Mias column: A Reflection on Hope and the American Presidential Election - Aviva - Berlin Online Magazin und Informationsportal für Frauen aviva-berlin.de Juedisches Leben Mias column


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AVIVA-BERLIN.de 4/16/5782 - Beitrag vom 29.11.2020

Mias column: A Reflection on Hope and the American Presidential Election
Mia Szarvas

Saturday, November 7th, 2020 was one of the best days of my life. Kamala Harris walked out on stage in Wilmington, Delaware. Wearing suffragette white, she credited all those who came before her, all those who made it possible to stand on that stage as Vice President-elect, including President-elect, Joe Biden, who chose her as his running mate. As I listened…

... to Kamala Harris, the first Black, South Asian, woman Vice President-elect tell me "I may be the first woman to hold this office. But I won´t be the last", a feeling unfamiliar to me over the last four years washed over me - it was hope.

Because of my personal connection to the Holocaust through my grandma, I had always taken a special interest in how a social disease like Nazism grows, takes hold, and manifests itself in such sickly and destructive ways. Perhaps precisely because what had happened to my family was so cruel, so unthinkable, I hungered to understand how people could be gripped by fanaticism and driven to commit such acts. In college this curiosity manifested as an academic one when I enrolled in a course titled "The History of the Holocaust". In this course, I learned so much more than I expected to learn. The course started at year zero, and worked its way all the way up to the moment the Nazis devised "The Final Solution". In this course, I learned not only how this specific brand of fascism which we call Nazism could take hold. I learned how fascism can take hold of democracies. How fascists can use the democratic process to engineer a legitimate rise to power. How once authoritarian drift has reached a certain point, there is often almost no way to reverse the course.

The day after Donald Trump was elected President of the United States on November 8th, 2016, my great aunt, who had narrowly escaped capture by the Nazis when she fled Poland with my grandma in 1939, called my father to warn him. She warned him that this is exactly how it felt in the 30s when Hitler was gaining power and Nazism was on the rise. She told him not to mess around. She told him to get out now. I knew she might be right - that this might be the start of something that would not be possible to stop. That we might become unsafe, that it might be too late when we realized that.

The past four years have felt like walking on broken glass, having my teeth slowly pulled out, and being punched in the gut every single day. I watched from afar as Donald Trump employed playbook authoritarian tactics such as convincing people there is no truth, scapegoating minorities, and building a cult of personality. Sometimes there would be hope that he could not constantly commit illegal acts and get away with them, such as his impeachment trial, but these efforts would ultimately fail, and I would realize once again that America´s democracy was no match for Trumpism. After years of protests, lawsuits, and trials failed to remove a despot like Trump, I was almost certain my home´s authoritarian drift would turn into full-fledged authoritarianism in November 2020. From my studies and research, I knew that it was highly likely. Once the authoritarian drift has started, once autocracy has started to take root in a country, it is very, very difficult to defeat it.

I couldn´t allow myself to be hopeful, because the price of defeat - the loss of my home, the potential loss of freedom and safety of my loved ones who live there, was too steep. That absence of hope is why I stared in disbelief as Kamala Harris introduced Joe Biden as the next president. I couldn´t believe that I actually was able to feel hopeful. In that moment, a future that had not existed, that I couldn´t imagine, that had been pitch black the last four years, opened up and filled with color. I was given the gift of hope, and hope gave me the gift of the future.

What I have learned is history mustn´t always repeat itself. To be clear, the election was extremely close - history very nearly did repeat itself. And if the American people (myself included), do not remain vigilant, and fight for our democracy at every turn, we very well may lose it. Trumpism is not gone, nore are the beliefs that fueled its rise. To quote Madam Vice President-elect Harris, quoting legendary Congressman John Lewis, "Democracy is not a state, it is an act." This win has given me the hope and the strength to stay engaged and keep fighting, because I saw this past week that if we fight, we can beat the odds and save ourselves from a dictator. We can write our own story: we are not, in fact, doomed to repeat history, if we don´t want to. Instead we can write a story where Black women can be Vice Presidents, and we have to fight like hell to make sure that Kamala Harris may be first, but she most certainly will not be the last.

About: Mia Szarvas was born in Vermont to an Israeli father and Italian-American mother, raised in California, and currently lives in Bremen, Germany. Her grandmother, Marta, escaped from Poland in August of 1939 with her parents and sister, with whom she set up a new life in Palestine, while the family they left behind perished in the Holocaust. Mia has a degree in Political Ecology from the University of California, Berkeley, and works in tech to create empowerment in unexpected places. She is curious about multiculturalism, languages, feminism, and how our intertwined histories inform the present.

Follow Mia´s art project "Humans Who Inspire" on Instagram @humanswhoinspire. Mia draws portraits of humans who inspire her as a meditation on the multitude of incredible humans working to make the world a better place. She also accepts requests and submissions.

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Jüdisches Leben > Mias column

Beitrag vom 29.11.2020


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