Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Dear Common Dreams Readers:
Corporations and billionaires have their own media. Shouldn't we? When you “follow the money” that funds our independent journalism, it all leads back to this: people like you. Our supporters are what allows us to produce journalism in the public interest that is beholden only to people, our planet, and the common good. Please support our Mid-Year Campaign so that we always have a newsroom for the people that is funded by the people. Thank you for your support. --Jon Queally, managing editor

Join the small group of generous readers who donate, keeping Common Dreams free for millions of people each year. Without your help, we won’t survive.

We can simultaneously embrace our exile as an experience of transformation while voting to reclaim the world beneath our feet. (Photo by Matteo Trevisan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

We can simultaneously embrace our exile as an experience of transformation while voting to reclaim the world beneath our feet. (Photo by Matteo Trevisan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Voting in Exile

The forces that have kept us in exile want us to lose touch with our sense of democratic agency—they want us to feel that we have forever lost our worlds.

Amy Reed-Sandoval

Albert Camus, in his quarantine reading list-topper The Plague, wrote of plague as a form of exile. In 1940’s, plague-ridden Oran—a French town on the Algerian coast that Camus imagines with plague—people endured a strange kind of exile-at-home. Though the residents of this fictional Oran were mostly confined to their homes, they still lost their worlds.

Camus described the exiled-at-home as experiencing “the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that has no purpose.”

Like the imagined citizens of Oran, many of us in the United States are in a kind of exile. Our streets, our playgrounds, our workspaces and our schools no longer feel safe—and, indeed, they frequently are not safe. Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, and Mitch McConnell has publicly vowed to replace her, despite his previous refusal to hold a Senate hearing that could have resulted in the appointment to the Supreme Court of Merrick Garland under the Obama administration. Teachers are dying of COVID-19, families are despairing, and much of the West Coast remains in flames. Meanwhile, Trump speaks of “negotiating” an unconstitutional third term in office, and he may be actively infecting others with the very COVID-19 he downplayed.

Yes, like the citizens of Oran, we have lost the world around us—we are in exile. But while Camus’s words help to articulate our exiled state, I believe he goes too far in stating that our pre-exile memories serve no purpose. We must hold our memories close in order to fight for a more democratic future—and, when possible, we must in the upcoming presidential election as a form of remembering.

This “imperative to remember” is particularly important when we are confronted most directly, intimately, and frustratingly with our own exiled states. For instance: I wearily embraced my pre-exile memories recently, when Trump held an illegal indoor rally in Henderson, Nevada, where my family and I live and practice social distancing. Earlier that day, I took my daughter to a local park and encountered the surreal vision of a MAGA-hat-wearing neighbor seat-belting her smiling child into a minivan, and then driving off to that very rally.

Approximately 5,600 mostly-unmasked people gathered indoors, at Henderson’s Xtreme Manufacturing, in violation of the Nevada governor’s COVID-19 emergency directives that mandate face coverings and forbid gatherings of more than 50 people. During that rally, Trump made false, undermining claims about Nevada’s electoral process and scorned Black Lives Matter protestor who bravely appeared at the rally. To our local horror but Xtreme Manufacturing was fined a paltry $3,000.

In confronting one’s exile-at-home in such an intimate way, one feels easily drawn into Camus’s vision, in which one’s pre-exile memories are said serve no purpose. Perhaps, I was horrified to find myself thinking, U.S. democracy is already completely eroded; perhaps I should give up and prepare for Trump’s second, and third, term.

Note that it is especially easy to think this way when one’s fading memories are of a deeply unjust past. Long before Trump, vicious racism and class prejudices caused innocent Black people to be murdered by police and super-exploited, Mexican farmworkers to become gruesomely injured and sick. Climate change was already rampant, and we were denied the right to elect our President through a popular vote. Many of us, it could be argued, were already in exile (indeed, the Argentinian-Mexican philosopher Silvana Rabinovich argues that this is true of Indigenous communities stripped of their land). Why cling to such a past, even in an increasingly terrible present?

Acknowledging these injustices, I nevertheless argue that we exiles need to keep our memories—even the painful ones—close.

In his Lessons in Exile, the Uruguayan-Mexican philosopher Carlos Pereda, who writes from the Mexico he adopted as his home in his adulthood, tells us how and why to do this. Pereda describes exile as a series of three phases, all of which we should go through, even if it is extraordinarily difficult.

First, the exiled feel a loss so profound that it undermines their sense of self. One feels unearthed, aimless, and disoriented.

Second, we experience exile as resistance—as an anger toward the “political opponents” who did this to us. Regardless of whether this is politically effective, the resistance stage is productive, for helps us to find our “selves” again. It is painful, philosophical remembering.

Finally, and most importantly, Pereda argues that we should experience exile as a “philosophical threshold” and a “breakaway from one’s traditional desires, beliefs, emotions, and expectations”. This makes exile an “entryway to other possibilities.” It is exile’s most challenging phase, as it is easy to be overwhelmed by the previous stages of sadness and anger.

All of this means that we exiles don’t have to yearn for an unjust past. In fact, we should not do this, as it blocks us from reaching a philosophical threshold—the only potentially beautiful part of exile. However, we cannot do away with our memories, as we need them to develop new possibilities. Pereda’s ideal “exile” willfully remembers.

Voting in exile, I submit, is an act of willfully remembering. It is an acknowledgement that, though exiled, we have managed to recover our senses of self, along with a relatively clear vision of what we want (or, at least, what we do not want) for our future. The forces that have kept us in exile want us to lose touch with our sense of democratic agency—they want us to feel that we have forever lost our worlds. But we can simultaneously embrace our exile as an experience of transformation while voting to reclaim the world beneath our feet. Our pre-exile memories do have a purpose, and we owe it to ourselves to cling to them.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Amy Reed-Sandoval

Amy Reed-Sandoval is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and the author of Socially Undocumented: Identity and Immigration Justice (OUP, 2020). Currently, I am co-editing a volume that deals with Latin American philosophical perspectives on exile.

"I'm sure this will be all over the corporate media, right?"
That’s what one longtime Common Dreams reader said yesterday after the newsroom reported on new research showing how corporate price gouging surged to a nearly 70-year high in 2021. While major broadcasters, newspapers, and other outlets continue to carry water for their corporate advertisers when they report on issues like inflation, economic inequality, and the climate emergency, our independence empowers us to provide you stories and perspectives that powerful interests don’t want you to have. But this independence is only possible because of support from readers like you. You make the difference. If our support dries up, so will we. Our crucial Mid-Year Campaign is now underway and we are in emergency mode to make sure we raise the necessary funds so that every day we can bring you the stories that corporate, for-profit outlets ignore and neglect. Please, if you can, support Common Dreams today.


Abortion Rights Defenders Applaud Judge's Block on Utah 'Trigger Ban'

"Today is a win, but it is only the first step in what will undoubtedly be a long and difficult fight," said one pro-choice advocate.

Brett Wilkins ·

Scores Feared Dead and Wounded as Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine Shopping Center

"People just burned alive," said Ukraine's interior minister, while the head of the Poltava region stated that "it is too early to talk about the final number of the killed."

Brett Wilkins ·

Biodiversity Risks Could Persist for Decades After Global Temperature Peak

One study co-author said the findings "should act as a wake-up call that delaying emissions cuts will mean a temperature overshoot that comes at an astronomical cost to nature and humans that unproven negative emission technologies cannot simply reverse."

Jessica Corbett ·

Amnesty Report Demands Biden Take Action to End Death Penalty

"The world is waiting for the USA to do what almost 100 countries have achieved during this past half-century—total abolition of the death penalty," said the group.

Julia Conley ·

Pointing to 'Recently Obtained Evidence,' Jan. 6 Panel Calls Surprise Tuesday Hearing

The announcement came less than a week after the House panel delayed new hearings until next month, citing a "deluge" of fresh evidence.

Common Dreams staff ·

Common Dreams Logo