Michael Bloomberg

Elections When You're A Digital Global Citizen

This appeared in The Displaced Nation, November 7, 2012. Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 5.24.15 PMGlobal citizens follow the US elections closely; some even see American politics as a spectator sport. For today’s post, we asked Anastasia Ashman, an occasional contributor to the Displaced Nation, to tell us how she felt about the 2012 elections. An expat of many years and an active proponent of global citizenship, Anastasia recently repatriated, with her Turkish husband, to her native California.

Rather than drifting away from the American political process when I was far from my fellow citizens, it was during an expat stint that I became most deeply involved.

My involvement had a displaced quality, of course.

I have always been on the edges of the American experience, hailing as I do from the countercultural town of Berkeley, California. The first time in my life I owned and brandished an American flag was after 9/11. It felt like a homecoming after a lifetime of being the outsider.

Even now that I’m back in California, my political involvement continues to have a displaced quality because I know what it’s like to be a citizen on the front lines of our nation’s foreign policy. For most Americans, the issue of how the rest of the world perceives our country is distant, amorphous, forgettable — but not for those of us who’ve lived abroad.

Clark for President!

I’d discovered Wesley Clark on television after 9/11. A four-star general, he was talking about the world we’d suddenly plunged into like a polished, collected and thoughtful world-class leader. It was easy to feel a kinship with the philosopher general even though I’d grown up in a household that vilified the military. Instead of activist or escapist pursuits, I chose to join him in geopolitical chess.

During the months between September 2003 and February 2004 when Clark competed in the presidential primary to become the Democratic candidate, I campaigned for him from afar. My email inbox soon filled with security warnings from the U.S. Consul urging Americans to keep a low profile.

If I had been able to get my hands on a campaign poster back in 2003 and 2004, I wouldn’t have displayed it publicly in my Istanbul apartment window. We were invading Iraq, and Istanbul was the site of four al Qaeda-related terrorist bombings that November. Avoid obvious gatherings of Americans, the emails cautioned. No mention of red, white, and blue “Clark for Democratic Candidate” campaign posters plastered on your residence — I had to extrapolate that.

Instead, I became active in online forums and wrote letters to undecided voters and newspapers in numerous states for my choice, the former N.A.T.O. Supreme Commander Wesley Clark. That was all I could do.

Obama for Re-election!

I’ve now been back in the USA for a year and have followed this election cycle, like the last one, mostly via social media. Online is an ideal place to become disconnected from echo chambers you don’t resonate with, and to stumble into rooms you don’t recognize. Both have happened.

But for the first time in the American political process, I don’t feel displaced. I feel like I am right where I belong.

Maybe it’s the San Francisco environs, which, although they may not match my concerns, don’t rankle too badly. At least I’m not in Los Angeles being asked to vote on whether porn actors must wear condoms. (They should, obvs!)

I feel less displacement in this election because of the resonant connections I’ve made online in the last four years or more. I’m in open, deep geopolitical conversation with Americans, American expats and with citizens of other nations, all over the world.

During this election I’ve been using my web platform, my digital footprint, to gather political news and opinion, enter discussions, and raise awareness. I’ve been reconciling my patchwork politics by weaving together who I relate to, and what I care about, and what sources I pass on to my network and what conversations I start. I now know that I am

  • A woman from an anti-war town who campaigned for a general!
  • A Hillary supporter who’s backing Barack, and
  • An adult-onset Third Culture Kid who understands how and why Obama’s Third Culture Kid experience confuses the average American.

What I have chosen to share on social media during this election cycle is a processing of all that makes me a political animal. I feel I have participated in this election cycle as the whole me, and that is all I can do.

I’ve shared that I care deeply that

I am buoyed that these abominations are leaking out and being countered. I was edified to hear others share my disapproval of eligible voters who choose to throw their votes away.

I have been able to be an active digital world citizen during this election cycle, someone who votes for the bigger picture, not just at the ballot box, but in everything I do. And that feels like home to me.

Security State of Bloomberg

Not too long ago, an invitation to lunch offered a view of New York City's future. It looks secure, and rather loose at the same time. Since a good spot to meet and eat in midtown refused to present itself during a brainstorm, a member of a news service directed a friend to pick her up at the office.

"Welcome to Bloomberg," yipped an eager young fellow in a headset, lunging at the unprepared visitor stepping over the threshold of the new mayor's eponymous media company.

The keyed up greeter was one of several customer service sentinels strategically posted along the elevator bank on the 15th floor, the main reception area of Bloomberg's Park Avenue headquarters.

These chipper sentries mark the second stage of the organization's security gauntlet, their purpose to intercept and orient non-staff arrivals. Already, in a separate lobby downstairs, a phone call had been placed to the hostess, an ID check executed, and a pre-produced pass adhered to a jacket identifying the visitor and her official Bloomberg sponsor. After passing through an electronic sensing apparatus that read the badge and displayed its contents to a security guard, it was on to the elevator, no doubt equipped with a closed-circuit camera.

At the time no notice was taken, all thoughts on lunch and upcoming chitchat.

But jolted by Harry Headset into the present, or make that the future, noshing reveries swiftly ceased.

Given the controlled Orwellian setting that stretched behind him, Harry could easily have announced, "You are now entering the State of Bloomberg."

For this Bloomberg central command is certainly a state, of mind and being, with its well-defined borders, and its distinct cult of personality.

It's a Disneyland of Mike, the internal TV station projected on monitors in the glass-walled halls with floors lit from below, and a colorful kaleidoscope illuminating an interior glass stairwell.

"Right this way, have a refreshment," the zealous one's script apparently read, with direction to propel new arrivals toward a kiosk of refrigerated drinks and bowls of fresh fruit just past the lobby's freestanding cylindrical aquarium. The short leash implication was that moving about in any other fashion is discouraged. The visitor planted herself on the couch and waited to be rescued by an in-house contact.

A young staffer flitted by in patent leather, high-heeled shoes. Not just open-toed or sling backed pumps, both marginal head office taboos, but barely-there, day-at-the-beach, boudoir thongs. Nothing professional or urban about them. Apparently the sexy thongs were appropriate footwear (along with the rumored dress code of short skirts for women) for an ironclad outfit like Bloomberg.

A visitor cannot sit on the couch too long, unclaimed and banana-in-hand. After about ten minutes the greeter reversed his warm welcome, demanding "Who are you here to see exactly?"

Pressing his headset closer to his ear, he listened to an information feed of unknown origin and import, frowning.

The employee lunch date appeared, apologizing for her lateness.

"I had to go back for my ID badge," she explained, "I can't leave the office without it."

She meant this literally, as glass doors that operate like firewalls refuse to open without sensing the thing.

This photo ID badge has an open sesame effect other places, too. Due to the big man's hefty contributions to the arts, it affords free access to museums and cultural events all over the city. But the mysterious lack of the Bloomberg LP attribution has caused problems with its use in the outside world.

"The last museum I went to, they just stared at me when I held it up as my ticket."

Conversation temporarily halted during a quick pre-lunch trip to the restroom. No visible surveillance in here. But the volume of piped-in music in bathroom was so high it precluded speaking in a natural voice to another person, which must automatically cut down on intimate discussions of the latest in brazen footwear.