the U.S. elections? A woman from one of our partner organizations said that she and her friends habitually stay up all night to watch the results of the U.S. elections come in. No, they wouldn’t necessarily stay up to watch results from their own elections, but the U.S., absolutely.

I realized quickly that this is not idle curiosity or nosiness into what may seem rightfully our business. And it drove home much more concretely that each and every one of these individuals has a real and personal stake in how the U.S. elections turn out. Every one of them would like to cast a vote if only they could. And while I consider myself, in general, fairly informed about the issues, each and every one of these people knew about as much as I did about the candidates, their running mates and the key issues at play. I came away humbled and reflective.

As the unraveling financial crisis has shown this week, for all the walls we may attempt to build, our borders are far more porous than we ever could have imagined. What happens here reverberates far beyond, not only from Wall Street to the proverbial Main Street, but to Italy and Germany and India and Peru. Sitting on the sidelines of climate negotiations imperils the whole planet, not just the future of New Orleans. Trade regimes developed to prioritize corporate profits not only mean lost jobs in Ohio, but also livelihoods disappearing for small-scale farmers in Mexico and Guatemala, fueling immigration flows. Lack of sufficient market regulation has meant not only a housing crisis as foreclosures pile up, but also speculation driving up the cost of food from Haiti to the Philippines.

Returning home, I looked through the pictures I had taken while in Rome. A disproportionate number seemed to be of doors, arches, thresholds. In reflecting for a moment, this seemed rather symbolic to me – that this really is a threshold moment, perhaps a bit frightening at first, without knowing what lies on the other side, and requiring discernment and care, but also a moment of opportunity and hope. We can continue to see the world through the narrow window of our own self-interest, or we can step through the door and see the wider panorama of how interconnected we all are. How we are all in this together, working towards a global common good that means not only my own fulfillment as an individual, but also the same hope for all within the global community.

I don’t think we are quite there yet. I am not sure that either candidate is quite ready to shift their frame of focus from a short-term self-interest that has governed us so far, to a more global perspective. I know that there will be work for us to do after the elections to encourage our new President to see with new eyes, but I will be listening in the meantime to discern who is most ready to take that step.