An American Living In London On The Frustration Of Not Being Able To Vote

Aimee Phillips sports one of her favourite 'sweaters'
The events of the past year or so have mobilised citizens around the world to get educated and active in politics like never before. We've all had various nerves that have been hit hard by proposed policy changes, everything from medical coverage, environmental protection, education, gender equality... the list goes on.
As a woman, a new mother, and an American living in the UK I have found myself ticking more boxes than ever before: I have a newfound respect and gratitude for the NHS, I worry about the state of the environment, not just for myself but for my three-month-old daughter's future, and as a freelance worker in the entertainment industry, I have always valued the freedom to live in the UK and work and move freely throughout Europe.
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Like so many of my friends and family members here in the UK, I'm incredibly frustrated by current events and am passionate about getting as many young people actually voting in the upcoming election as possible. Abstention makes me angry and I have always taken great pride in getting as involved in politics as I can. There's only one problem: I can't legally vote in the UK.
As an American married to a British citizen, my spousal visa grants me the right to work in the UK, pay taxes in the UK, and raise my London-born daughter in the UK. But when it comes to voting, the line is drawn in the sand and I am required to become an official UK national in order to participate. Luckily, dual nationality in the UK is allowed, meaning that once I go through the process and acquire British citizenship, I am able to retain citizenship of my country of birth as well. Simple enough, right?
To meet the requirements I will need to:
· Obtain a visa (tick)
· Obtain “indefinite leave to remain” (nearly there)
· Satisfy a five-year qualifying period of residence in the UK (working on it)
· Be at least 18 years of age and of “sound mind” (tick and... sure)
· Intend to continue living in the UK (tick)
· Be able to communicate in a UK language (tick)
So glancing over the checklist, it seems all I have to do once I've been in the UK for five years is take the UK citizenship test, apply, and I should be ready to go for the next general election. Right?
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Unfortunately for me, although Britain has a logical and firm position on dual citizenship, America seems slightly more confused (which isn't surprising, considering the current political state of affairs). Since there is no mention of dual citizenship in the United States Constitution, there is no official position on it and therefore voluntarily applying for foreign citizenship “may” jeopardise US citizenship. So I'm faced with a decision: is it worth potentially risking problems with my status in America for the sake of trying to become a citizen of the country where I am raising my child?
Emigrating to a foreign country has given me a really unique perspective in terms of my way of life and the things I will never take for granted. I grew up battling the healthcare system like everyone else in America. I have been in debt from routine doctor visits, I have often had to leave the pharmacy without my prescribed medication because I couldn't afford it and, on one occasion, I was very close to impersonating my sister out of desperation during a particularly severe toothache (she had health insurance, I didn't).
Moving to the UK and discovering the absolute mind-boggling wonder of the NHS has been a revelation, and it is one of the reasons I feel so lucky that my daughter is fortunate enough to call England her home. But as the general election looms, there are so many questions and fears around NHS funding gaps and the looming danger of privatisation. Nothing feels quite as important to me as being able to actively participate in this election and be on the right side of history, supporting the Labour party that values the NHS and vows to protect it.
Ultimately the choices made in this upcoming election could be catastrophic, not only to our day-to-day lives in the UK but to our planet as a whole. A hard Brexit would mean walking away from the pioneering environmental standards and regulations of the EU and the protections and practices put in place via EU monitoring and enforcement. Greenhouse gas emissions, fracking and air pollution are just a few of the unnecessary calamities that keep me awake at night as they threaten to sink our planet further into the hole we've already dug. Not to overstate the obvious, but this is not the world I want to leave for my child, and the fact that I'm unable to cast my vote for the most environmentally conscious candidate feels like a failure to myself and my baby.
So as I continue to read, research and despair, I'm constantly seeking alternative ways to be proactive in politics. All of my adult life I've passionately believed that voting is the right and responsibility of every one of us, and at a time in my life when it seems more important than ever to make my voice heard, it feels paralysing to lose that right. But for now, the best I can do is continue to donate, tweet, participate in viral campaigns, and keep my fingers crossed that come 8th June, the right decision is made. I hope so, for my daughter's sake.
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