The Day After (posted on 10 November 2016)

The Day After

I spent yesterday in shock that this could happen. I looked to my daughter when she woke up and I pitied the fact that her childhood would be dip-dyed with the threat of nuclear war. I cannot remember for the life of me the soundtrack on the day when I saw the towers fall, but the feeling of yesterday was similar. Yesterday, I kept hearing REM’s (Don't) “Fall on Me.” (The title is missing the “Don’t” bit which is actually quite important.) 

"Buy the sky and sell the sky”

On my Walkman, I listened to this song again and again as a kid in the mid-1980s, unsure yet of what my role in the world would be. Looking back on it, I’m absolutely sure that the lyrics of REM and The Smiths (my two favorite bands back then) informed my ways of thinking. And in reflection of "Buy the sky and sell the sky" I’m not thinking of Trump the high-rise builder, the buy-sell luxury-I’m-too-smart-to-pay-taxes guy, so much as I am of how there is so little left in the world that belongs to the public, the vanishing of public space. As my Shakespeare professor in college loved to say, and he repeated this again and again all semester long: “There are those who divide the world into two, and those that don’t.” What do we need a public space for anyway if we are not in dialogue any more?

Although I love sipping tea with like minds, those who don’t believe in the logic of numbers, the real work to be put on the to-do list is in coming into discussion with the other side, the other side being, of course, plural. The side that voted in protest, that didn’t want to elect a career politician so much as the side that embraced racism, sexism, fascism. We live in a plus-minus 50/50 world, so much has been proven by vote after vote, and just like any good relationship, when the going gets tough the tough get going: it’s time we learned how to talk. Divorce is not an option. Ignoring them doesn’t make them go away.

I love the ideals of my birth country, I love what it represents even if the reality is skewed and wicked. No country in the world has our spirit of Welcome. We are a nation founded by immigrants and that grew and grows based on the influx of always new blood. By definition, we are diverse. That is why this comes as such a shock, an absolute slap in the face. Again, the lyrics of REM waft into my head like something trying to come between me and my Calvins: "There’s a progress we have found a way to talk around the problem. Building towered foresight isn’t anything thing at all.”

When I ran out the door the other night here in Berlin to take part in an anti-AfD demonstration, it wasn’t because of my activist energies. It was because I was in disbelief that people singing the German national anthem ("Deutschland, Deutschland ueber allies….") were on my street and there was no friendly football/soccer match in sight. So near, yet so far, these people who want to build walls, who want to shut out the refugees, who scapegoat the Others (the Syrians) for all of our problems. I wanted to see them, to see who they were, to talk with them, to get into their heads so that I could begin to understand their thinking. Their numbers are legion. Over 20% of voters in neighboring Mecklenburg-Vorpommern voted AfD last election, and when celebrating German Unification on 2 October, Chancellor Merkel was boo’ed hideously by crowds telling her to “Get out” (Hau ab) as a result of her open-door (We can do this!) policy last year. My husband looked at me, warning, Be careful out there. In the end, a row of anti-riot police (imagine: Michelin men in all black) prevented me from talking to them, keeping an emptied four-lane road between “us” (the beret-wearing Che Guevaras) and “them” (whose fashions resist a soundbite). I ended up shouting across the street with the protestors of the protestors, the rainbow flag bearers, the students, I think —now— wrongly. The world is not divided into two. Let’s stop thinking that way. Let’s begin to break down the ivory towers, the towered foresight (thank you, Michael Stipe) on all sides.

see the REM video here:


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