Love for Charleston

I was in Charleston, SC last week.

A road trip that my friends and I planned with half an effort was meant to end in Charleston. But weeks before the trip, our plans started to waver, and we began throwing out other options for our domestic exploration. Making matters less enthusiastic, my work efforts in Charleston had become challenging and started to hurt my feelings. So I may have been the first to suggest alternatives to our road trip itinerary.

Then, a week before we were to begin our journey, nine people were murdered at the Emanuel A.M.E. Church. Charleston was attacked. With few words exchanged, we agreed on our destination. We might find no more important time to show up – just to be present. And since we were in a position to do so, we had no choice but to be in Charleston. Continue reading

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A Tense Anniversary

I always try to avoid the hype surrounding the 9/11 anniversary. That’s in no way meant to disrespect the lives lost in 2001, or the subsequent suffering of those left behind. Perhaps my feelings about the date would be more in tune if I had lost someone close to me in the attacks. But as it is, I tend to see all of the “we will never forget” and flag waving sentiments as gross patriotic masturbation. Sorry – kick me out of the country, if you must.

It seems like Americans do forget something on 9/11 (and perhaps year-round). We’re not the only ones with a death toll. About 3,000 people died as a result of the September 11th attacks. After a quick google search, I learned that more than 3,000 civilians have died in Afghanistan alone in just the first six months of 2010. And since 2003, more than 100,000 civilians have died in Iraq. Every life counts. So I’m not saying the importance of the American lives lost is diminished by the number of those lost overseas. But why does it seem like American suffering trumps that of all others – especially when September comes around? I wouldn’t mind so much if Americans ever acted like they gave a damn about anyone else. But I don’t see much of that.

And this year the September 11th hype is so much more. With the mosque/Islamic community center controversy and this clown starting the public Qur’an burning nonsense, this year’s 9/11 anniversary seems to be clouded by hatred and tension more than anything – at least in the news. It all seems so absurd.

The nastiness of it all has made me pleased that I’m taking a break from this country. People are more sane in other countries, right? Wrong.

Out of curiosity, I took a look at some Dutch headlines relating to September 11th in the U.S. I still don’t know which one is the most mainstream paper in the Netherlands. But across all the papers I read, it seems like Dutch sentiments are just as split, and in some cases twisted as Americans. And just like Americans, some Dutch people have trouble minding their own business and have decided to get involved with issues that don’t relate to them.

The leader of the Dutch Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, is one of those who’s having trouble minding his own business. I’ve mentioned him in an earlier post. But to spare you the trouble of reading that all over again (although I’m sure it was riveting the first time through), he’s an uber conservative who’s pretty close to being a part of the next coalition government. Although Wilders’ politics are extreme, for some reason he gained enough momentum in the recent June election to make him less than marginal. Doesn’t bode well for the Dutch, as far as I’m concerned.

So anyway, Wilders has hopped on a plane to come to NYC to participate in and speak at one of the protests against the Islamic community center by the WTC site. He was invited by a group called Stop Islamization of America (I haven’t even bothered to investigate what they’re about). Apparently he’s so strongly opposed to the plan, and Islam in general, that he felt compelled to be here to vocally protest. I’m all for free speech. But c’mon, man. Just stay home.

Wilders at Ground Zero. Photo courtesy of Radio Netherlands Worldwide.

Fortunately, Wilders doesn’t represent all Dutch people. In fact polls indicate only 20 percent of Dutch people supported Wilders’ participation in today’s protest. But 41 percent were neutral and only 39 percent were opposed to his craziness. That’s not enough opposition for me.

So leaving the U.S. for the Netherlands will not mean leaving behind conservative and sometimes hateful politics. They’re just everywhere…and apparently willing to travel as much as I am.

In spite of all that, my heart sincerely goes out to every single person affected by the September 11th attacks and subsequent violence, here and overseas. I hope at some point we’ll see that none of these losses, none of the pain, and none of the hateful words and exchanges have been worth it. At some point it has to end.

Mean Politics

Have you been losing much sleep over the current political climate in the Netherlands? Well, I hope not. I’m still trying to keep up. And though it’s seems pretty concerning, I also haven’t been losing sleep over it (yet).

Remember back in February when the government collapsed? The main issue there was Afghanistan. Should the troops extend their stay or return home, already later than originally planned. At the time, the party that was center right, the Christian Democrats, had the majority of seats, with the center left Labor Party at a close second. Out of 150 seats in Parliament, they had 41 and 33 respectively. It was a coalition government, meaning despite opposing politics, issues were only resolved with consensus. The system seems to work most of the time for the Dutch. But obviously when it fails, it’s a really stinky (read: shit) storm. They decided emergency elections would be held in June. And I imagined a better, stronger, and much more liberal government would emerge – just in time for my arrival.

I guess I was naïve to think the Dutch were all on board for a move toward left of center politics. In all of my time romanticizing Amsterdam and its illusions of freedom, I failed to consider the other side of that coin. And isn’t there always another side to these coins? How would they have even survived in the EU if they weren’t bringing fair representation of the conservative folks?

So anyway, much to my surprise, the emergency elections, held last week, resulted in a rise in power for a far right party, the Freedom Party, and a slight drop in power for the Labor Party. That means the somewhat liberals are still ahead in the game, but the over the top conservatives just scored one or two surprising points. And the Freedom Party really is over the top with it. The leader, Geert Wilders, is anti-immigration (uh oh), and generally anti-Islam – to the point of wanting to ban the Koran and proposing a special tax on wearing head scarves. He’s made it clear that the Netherlands does not necessarily have to be a welcoming place for “others.”  Now I know there are always a few who will insist on promoting hate and discrimination. But who would have thought such an extremist would gain a legitimate following? To the point where there’s a (slight) possibility that the Freedom Party may be a part of the newest coalition government?

Last week’s election not only led to a surge for the Freedom Party – the Christian Democrats took a crazy hit, falling from 41 to win only 21 seats. So they’re not even a factor anymore. And coming out of nowhere (well, as far as I’m concerned), the pro-business Liberal party ended up with the most popular support. And now due to the close race between the Liberals and the Labors, with the two parties earning 31 and 30 seats respectively, a power struggle is still at play. The less than friendly “i-hate-everybody-else” Wilders is insisting that his Freedom party is included in the coalition to be formed by the Liberals, saying “one-and-a-half million Dutch voted for us and for more security, less crime and less Islam.” Reading his poetic words, I see why so many had trouble resisting him.

I say that in jest, of course. The more I read about Wilders, the more creeped out I feel. If his party is given just a little bit of a voice in the new Dutch government, I fear the country would be taking a crazily conservative turn. I think the Dutch have a lot more on their minds than whether or not I’ll be able to benefit from their social programs as an immigrant, like maybe their struggling economy.  So I’m trying not to judge too much without knowing enough of the facts and the many layers that must have been considered during the past several months of upheaval.  So perhaps it’s not quite as horrifying a political change of climate as it seems.

But the whole situation is kinda stinking up another storm.  And as a future immigrant, I’ve got my eye on this Wilders character.  That’s for sure.

Collapsing Governments and Other Disasters

Seems like 2010 has been the year of disaster.  Feels like bad news, big and small, has been popping up everywhere.  Earthquakes, suicides, brutal storms, deadly accidents, overdrawn bank accounts, the list goes on.  Shoot, Earth has literally shifted its axis by 3 inches.  Although it seems to have no noticeable impact, it’s insane!

Well, the Netherlands is not exempt.  Last week the government collapsed.  While the Queen was on vacation, she got a call from the Prime Minister notifying her of the government’s resignation.  And that leads to a collapsed government, for sure.  What led to the resignation is what makes me think a move to the Netherlands is right for me.  Dysfunction is great, especially when it results from people standing up for what’s right.

Turns out the dispute was over whether or not Dutch troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.  They currently have almost 2,000 troops over there, resulting from an already extended stay that was scheduled to end before the end of 2010.  But after NATO asked for its members to keep troops in Afghanistan for even longer, supporting Obama’s deployment of something like 30,000 more U.S. troops, the Prime Minister was ready to agree and the Labor Party said “hell no.”  Dutch people, along with almost everyone else, are tired of war and losing young soldiers (21 Dutch soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan). And when the Labor Party refused to compromise by even allowing a modified number of soldiers to stay, an agreement couldn’t be reached.  The consensus-requiring nature of the government resulted in the Labor Party completely pulling out.  Sounds incredibly dramatic and mostly sad.  But the bright side is all of the Dutch troops will be heading home before the end of this year, as promised.  No compromises.

I’ve been doing my homework on the Dutch government, originally to see with which of their political parties I would most likely align myself.  But learning that the government just happens to topple over every once in a while made me want to really understand it.  The basic story is that the government was set up to allow for equal representation and general consensus.  The cabinet is made up of a coalition of three of the larger parties, the Christian Democratic Appeal (more right wing and led by the Prime Minister), the Labor Party (more to the left), and the ChristianUnion (smaller and somewhere in the middle).  The Socialist Party and People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy (way more conservative than it sounds) are the 3rd and 4th largest parties; but they’re not represented in this coalition – don’t quite understand that yet.  When these folk get together to decide on the tough issues, they’re supposed to discuss and debate until a decision is reached.  Since they’re all supposed to agree and speak publicly in favor of cabinet decisions, any member who doesn’t agree (and I guess is willing to stand up for it) is required to step down.  They are serious with it.  So when CDA and Labor couldn’t agree on the Afghanistan question, and Labor was willing to stand up for it, Labor Party members had to step down.  And since it’s a coalition of the 3 parties, it can’t continue with the numbers so dramatically in favor of the democratic christian guys.  So they all had to resign, consequently ruining the Queen’s vacation, I’m sure.

I’m getting the general sense that Dutch people are against the Prime Minister wanting to support NATO’s request, and in favor of the Labor Party’s stance.  But I plan to do more reading of the Dutch newspapers (thank goodness for Google Translate!) to get a better sense of what the people are actually saying.  I’m sure it’s quite messy and seems pretty worrisome.  People are probably more concerned about the lack of stable government than they are relieved that their troops are coming home.  But coming from a country that is willingly sending thousands more to Afghanistan this year, I’m thrilled at the prospect of moving to a country that prioritizes peace even when power is at stake.

black girl gone blue

My goodness, last week was a somber one.  I was originally planning for it to be a week of self-reflection, beginning a much needed process of self-prioritization, appreciation, and affirmation.  You know, one of those start the year off right things by recognizing and valuing all that is truly important in life.  I don’t mean to mention it so casually.  It really is a process I’m taking seriously.  And since I’m planning to embark on some serious life changes this year, now seems like the best time to finally start (for real – I’ve taken it less seriously in the past).  Perhaps I’ll get more into that process later.  For now, I’ll just say it can be sobering when taking a look at where I’d like to be personally, professionally, emotionally…and all the work that will be required to get there.

And then as I’m just starting to dig in at the beginning of the week, on Tuesday a devastating earthquake hit Haiti, a country already stricken with more than its fair share of tragedy.  Not that anything is – but all I can think is, “it’s just not fair,” effectively silencing every time I’ve used this phrase in reference to myself in the past.  So many people – black people suffering, dying, dead.  All of my personal struggles are insignificant in comparison.  My heart goes out to Haiti and her people.  I’ve shed tears over the news footage.  I sent as much money as I could afford to yele.org (right choice or not?  not sure: smoking gun & Wyclef defends).  I wish I knew how to do more.

And then my building’s porter made me cry on Friday.  A light conversation while on my way to work led to chatting about the earthquake.  Since my building and neighborhood have a high concentration of Haitians, I shouldn’t have been surprised to hear about how deeply affected my neighbors have been by the tragedy.  But when the porter told me that one neighbor lost three members of her family to the earthquake, I just lost it.  There I was, standing by the trash cans in front of a cooky man with questionable social skills, crying over the loss of a family for a woman I don’t even know.  My emotions need some stabilizing.  The semi-started self-reflection combined with a global crisis appears to have left me in a weakened state.

So I’m resetting.  Fortunately, Dr. King’s day was a nice, symbolic day for such a reset, affirming the value of both self and others.  My personal challenges may diminish in value in comparison to what’s happening in Haiti (any so many other parts of the world) – but I’m the only one who’s going to work on them.  So the work must go on…

This was a bit of a ramble.  But hopefully that’s forgivable in reset mode?