merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
- I did not expect to like Vienna so much, but I really did. Apparently I watched too many movies about WWII as a child (this may sound like I'm kidding, but I'm not - my father made us watch a zillion of 'em), so I have this deep-seated, irrational resentment of Germany and Austria. I realize that it's been 60 goddamn years. I realize that there are people from both countries who fought against the Nazis with their last breaths. I realize that I would not want people to judge me by, say, George W. Bush or Rand Paul. And I realize that Hungary's politics are currently WAY scarier than either Germany's or Austria's. I get all this. I realize that it's irrational and that I should grow the hell up and approach Vienna on its own terms. So I did.

And it turns out that ending up in Vienna was a great thing for us, because we both really dug it. It's a beautiful city with a delightfully cranky and effective history of socialism (you go, Red Vienna!), excellent coffee and associated ridiculous coffee beverages, fabulous music and art all over the damn place, wonderful architecture, leafy boulevards... So much to recommend it.

- I wish Google would fuck off and stop "helping" by noticing that I'm online in Austria and Hungary and thus switching its default language to German. FUCK OFF. People travel! Stop helping me!

- Cool, rainy weather feels like heaven after a miserably, punishingly hot, dry Texas summer. Y'all, I wore A SWEATER. Because I was COLD. It was kind of awesome.

- Many men in Vienna and Budapest wear too goddamn much cologne. Dial it down if you're going to take crowded public transportation, people!

- Viennese folk are very, very good at creepy things. I imagine it's a good city to be Goth in. The natural history museum is fabulous in ways that demonstrate this clearly - lots of creepy little tableaux about. There's also a charmingly mordant sense of humor on display - like the butterfly sitting cheekily on the nose of a taxidermied caiman (which is like a wee alligator).

- I stood in front of the Venus of Willendorf and realized how small she is, but how beautifully detailed. Humans could make art with such care and grace 25,000 years ago! Cool.

- I do okay with basic courtesies and stuff in German, but holy craptacular, Hungarian is HARD. I've just had the hardest time wrapping my head around the pronunciation.

- Poor Hungary has pretty much had the shit kicked out of it forever. Part of this is just bad geographical luck - like Poland, it stands between western European powers and Asian ones, and it gets ground like grain between them. But Hungarian leaders also just seem to choose tragically badly, to end up on the wrong side of history.

- Today we went to Terror House (museum and memorial to those killed by the Nazi occupation and then the Soviet occupation) and the Great Synagogue (second largest in the world, very beautiful, with memorials outside to the Hungarian Jews who died in WWII). The seemingly endless list of names and catalogue of those killed during the occupations covers a staggering amount of wall space at Terror House. The tree of life memorial outside the synagogue, with the name of a Jew who was killed engraved on each leaf, is beautiful and gut-wrenchingly sad. As often happens to me in Europe, I feel like I've spent all day tripping over bones. I'm glad I saw these things. They are heartbreaking, horrifying, and important, especially for people from the US who have not experienced war or occupation on their own soil. It's too easy for us to forget that when we talk about sending troops somewhere, this is what we ultimately mean: homes, bridges, roads, schools, lives, and families destroyed. It's too easy to forget what a country looks like when people are bullied into policing their neighbors and themselves, when the panopticon leaves us hating and fearing any difference or deviation. I left nauseated, tearful, and more committed than ever to fighting my own country's fascist tendencies.

But can I tell y'all something wonderful I learned today? Outside the Great Synagogue, there's also a memorial to Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat who literally, personally saved thousands of Jews. He issued protective passports, as many as his office could churn out, which were totally illegal but which allowed hundreds of people, maybe more, to escape. He organized a group of over 300 folks to help out and raise money to rent buildings (32 in all!!) and he declared those spaces Swedish territory - where he and his allies housed 10,000 people who otherwise would have been tortured and/or killed. Ten. THOUSAND. People.

One of the people Wallenberg saved was Rep. Tom Lantos (D-CA), who died in 2008, but who was a tireless champion of human rights, co-founder of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, a fierce progressive (on almost every issue - unsurprisingly, he was more than a bit hawkish on Middle East issues), and a particularly strong environmentalist. Lantos fought in the Hungarian resistance and was the only Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress. He was not unproblematic, but damn, dude got himself arrested for civil disobedience protesting in front of the Sudanese embassy over Darfur issues when he was 78 years old. I have no doubt that he was treated much more gently by DC cops as a sitting member of Congress than he ever was when detained in his youth, but still. That's pretty hardcore for a man pushing 80 years of age. His grandson, Tomicah Tillemann, is now a speechwriter for Hillary Clinton. His grandaughter, Charity Tilleman-Dick, is an opera singer. And that's just some of the ripple effect from one of the thousands of people Raoul Wallenberg saved.

So that's today's powerful reminder that one person who chooses to be brave and kind can change the world in unimaginably beautiful ways that will echo through time long after xie is gone. Blessings on you, Raoul Wallenberg.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
So I will probably never live outside the US. I want to stay close to my brother and sister-in-law and their kids, my BFF and her kids, my friends. He wants to stay relatively close to his family. And fundamentally, my partner does not like change, and that is just WAAAAY too much fucking change for him.

But I'm pretty much fucking sick and tired of this country right now. The allegedly Democratic president is pretty much a Rockefeller Republican - and yet millions of people here are so badly educated about their own history that they think he's a fucking socialist. I'm sure most of you have seen the clip of Republican debate audiences cheering at both the execution of 234 people by my own home state and then at leaving people without health insurance to die come across your FB or Google+ feeds. No one in DC seems to be taking seriously a jobs bill this country desperately needs, as we suffer the worst unemployment since the Great Depression. Apparently all you have to be to get detained by Homeland Security is brown-skinned and on a plane. I can't even talk about the cuts to the Texas budget without sputtering in rage. Etc etc etc. The catalog of horrors is almost endless. We are displaying every single characteristic of fascist regimes. I'm tired. I'm angry. I'm scared. I'm disappointed.

This is my home. I will not give it up to these horrifying assholes without busting my butt to try to save it. This is where the war is, so this is where we fight.

But sometimes I need to fantasize about someplace I could go and just be without having to fight so hard all the goddamn time. And here's how I know I am a pragmatist at heart: I want my fantasies to make some sense. Here are my parameters:

- Fundamentally democratic socialist system of government - national health care, genuine social safety net, all that good stuff
- Fundamentally values human rights
- At least doesn't outright hate women or queers. For proxy variables, let's say that abortion and same-sex marriage, or at least civil unions, are legal and accessible.
- At least acknowledges that racism exists and that we should do stuff to try to fix that.
- Not too close to either pole, as I have seasonal affective disorder and can't go without seeing the sun in the winter
- Relatively temperate climate - preferably doesn't get below about 20 degrees F/-6 C or over 100 degrees F/38 C
- Forests and water, whether lake, river, or ocean, are nice
- Good restaurants
- Either English-speaking or the language spoken there isn't too hard for an English/Spanglish speaker to pick up (so, like, not Hungarian, Finnish, or Russian, and I've never been able to get my mouth around Portuguese pronunciation)
- Travel back to the US is relatively easy

Suggestions? Right now my only candidate is Vancouver, BC, but that whole problem where people riot and set cars on fire when they lose a sports game is distressing.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
- Finally getting the Austin chapter of NOW re-started. As of this weekend, with the help of my sweet fella, Austin NOW has a website, an account with Constant Contact so we can do professional looking emails, and a Facebook page. This morning I sent out an email asking people to let us know what meeting times work for them (Doodle is so useful for this), what they'd like the chapter to do, and what feedback they have on the new website. I've already gotten four responses! \o/

- There is an organic pizza joint, Promise Pizza, in Austin! We got dinner from there a few nights ago, and it was really good! It kind of sucks that we're juuuuust outside the delivery area of both locations, but hey, if we support them enough, maybe they'll expand. :)

- I'm slooooowly getting through my laundry backlog. It feels really good.

- We finally got the replacement part we needed to assemble our home exercise thingy, which is a combo recumbent bike and rowing machine, and today we put it together. So now we can exercise while also goofing off and watching movies - without having to go outside in the ridiculous heat! WIN.

- Yesterday I went to volunteer orientation for English at Work. It's such a smart model - they get businesses (usually hospitals, hotels, retail, and food service) to pay a relative pittance for the course, and employees get to come to the class at their workplace, with content customized for that workplace. This means the employees don't have to worry about transportation or childcare any more than usual, they lose less time to transportation because the class is someplace they already know how to find, and they learn how to say what they need to say to their co-workers, which has immediate positive impact on their careers and earning power. Employers benefit because increased English comprehension has been shown to decrease turnover, workplace accidents, and workplace tension. Smart!

Sneakily, it also engages businesses with their employees and makes them more attuned to their needs, which, E@W is finding, changes business culture so that immigrants are treated better. RAD. I'm going to train to be a classroom student support assistant, helping out with one-on-one conversation and small group work. I'm super excited about helping these folks make better lives for themselves!

- Today, as is my custom, I read Langston Hughes' "Let America Be America Again" to remind me how much I love the dream, the idea of my country, and how far we have to go to make it real.

Because of the drought here, the worst in over 100 years, there are no fireworks in Austin. So we're at home, watching the Boston Pops. I think it's kind of amazing that several hundred thousand people just saw Martina McBride sing "Independence Day", which is a pretty hardcore domestic violence story. It's an amazing song, but I dunno, to me, it's like those people who have the DJ play, "I Will Always Love You," at their wedding. THAT SONG IS NOT TALKING ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK IT'S TALKING ABOUT.

My life is really good today. I hope y'all's are, too.
merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)
So about an hour ago, we were hanging out playing video games when we heard a loud banging on our front door. Normally we don't answer our door unless we're expecting someone because we get a lot of solicitors in our neighborhood, so at first we ignored it. The banging got louder and I went downstairs, feeling grumpy.

It was a guy who lives down the street, who was knocking to tell us that someone had crashed a car into our fence. Yikes! He also said, "Look, she's afraid," which confused me, but I got my phone and went outside.

When I saw her, I got it. Saira, the woman in the accident, is visibly Other - she is dark-skinned and she wears hijab. It turns out that she lives down the street from us. She was very shaken up - she's been driving 20 years and this is the first accident she's ever had. She was heading out to do some errands before a big trip - she and her husband are leaving tomorrow to make their pilgrimage to Mecca and then visit family in India. What happened was, she was stressed and distracted, her bag fell off the front seat, she reached to right it, she accidentally jerked the wheel, and bam, she jumped the curb and crashed into our fence.

I don't give a crap about our fence. It'll cost a pittance to repair, and it's old and should be replaced soon, anyway. Whatever. This is why we have insurance, right? Accidents happen. No big deal. We took pictures, exchanged information, all the standard stuff.

What upsets me is this: She was scared and shaken up by the car accident, but she was almost as frightened of me. Me. To a white person, I'm practically a fluffy bunny - blonde, blue-eyed, sweet-faced, smiling, open. Seriously, I get asked for directions in cities I'm just visiting. But to Saira, I was a potential abuser whose property she had damaged. Her hands were shaking and her voice unsteady when she told me that she wanted to be clear that she and her husband were leaving tomorrow and asked uncertainly, "Do you know what a pilgrimage is?"

I was calm, smiling, kept my voice low. I said one of my dearest friends from high school is Muslim, that I understood what a big deal it was to be making this journey, that I was glad for her that she was doing so. I joked with her about being the white girl at my friend's house, how her mom would give me the least spicy portion of unfamiliar foods and carefully explain what they were, amused at my game enthusiasm and happy to be sharing something important with her daughter's friend. I said that one of my sorority sisters from college is Muslim; we worked closely together on several big projects, and I'm happy that we remain friends. And while I related all this, I swear Saira's shoulders went down an inch and a half. Finally, she relaxed enough to smile.

That's what's making me want to weep. Because it's understandable that she was afraid. She had never met me, we live in a neighborhood where many people are kind and accepting but some are terrifying when angered (most notably this guy), and I had reason to be angry. She was right to fear for her safety until given reason to do otherwise. I've been in a few wrecks, and in car accidents involving white folks on both sides, there was rarely anger, yelling, and bad behavior; mostly there was contrition, businesslike conduct, annoyance at all the red tape, and maybe some joking about how much we all hate insurance companies. This is the first time I can recall in my entire life that someone has been afraid of me in such a situation. Right now, it's the only time I can recall someone being afraid of me, period. What if I hadn't had a story to tell about my Muslim friends? Would Saira's hands have stopped shaking?

Imagine that you've just crashed your car, you're standing in someone's front yard embarrassed and shaken, you have a to-do list a mile long before a five-week international trip and it just got longer because of this mess, you're worried about the money, and even though you're lucky and grateful to have escaped physical harm in the accident, on top of all that, you are also standing there afraid that what would be a civil interaction with someone who looks like you could escalate into violence because you look different from the so-called norm.

That's why the shit people talk about Muslims and immigrants matters. That's why I wasn't going to go to Wiscon unless MoonFail was resolved and Elizabeth Moon's GoH status was rescinded. It matters in the everyday lives of real human beings. Civil society depends on the general presumption of goodwill, which means first we have to see each other as human. And when people talk about Muslims and immigrants as though they're all the same and all suspect, when they stick their noses in the air and talk about how grateful Muslims should be for the forbearance offered them by Real Americans (tm), what they're saying is that when they encounter a Muslim person, an immigrant, they don't see a complicated individual with many important characteristics; they just see a Muslim, an immigrant, an Other, one of Those People, someone Not Like Us. I will say it flat-out: that attitude is un-American. And what I mean by that is, it is contrary to the country I was raised to believe in, that I went into public policy and politics to serve, the one where everyone's freedom, equality, and humanity are genuine, protected, and precious.

I'm aware of this today because this happened, literally, in my front yard. What's happening in your front yard, in your neighborhood, in your city, in your country, today that your privilege lets you ignore?


merielle: purple passiflora on a barbed wire fence (Default)

February 2016

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