Breaking the Silence
This past weekend, in the city that I called home as recently as last year, a woman was killed and countless others were injured in the aftermath of a white supremacist rally that turned violent. Now, I know that to-date my blog has been essentially a virtual photo album and journal of my experiences travelling internationally. And, while I have a lot of strong opinions on causes that I am passionate about, I have chosen to stay silent about them. Though I really enjoy expressing myself through writing, I have thus far never felt like I could contribute to the conversation. I've always just thought that others have said it better or that adding my two cents would seem trite and echoic. But, dammit, this is my blog and I'm tired of being quiet.
When news began flooding in from Charlottesville, it was sickening to see pictures of Nazi flags and violence framed by the facades of familiar buildings just blocks from my old neighborhood. A car ran into a crowd just off of the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian mall that is center to weekend entertainment in the city. I can't even count how many times I have walked those same streets. I cried when I saw a photo of the car hitting the counter-protesters, struck by the poignancy of the empty shoes left behind in the street. It's hard to connect these images with my own memories of the city. Though this is the first time that something so extreme has occurred somewhere literally close to home, it is not an isolated event.
Since Donald Trump's election and the recent surge in open, aggressive white "nationalism" (read: supremacism) that's sweeping the United States, I've frequently felt ashamed to be an American citizen. Everywhere I have visited over the past year, I have been asked "What do you think about Trump?" or worse, "Did you hear what Trump said about ____?" Nearly everyone who asked about Trump would then go on to express their disdain for him as a leader and as a person. Kiwis, Aussies, Germans, French, Brits, Czech... It didn't matter where they were from. Their feelings were virtually unanimous. In the beginning, I would internally cringe when asked those questions because it was frankly quite embarrassing to have to try and explain how it was possible that Donald Trump was elected. How it was possible that someone who encourages violence and makes tactless, racist generalizations about entire groups of people can be the President of the United States. The lurid orange face of America. I would try my best to explain my country's flawed Electoral College system. And I would also try to explain that many people were willing to overlook Trump's many, many mistakes and baseless hateful comments merely because he became an anti-establishment figurehead in an even-more-polarized-than-usual election against a candidate who many saw as the very face of the American "establishment."
I want to say here and now that I don't think it's fair to condemn all Trump voters. While I really hope many of them are questioning the choice they made last November, I know that no amount of trying will ever make me - or any other anti-Trump person - truly understand what are surely a myriad of reasons that made them vote Trump. What I do know is that his election has allowed loads of hateful bigots to come out of the wood-works and spew their vitriol openly. They feel comfortable now to be more public with their disgusting ideas because they know that Trump will not condemn them. Last year, when the leader of the Ku Klux Klan - perhaps America's most infamous bastion of white supremacy and domestic terrorism - came out in support of Trump's candidacy, Trump pretended he didn't know who they were. Now, in light of the awful events in Charlottesville, Trump chose to say that the events were "so sad" and then later failed to come out and condemn the white supremacist groups who were involved in the march. Instead, in typical-Trump fashion, he said what happened was awful and added the caveat that there was bigotry and violence on "many sides" rather than being specific about the groups involved. The White House has since come out and said that of course Trump meant that he doesn't support the KKK or similar groups, but the fact that the man himself has not said anything has actually encouraged white supremacist groups. In fact, neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer praised Trump for not pointing fingers at their allies. The fact that Trump has over and over again refused to publicly distance himself from neo-Nazis and their hateful ilk is a serious problem. What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is just one instance of this. Americans cannot accept this. The bigots involved must be held accountable. Silence only condones these domestic terrorists.
Being abroad, and especially being abroad during and after Trump's election, has sometimes felt like we have fled the States. It has been easy to joke and dismiss Trump by saying hash-taggable slogans like "not my president" and shrugging him off as an idiot. But it is not a joke. This is our reality as American citizens. Despite the literal distance between myself and the USA, I care a lot. For now, I think that the best that I can do is stay up-to-date with the news stateside and to set a small international example of someone who will not tolerate hate or a leader who permits it. You can bet that now, instead of cringing when someone asks about Trump or the situation at home, I engage them in informed discourse. I will do my best to let them know that myself and many of my friends and family refuse to accept and willfully disagree with this very vocal minority of Americans who choose to be hateful, ignorant, and bigoted.
Last October, in New Zealand, I voted absentee. I know now that at that time, I was too comfortable and unaware to imagine that Trump had a shot at actually becoming my country's leader. A month later, I spent an evening dumbstruck and upset as the results rolled in. The only words that my partner, Emmett, and I could find when Trump began his acceptance speech were mostly of the four-letter variety or even as simple as "no way." At first, I felt honestly glad to be on the opposite side of the world from home. However, I quickly became upset knowing that I wouldn't be able to join the now-historic Women's March on Washington or participate in any other anti-Trump-administration activism. I am incredibly privileged to have been able to choose to leave the United States and fly to the Antipodes to fulfill a lifelong dream of living abroad. I've been hedonistic in my experiences over the last year of travelling and working in New Zealand and now, Australia. But I have not forgotten. I will never forget what's happening at home. And you can bet that as soon as my feet hit American soil again, I will be counter-protesting with the best of them.
+ The previously-linked New York Times' breakdown of what occurred in Charlottesville.
+ University of Virginia students on their experiences this past weekend (New York Times),
+ Charlottesville's racist roots and the connection to this weekend's events (The New Yorker).
+ An up-to-the-minute website that lets you search Trump's tweets for specific words or subjects.
+ Was Charlottesville a preface to similar situations in the future? (The New Yorker).
+ For more on Trump's rise to power: the book Insane Clown President by Matt Taibbi and Vox's article on the Rise of the American Authoritarianism.
+ The Trump campaign's connection to the alt-right/white nationalists (BBC).
Ways to Help From Anywhere (if like me, you're not in Charlottesville):
+ Read up and then start a discourse about Charlottesville and modern white supremacy.
+ Donate to Black Lives Matter Charlottesville.
+ Donate to Beloved Community Charlottesville, an organization started in direct response to the Unite the Right rally.
+ Donate to Solidarity Cville Anti-Racist Legal Fund.
+ Donate to Virginia's chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.