(Written 11/3/2004 in Amsterdam)
Yesterday afternoon in Amsterdam, a few hours before I arrived by bus, a controversial journalist/filmmaker Theo Van Gogh, great-great-grand-nephew of our mutual friend, was shot six times and killed while riding his bike. He had received several death threats following the broadcast of his latest short film "Submission" which portrayed a Muslim arranged-marriage as an emotionally suffocating trial for one girl.
I was directionlessly wandering the city centre streets last night when I saw a huge crowd assembled in Dam Square with a stage and television cameras. I walked into the fray and within a half-hour, was tightly packed in a gathering of over 10,000 for a peaceful protest rally celebrating Theo Van Gogh and artistic freedom. It was all in Dutch (easily confused by an untrained ear for Klingon), but the message came across. People were shaken and passionately propelled to stand together. During a minute of silence, a wave of peace signs swept the crowd.
Although I have some strong political opinions, I had never participated in a rally or protest. I stood in the middle of this sea of people with my left arm raised and stomach churning, fully aware that I was transferring my hopes and fears about the day's US election on to this Dutch vigil for solidarity.
I believe the outcome of the election is more a success for Bush's strategists than a failure for us. I think Kerry, his volunteers, and 54 million plus voters did everything they could. They got out the vote. There are just more red people than blue people in our massive country.
I watched CNN alone with burning cheeks in the pension TV room until at 10 AM (4:00 NY time) the bedraggled-Dutch-Jimmy-Kimmel morning worker switched it to mute in favor of his Disco Inferno muzak channel. I didn't protest and dragged my luggage across the foggy city to find a cheaper hostel, my guts sinking and composing this letter in my head.
I think Bush's re-election and the expansion of GOP control in congress is the worst thing that could happen to our government for many, many reasons. Many things are out of our hands now, although from the final popular vote tally, I wonder what ever was in our hands.
I recently spent short stays in Berlin and Sarajevo, two cities that have lived through severe political repression in the last fifteen years. I took long walks there and I really believe there is a palpable collective energy among the people in those places.
Originally, I intended to drink/cry myself into a tailspin if Bush won (I have doubts about an Ohio provisional count saving the day), but I think I'm going to go to the movies instead. Our participation in presidential democracy is over, gone for now, but at least we have each other, 54 million, standing together in a city plaza with raised hands, holding on to a hope for tiny, tiny increments of progress and peace. (Maybe a silly image, but one I would like to keep.)