Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Tear Down this Wall

Today is November 9. It is 27 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. I've been to the Berlin Wall. I've seen the bits of it left standing, surrounded by modern buildings, covered in colorful graffiti. It seems so much smaller, almost quaint. But still it is eerie, to imagine the rest of the wall, sprouting along the trail, marking where it once was. I went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, witnessed story after harrowing story of how people from East Berlin would escape into West Berlin, how they would escape into freedom. And often into the arms of loved ones long separated by the unforgiving concrete. 

Of course, it isn't too hard to imagine the rest of the wall, imagine the watchtowers with guns pointing toward the wall, the barbed wire, the bare ground between living spaces and the wall. It isn't hard because I have seen the wall in between the USAmerican and Mexican border. Now this wall isn't as much concrete as metal, jutting out of the earth in between families and communities. Graffiti and art installations still decorate that wall, but only on the Mexican side. The other side, the side of the land of the free and the home of the brave, is all guns and barbed wire. Though nowadays, graffiti covers both sides of the wall in Berlin, the museum speaks of the same, stark militarism that was once on the Soviet side of the wall. The USAmerican side was full of art, tributes to those walled off. The reversal of roles in our country today is unsettling.

Today, 27 years after the joy of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we woke up to find the president-elect of the USA is the candidate who promised another wall. "Build the wall," became the chant at his rallies. One of his big campaign promises from the beginning has been to stop the flow of immigration from the south. But when I hear the chant, "Build the Wall," I think of Berlin, split down the middle between freedom and totalitarianism. I think of craning my neck to see the sky over the wire topping the fence of the existing wall in Mexico. I think of fear and loss. And I wish that instead of chanting, "Build the wall," we were echoing (Republican!) President Ronald Regan's words, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!"

The work we have to do now, post-election, is this work of tearing down walls. Of putting this wall, and this whole campaign, in context with our shared history. Yes, there are some who feel disenfranchised, disenchanted, who wanted a big upset and change when they voted for the new president-elect. But now that the election is over, we need to step back and remember the reason we once fought against one wall. We need to spend some time tearing down instead of building up. Tearing down our walls, walls of hostility between white people and Muslims/Latinx/Black/queer/the-list-goes-on people, and the actual physical walls that divide families and communities. The actual physical walls that, even if they are built by the USA, fit seamlessly with a history of tyranny we once ascribed to Soviets.

Because tonight is also the anniversary of Kristallnacht, or Night of Broken Glass, when in 1938, people attacked synagogues and Jewish businesses in Germany, a pogrom announcing what would become the Holocaust. Glass shards splintered in the streets, inside buildings, marking the shattered ideal of community and safety. The shattered ideal of freedom. Could this be a possible outcome of this election? The rhetoric of this campaign season, 78 years after Kristallnacht, has been violent, pitting races against each other. While our president-elect has not called for a night of Broken Glass against Muslims or Latinx, in the fearful and violent world we live in it would not be far to journey to such a night. But we can still tear down walls of hatred before we shatter our ideals of freedom.

I was only two years old when the Berlin Wall fell, but I grew up listening to my parents talking about the power of the images of people with sledgehammers descending on the wall. You could buy pieces of the wall--- and I know many people who still have a piece. The crumbled wall was a symbol of freedom, of reuniting families. Of the Spirit of Democracy. Not like the shattered glass on Kristallnacht, symbols of division and hatred. But it is up to us what we will choose to build up and what we will tear down.

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