2 Nov 2020

US elections - the view from afar

From Voices, 9:00 am on 2 November 2020

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For Ian Hoffmann, Ira Munn and Maya Henderson watching the election campaign unfold in their home country, the US, has been a bag of mixed feelings.

US President Donald Trump addresses thousands of supporters during a campaign rally at Phoenix Goodyear Airport October 28, 2020.

Photo: AFP

Hoffman, a union organiser originally from New York, arrived in Auckland just before the first lockdown in February, and was involved in the Bernie Sanders campaign of 2016. This election he's been keeping a close eye from afar while casting his vote from Auckland. 

“My partner and I feel incredibly lucky to be living in New Zealand, but there's a bit of guilt there too. Coming out of a political background in Nevada where I was a regional political director for a labour union, there’s that feeling that we could be making a difference if we were in the States right now. But there's also anxiety with the elections so close.”

Maya Henderson arrived in February too while Ira Munn has lived here for the past five years. 

Henderson works with environmental and social responsibility programmes, while Munn is an entrepreneur and formerly taught US and world history; and economics at a high school in the US.

"When in 2015 we left, people asked why are you going to NZ, why we were leaving the United States. The following year in 2016, the internet broke. The Immigration NZ website literally shut down with the influx of people in US trying to access it and trying to find out where to go after the November 2016 elections!” Munn laughs.  

“I personally don’t see a big difference in the two main political parties. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are left and right wing of the same bird.”

NASHVILLE, TENNESSEE - OCTOBER 22: Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden answers a question as President Donald Trump listens during the second and final presidential debate at Belmont University on October 22, 2020 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Photo: AFP

Hoffman and his partner posted their votes from Auckland recently.

“We were actually able to track it in California and we know it was posted.

"There's been a serious effort on voter suppression, and in certain states it's incredibly difficult to vote. You've seen lines as long as 10 hours in Georgia.

"This is decades of trying to introduce things like Voter ID and other laws to make it difficult to vote. The Republicans have learnt that if you can suppress voter turnout, they do well. 

"We're at least feeling good about our votes in California."

Maya Henderson doesn’t feel she's missing out on the action back in the States pre-elections but admits to “a bit of survivor's remorse”.

“It's really important that people are concerned with what's happening locally. Voter suppression has been going on for a long time. We are constantly seeing attacks on people trying to engage with the political system in a meaningful way.

"When I talk to folks back home and here, I tend to step away from talking about the federal level and talk about what’s going on locally.

“Lots of issues around police brutality are not being addressed. It's been decades long since these issues have existed - it's almost been ingrained in US history.

"At local elections, district attorneys are elected and that can make a big difference for the prosecution of police brutality crimes. I come from California and there can be great impact on local level that has better than national level,” Munn said.

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA, USA - OCTOBER 27: ''Black Lives Matter'' protestors take streets after Black man, Walter Wallace Jr., 27, was shot dead by Philadelphia police, in Philadelphia, United States on October 27, 2020.

Photo: AFP

“Hope is not a strategy. Wishful thinking isn’t going to get us what we like in this election. It's going to be a re-telling of what's taken place.

“Sadly, I think the results are going to come out that aren’t favourable to the American people, whichever way you go,” Munn said.

“In the 80s Ronald Reagan used to say that the nine most terrifying words you can hear are 'I’m from the government and we’re here to help.' When I fast-forward to 2020, we look at the pandemic and what NZ teaches us is that those are comforting words. The reckless, or lack of Trump's response shows he got it wrong.

"While there is growing inequality here and we have challenges here, there's is an immense amount US could learn from New Zealand” Ian says.

“I want to see this election as being the start of a change in the way Americans engage with the political system. There has to be a restructure of that institution in order to properly serve those who have paid into the system," Henderson said.