Veterans Day 1972 was as depressing a day as I had lived through since becoming a war resister during the Vietnam War. I had lost my appeal to the military and had been ordered to active duty, an order that I refused to follow. Just days before, George McGovern had lost the presidential election to incumbent Richard Nixon. Nixon had changed the nature of the war, withdrawing ground troops while waging a vicious air war against North Vietnam. The election and its aftermath was not an exercise in the abstract for me. My mother was a coordinator of the McGovern campaign in Rhode Island, and had literally put her heart and soul into the election, hoping that a McGovern victory would spell the end of the war. Election night saw McGovern win the single state of Massachusetts, and the war would go on another year for the U.S., and three more years for the North and South Vietnamese until the final victory of the North.
During the years of my resistance to the military and the war I considered leaving the U.S. for Canada twice. When I graduated from college I was accepted to McGill University in Montreal for graduate studies. That would have been a considerably more comfortable experience than that of the expatriates who I had met in Montreal during a visit in 1970. Many of the men I met had just arrived and had not had sufficient time to orient themselves to the rigors of life as an immigrant.
The next time an opportunity to seek asylum under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s generous policy of welcoming war resisters to Canada came in 1971 when I visited a friend who had become an expatriate and moved to Ontario. Beginning a new life in Canada never materialized for me, and I fought the battle against the military and the government in the U.S.
Election Day 2008 came with great expectation and some apprehension. I voted for Barack Obama, and was grateful that the long night of reactionary politics would soon be over. I would have liked to have voted for either Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney, but the practical trumped the ideal.
I opened my e-mail on the morning of Obama’s stunning victory to find a letter from a man in California who had read my article, “Burning Reason: More From the Religious Right” (CounterPunch, October 31). While I was not far removed from the sigh of relief I breathed on election night, the angst of the letter brought back memories of what it feels like to be driven to a decision of considering leaving the country.
The writer identified himself as a gay individual who was totally devastated by the passage of anti-gay measures in his home state of California (Arizona and Florida also passed similar laws). He made strong arguments that he could no longer bear being considered a second-class citizen whose right to free association had been dashed by Proposition 8, that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. He felt that his taxes were supporting a system that denied him a basic civil right. He was enraged and hurt at the signs that littered lawns during the election cycle in support of the proposition and intended to begin the process of seeking citizenship in Canada. How the feelings of so many years ago came rushing back to me between the lines of his writing and his suffering!
In the early 1990s I worked part-time as a co-leader in groups as a counselor working with issues of domestic violence. Once a month the agency I worked for had a supervisory meeting during which counselors would discuss issues from their group work. Those group sessions were led by a social worker. The issue of anti-gay attitudes came up repeatedly as a theme that many of the men we worked with expressed in the group setting. Astutely, the group leader observed that the antipathy for gays expressed in our groups was “the last bastion of hate in the society.” While election night showed that one wall of hatred had been shattered in the U.S. (at least among the majority of voters), another stood strong and a barrier to the promise of the unalienable rights of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” that resonate so clearly in the Declaration of Independence.
HOWARD LISNOFF teaches writing and is a freelance writer. He can be reached at email@example.com.