Last week, I left the U.S. indefinitely.
I never really thought I would be saying that, but it’s true. As a girl who is in love with her hometown of Denver, Colorado, it freaks me out that I may never be living on American soil again. However, every time I leave the U.S. I am reminded of how broken the political system is.
I first came to Amsterdam in August of 2015, and from my first day I immediately felt safer in this city of sin. And when I say “first day” I literally mean my first day, it’s not an exaggeration.
I was staying by myself in a hostel on the Eastern side of town, and inadvertently I ended up having to walk back late at night by myself. Outside of the Tropenmuseum, there is essentially a concrete ditch that I had to walk by at 11:30 on a Saturday night, and I vividly remember steeling myself to walk quickly past this dark area into the safety of a streetlight, only to be thoroughly surprised that there was nobody there.
It was sad: I had been conditioned to expect potentially dangerous people lingering in the darkness.
Now don’t get me wrong. The Netherlands has a whole host of problems, including incredibly racist holiday traditions and systemic societal racism and sexism. The Dutch aren’t excused of this, but I will say that the Dutch (and the rest of the Western world), handle their shit a little better than we do in the U.S. At home, we live by the statement “freedom isn’t free”, then refuse to actually give up certain freedoms that would make life more pleasant.
A great example of this is gun control: if we gave up the “freedom of owning guns”, we would have more freedom to go to music festivals, see a movie, or even just go to school without fear of being mowed down in broad daylight.
Another example is health care. If we gave up the “freedom to choose” our insurance options and opted for a tax-funded system, we would have more freedom to take economic risks like starting a new business without being afraid of losing coverage.
The “freedom isn’t free” argument is inherently true, but those who tout it still live in the 18th century mindset. The price for freedom then was muskets for well-armed militias to fight against a government that they saw as tyrannical while building an entirely new system of governance. We live in the 21st century now though, and the price for freedom has changed.
Societies are built on social contracts: in order to live with other people you have to give up some freedoms, but doing so is mutually beneficial. Yes, you have the ability to kill your neighbor’s family and steal their things if you wanted, but that would put a target on your back so you wouldn’t do it. It’s better to cooperate and give up that freedom to kill so you can both live more pleasant lives. In American society, this concept is lost in ways that it applies to the 21st century. While we aren’t killing our neighbors for their canned food, we refuse to support our fellow citizens despite the fact that it would be beneficial for us as well. Rather than paying for a drug user’s treatment through tax initiatives, we put people who need help on the street. Rather than supporting healthcare for all, we let families go bankrupt over diseases they can’t control. Rather than giving up our “right” to own guns, we watch as 59 people die at a country music concert.
I live in Amsterdam permanently now, and it’s kind of crazy how much safer I feel here, simply from the fact that nobody owns a gun here. No matter where I go in the city, the chances of me being hurt by guns is dramatically reduced. I feel that the government is working for me in Europe, rather than working for large companies like Google. While I know there are innumerable problems in European society, I feel more free here than I ever have in the U.S.
As a white, cis-gendered woman that comes from a privileged background, that says a lot.