Haunted by the past of my native country, hopeful for the future of my new home country!
This is not a political blog, it never was intended as one. Humanism, however, is one of the core subjects of this blog and there comes a time when humanist values cannot be discussed without touching on political subjects. The time for me to write about humanist values, even though I must touch on political subjects has definitely come, but I have been struggling to find the right words to describe my thoughts and find actionable ways to deal with them.
Let’s be clear, when I thought about writing this post, I was scared as hell, that people would tell me to STFU and GTFO, because after all, I just recently became a citizen of this country and thus “don’t have the right to speak up.” But part of becoming a citizen, means you learn about your freedoms, for example the freedom to express yourself and your responsibilities, such as staying informed of the issues affecting your community and participating in the democratic process. You can learn more about what applicants study and promise as part of their naturalization process here.
A society in which humans are criminalized for seeking asylum, where children are cruelly ripped away from their parents, where people are denied basic freedoms due to their sexual orientation or their race, a society where you lose your job for exercising your freedom of speech, basically a society which does not consider every human being as equal, is not a society upholding humanist principles.
That very same society that fiercely claims that “all lives matter” and emotionally fights over whether or not life starts at conception, apparently also thinks it’s perfectly fine to rip families apart and lock children up in camps, to punish people because they are different or dare to speak up.
I was born in Germany in the seventies. I grew up learning about my native country’s horrific crimes that were committed in the not so distant past. A past you are confronted with at a very young age and then learn more and more agonizing details as you get older. By the time we were teenagers not only had we learned about Nazi Germany and its crimes against humanity in history lessons, but visiting a concentration camp was part of our political education. My high school class went to Dachau, near Munich.
Such a visit to Dachau, or any concentration camp for that matter, is a humbling and haunting experience. The visual evidence you are exposed to is very very different from just reading history books. Learning about my country’s inhumane past in so many more details had a profound impact on me, as it did on many of my classmates. I had nightmares for weeks, after walking through the buildings, seeing the pictures, learning about the stories and personal fates of some of those victims. The discomfort, the guilt, the nightmares, are of course nothing, NOTHING in comparison to what people locked up in those camps had to endure, many of whom never made it out alive. But they were reminders of our civil duty, to not ever let anything like this happen ever again.
Like most of my classmates, I grew up wondering why the generation of our grandparents had allowed these atrocious crimes to happen. We promised ourselves that we would never let anything like this happen. No, we were SURE, that in our times it could never ever happen again! RIGHT?
At that point in teenage thinking, history teachers introduced the movie “The Wave” or the book “The Wave” was required reading in German literature class. One way or another German teenagers are exposed to that story. And then it becomes painfully obvious, how easily ANYBODY could fall for this.
But still we think, NOW we all know better, right? We learn from history, right? We grow up and believe, that new generations, who were taught to learn from each other and respect each other, will not repeat the same mistakes again. I was fortunate to gain exposure to many different cultures, countries and people from all kinds of backgrounds throughout my life, my education and career. And when I got a chance, to live and work in the US, I eagerly jumped at it. After a few years of living here, I wanted to be more than “just” a legal permanent resident, so I became a citizen.
And then, all of a sudden, I see things happen in the country that I have moved to, things that remind me of developments I learned about in history class. In my new home, a country of which I wanted to become a citizen so badly!!
And now I find myself watching in agony and shock and disbelief. I double check the facts, to make sure it’s not some kind of fear mongering or fake news. Because at this point, I would really like this to NOT be true.
When I confronted my grandparents, way back as a teenager, about what part they played, they said they did not know about any of this. My grandpa was in the navy and gone on a boat during the war most of those years and came back injured and changed. My grandma lived in a teeny tiny town in a pretty rural area, where they probably did not realize what was going on in the country, so they may or may not have known. They sure did not want to talk about it much, I’ll probably never find out. A lot of people at the time claimed they never knew. People were led through the concentration camps after the war, to confront them with the reality of what had happened. So yes, maybe a few legitimately did not know. Others knew what was going on and chose to look away, or even approved, blinded by propaganda. Some were scared to lose their privileges and played along, some even enjoyed being part of this evil agenda. Very, very few, chose civil disobedience to help the victims and not very many spoke up. Either way, a system was created in which people were being dehumanized, marginalized, stripped of their rights, tortured and killed by the hundreds of thousands. And it all happened within a relatively short time frame. Starting with hateful rhetoric and scapegoating. That’s just words, right? But those words set the stage for more things to come and they came pretty quickly after those words are spoken. Sound familiar yet?
Today we have so many ways to stay informed. Yes, we have to carefully discern fake news and real news, to make sure we are not falling for today’s propaganda, but “we did not know” is not going to fly as an excuse in the eyes of future generations.
What are we going to say when the generations of our children and grandchildren ask us “Where were you during the Human Rights Crisis in 2018?” Where were you? Actually, what did you do, when you saw the first signs of it starting in 2017 or even 2016? Where were you when the hateful rhethoric started? History is not going to look kindly at this regime, nor at those who approve of its wrongdoings and not at those who have stood by in silence.
I feel helpless to some extent, as I imagine many of my friends do. But there are things we can do. Speaking up is the first thing. We need to acknowledge that what is happening now, is not right. It is not who we are and not what we stand for!! We cannot just say, well I am not interested in politics, I’ll just sit in front of my RV and watch the sunset, thank you very much!
It is not fun to speak up. I have been scared to say something wrong, to share a personal experience about how I felt haunted by the past of my native country. I was afraid, I’d sound stupid. I was worried that people would just tell me to go back where I came from if I don’t like it here, that I am a “new, naturalized citizen” and so I don’t get to criticize “how we do things here”. But, you know what: I am part of “us here” now and especially considering, where I came from and how I grew up, if feel the need to speak up now!
I understand, it’s tiring and frustrating to deal with these topics. We don’t need to share the same political leaning, but we cannot accept that the bigotry and hate that has grown under this administration tears this nation apart. People are literally fighting for their lives in this country. Children are being taken away from their parents and locked up. Our fellow humans, who look different or voice different opinions or love differently are attacked in the streets. We need to let them know that we are not ok with this and we need to act now.
I have started to look into more causes to support. Here’s a list of things I have done in the past or that I am planning on adding to my own actions, maybe some could be of interest to others as well:
If you have a blog, social media outlet or any other means of communication, SPEAK UP! If you see someone being treated unfairly, speak up! But please, please, please don’t stop at that!
Fact check news before you spread them: Politifacts, Factcheck, Snopes
Join an Indivisible group
If you specifically want to help immigrant children:
Call your senator to let them know that tearing apart immigrant families is cruel and unnecessary!
Donate to ACLU
Donate to Actblue
Join a protest on June 30!
If you want to support social justice and equality:
Support Equality House
Donate to Human Rights Watch
Contribute to the Center for Constitutional Justice
Pro Publica to support journalists
Show up with Showing up
This list is by no means comprehensive. I have done several of these things in the past months and am planning to add more to my list. I am angry at myself, that I waited so long to do actually SAY something and “only” donated money instead. I started writing this post around the time of the events in Charlottesville and then gave up for fear of sounding stupid. I am sorry, this took me so long. I am deeply grateful for all the people who have taken to the streets and protested to show that we are not ok with the hate and bigotry. I am encouraged by the outpouring of support to organisations that help us fight this fight. I am hopeful that these events are a catalyst for more people to both speak up AND take action.