#atozchallenge: The American Zeitgeist

watch-1208200_1920

So what influence then, shall America have on the future of the Earth? How will America’s past determine the path it takes?

One of my favourite essays in Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by AL Franken describes the love he has for America as an “adult” love, whereas some people have a “child-like” love. The adult version is taking the bad with the good, and focussing on bettering America, whilst the child version is insisting that America could do no wrong and how dare one criticise our lovely nation.

As we stand at the beginning of a new election season, where so much is at stake, how should we process the last eight years under an historic presidency? I feel as though President Obama has tried his hardest with the recalcitrant children [aka Congress] in his charge. I won’t pretend that some of his broken promises don’t disappoint me, but I am sure we would be in a much worse place with our other choices. Will this election prove the same? Or will Trump destroy the fragile ecosystem that has been built after President George W Bush’s disastrous time in office? Will Clinton prove as moderate as her husband, overly considerate with conciliatory gestures towards a mean-spirited Republican base?

This election cycle has been the most exciting since 2008. We Americans have an extraordinary chance to create a new country, or engulf it in nationalistic uber-capitalism. It has never been more important to stay informed and ready to vote. I wish us luck.

z

Thank you for following me this far! All the posts from this year’s A to Z challenge can be found here.

Photo by unsplash

#atozchallenge: Youth in Action

manif_jeunesecologistes_grenoble_2014

When I teach about France, I usually mention their love of strikes. For most Americans, strikes are rare and shocking, and a sign of laziness. Or something. I think strikes are valuable tools against capitalist oppression.

In France (and I believe Denmark) students are allowed to unionise and strike with their professors or teachers. School policies don’t just affect teachers, anyway. I believe that young people supporting an older generation (or even someone in their own) is a way to build solidarity amongst the proletariat.

The state in which I work is a right-to-work state, which is just a political euphemism for ‘right to be fired’. We cannot protest against unfair working conditions. And lest one thinks I am just whinging from my cushy middle-class career of teacher, know that when I can’t protest, nobody can, even those who aren’t seen as whinging.

I applaud the right to strike and protest and stand in solidarity with any young person who strikes to be heard.

y

If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Mister Theatre

#atozchallenge – Xenophobia: What it Looks Like Around the World

ellis-island-898932_1280

America has always been seen as a refuge for the disenfranchised. The Statue of Liberty states:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

We should be as welcoming as we promise, but of course we are not. We still struggle with issues of integration and hatred of the unknown. It is not surprising that we have issues with Muslim refugees; though we are loathe to say it, we have been fighting in mostly Muslim regions for a very long time. Mostly, however, America still struggles with race relations: Syrian refugees have the ire of some people now, but it is Black people (and sometimes Latino and Asian people) who have it very difficult.

In Germany, it is the Turkish population that faces daily difficulties with integration. Germany is in the forefront of the current refugee crisis, but its past problems have come back to haunt it. Without better integration, disenfranchised people will turn to the haven of a promised land.

In France, being a person of colour is difficult. Though it is strictly forbidden to ask about race, ethnicity and religion for any national census, France is socially divided by race anyway. I wrote about my issues with France in a previous post.

Personally, I have dealt with discrimination in all three of these countries, but on a much lower scale than recent immigrants. I’m not sure what integration will look like as we continue, especially with the continuing refugee crises from Syria, Eritrea and countries in Northern Africa. However, I hope that we can turn our attentions to the plights of minority without ire. – SDM

x

If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by David Mark. Poem excerpt from ‘The New Colossus’ by Emma Lazarus.

#atozchallenge: Winner Takes All

cup-857047_1280

When Cameron and the Conservative Party became the majority in the 2015 elections, there was an uproar. How did an unpopular Prime Minister keep his place? Blame was meted out: Ed Miliband was a milquetoast leader with no teeth; the Scottish National Party dominated; the Labour Party had no good ideas. The Conservative Party took 330 seats, an absolute majority.

But then, the numbers came out, and things became curiouser and curiouser. The Conservative Party had actually only won 36.8% of the vote, whilst Labour got 30.5%. And here is where first past the post voting breaks apart: No matter how slim your majority, when you win, you win everything.

If this were a two-party system, this would make sense. But the United Kingdom has multiple parties, with different stakes in the system.  In the United States, we are stuck with two parties because that is how it has always been. (I hope that changes, I honestly do.)

In the UK, one might be better served by the Single Transferable Vote system, whilst the United States might be better served by the Alternative Vote (also called the Instant Run-Off). If we are stuck with the systems we have now, we will see two parties that are dissimilar enough to anger the constituency, but never enough to change. – SDM

w

If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s challenge, check them out here.

Photo by Harry Lustig

#atozchallenge: Vote of No Confidence

white-house-13863

When I go to the gym, I generally watch C-SPAN whilst I’m on the treadmill. (I know, I know, you don’t have to say anything–I’m a politics wonk). I am struck by a few things: first, that C-SPAN and C-SPAN 2 are incredibly well-made television stations; second, holy crap senate and house meetings are boring; and finally, what, exactly, have we hired our representatives to do?

Important meetings are very sparsely attended. I realise that in an election season most representatives have shirked their duties to go and beg for resources back home, but the work of being a representative is not over, and should be just as diligently done at the beginning of the year as at the end.

And even in session, representatives should actually be working for their constituents, and not for whomever gave them the most money. I realise this is probably a pie-in-the sky dream, but as long as they are not working for us, we should stop voting them in. The issue is, of course, that not many people watch C-SPAN during their day. The fact that the sessions are boring and hard to follow is done purposefully. It is the same thing as teachers using specialised vocabulary to talk about their job. It makes one feel special; it’s using all your expertise and of course you want to show off. But it cuts off people that could probably help you or at least champion your cause.

Watch C-SPAN! Learn some stuff! Know what your representative is doing in your name. And if you don’t like what they’re doing, vote them out! – SDM

v

If you’d like to read my other posts for this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by PDP

#atozchallenge: USA, USA, USA!

flags-945510_1920

One of the first things most visitors to the United States mention is that American flags are everywhere: in front of homes; in restaurants; in classrooms. The last one, in classrooms, is always disconcerting. It is a stark reminder of the weird patriotic symbolism of the United States: we are united under one flag, when we cannot be united under any other thing.

Saying the pledge daily is a compulsory activity, but not saying it is protected speech. I stopped saying the pledge in high school, for a few reasons. I was against the war in Iraq and felt that the pledge was compulsory nationalism, something that as a German made me uncomfortable. I also did not feel that America was just, or free, for everyone.

Now, as a teacher, I stand but do not say the pledge. I have had students ask me why, and I generally tell them that I didn’t feel comfortable saying it as a dual citizen. Sometimes I tell them that historically, compulsory nationalism doesn’t always end well. I obviously do not force any student to say it if they do not want to; it’s not my business to know why they aren’t saying it.

Patriotism is a choice, and the compulsory nature of the pledge denies choice. – SDM

u

If you’d like to read my other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check them out here.

Photo by unsplash

#atozchallenge: Tout et rien- a September 11th Story

night-691894_1280

11 September 2001: We watch the towers come down in horror from a classroom. I sit in the office at school; my mother is coming to take me home. We are all scared, and there are a million rumors flying about. All we know is that it is definitely a terrorist attack and the last plane, the one that came down in Pennsylvania, is the one that was headed to the White House. I write in my journal:

In praise to our Lord and Lady
Help us see the light through the smoke.
Help us in our quest for justice

For it is JUSTICE, not REVENGE
for which we are searching.

I am for the Operation Enduring Freedom. We are no longer allowed to wait for our friends and family at the boarding gate. My mother tells me that my grandfather was at the opening of the World Trade Centres.

15 March 2005: My very best university friend and I go to New York. We visit Ground Zero; it is a huge gaping wound that we stare at through a chain-link fence. We are both stunned, tears in our eyes. We stand and stare at the hole, and then walk on, shaken, saddened. It greys the rest of our day. (New York City itself was a wonderful experience. I can see why it it is easy to fall in love with the place.)

11 September 2006: I am in Lyon, France for a semester abroad. I am out with friends in an elegant café and there is suddenly a crowd of people demonstrating, waving Palestinian flags and carrying anti-zionist slogans. The year before there had been massive demonstrations in Clichy-sous-Bois, near Paris, and a few months previous there had been demonstrations across France. Both of my parents are nervous but I am twenty and fearless.

The demonstration scares my friends and me, and we nervously head to the subway and to our respective homes. I live in the centre of the city, in the Presque-Île. I call my mother from my bedroom, watching the demonstration from my window. She warns me to stay inside. I don’t even realise the date until the next day.

4 December 2006: I am at a house party in Lyon, sitting on a sofa. The man across from me is drunk, like I am. He keeps asking me questions about Bush, about Iraq, and I am struggling, not just in French, but with my ideology. I feel as though I must defend and explain the American psyche, even though I myself don’t agree with it. I spend a lot of time on the balcony, staring down the beautiful boulevard, confused and dismayed.

11 September 2011: I am in London. It is a beautiful day and I am walking home on the Edgeware Road. There is a police presence, and of course I am curious. There are men with long beards and taqiyahs and hijabi women holding signs that say America is at war with Islam and Muslims and anti-war slogans. I am filled with shame for having supported the strikes in Afghanistan, and I stand and watch the protest.

image
Photo taken by the author.

My neighbour tells me that one of the bombs that exploded during the 7 July bombings was the tube station that is directly behind our flats, platform 4, Edgeware Road. It has been a decade for me, but only five painful short years for her. Britain was America’s first ally during Operation Freedom. I do not know anything any more.

Until we meet again. – SDM

t

If you’d like to read the other posts in this year’s A to Z challenge, check out my category!

Lead picture by Unsplash