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on the Bard College Berlin Student Blog

Charlottesville Anti-Racist Counter-Protesters Face White Supremacists from the “Unite the Right” Rally

I had thought that the scariest sight that weekend would be the images of the “Unite the Right” rally. Men can be scary enough on their own. Men with violent ideologies are simply terrifying. The white supremacist rally was toxically masculine, looked utterly fascist and sounded like a historical period that should never be repeated. The Nazi and KKK symbology, the light from their absurd Tiki torches, the Confederate flags, the rampant anti-Semitism, the collared shirts that made them look almost respectable, the chants of “Blood and Soil”, the Swastikas. Even following it online was too much. The white supremacist rally on August 12 felt too evil to be real, yet it wasn’t quite surprising or something out of the blue.

But then that car ran into the protesters, and it was worse than we could ever imagine. 19 people were injured and one was killed in a deliberate attack by a fascist extremist.

“Just stay safe please,” I irrationally felt compelled to text someone I care about simply because 1) he happened to be – although a hundred miles away from the action — in the same state at the time of the chaos, and 2) because he had gotten his life threatened by white racists in Virginia years ago in Obama’s supposedly post-racial America.

Post-Trump, though, it seems that even white people can be victims of white supremacy. Heather Heyer, a member of the Industrial Workers of the World, died that day while fighting fascists. The last post on her Facebook wall has turned her into a martyr for anti-fascism: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”     

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The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.

The view of Budapest from Gellert Hill.

“I think, I think when it’s all over it just comes back in flashes, you know.  It’s like a kaleidoscope of memories, it just all comes back…It’s not really anything he said or anything he did.  It was…the feeling that came along with it.  And…the crazy thing is I don’t know if I’m ever gonna feel that way again.  But I don’t know if I should…”

Taylor Swift understands me, on a level that is beyond my love life.  In the opening of her 2012 hit song, I Knew You Were Trouble, she describes the suffering wrought by a deceptively charming ex.  Hair chopped, surrounded by dessert, trash bags, and flyaway toilet paper, she looks back on the days when life was too good. I see her experience as a dramatic version of my dreamy spring break trip to Budapest.  With warm weather, vast 38°C outdoor pools, island parks, Costa Coffee Coolers, and sweet cinnamon-scented air, it was as if life could not get any better. It was like real-world affordable Disneyland.  Fueled by magic, by “synchronicity”. 

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Ambassador Murphy's address to the ECLA of Bard graduates

Ambassador Murphy’s address to the graduates

“Commencement”: though the word is rhetorically indicative of a beginning, it has trouble escaping its connotation––at least for students––as the official conclusion, the shake of the hand, and the goodbye to the thousands of pages and hours, myriad lunch debates, late-nights, page-tabbing, research forays, and all that comes along with the pursuit of a liberal arts diploma. After a year (or four) of all these activities and then a few final weeks of frenzied epiphanies, tapping through papers, and packing up boxes, the students at ECLA of Bard submitted their final essays, sighed a deep sigh, and welcomed their friends and family from far and wide to Berlin to celebrate the end of the year––and the commencement of what’s to come.

After a lovely lunch in the convivial intimacy of our small-school cafeteria, the assembling group rambled via bicycle and Straßenbahn down to the Rotes Rathaus (the Red City Hall)––a neo–Gothic /neo–Baroque /Jungendstil mashup success of a brick building in the northern Berlin neighborhood of Pankow that ECLAns call home. The Saal (main ceremonial hall) was decked out in a dignified palette of flowers and bunting. Students wore the contented smiles and placid brows of those who have no extant assignments. Professors and administration were looking sartorially sharp, satisfied that we had all submitted our papers, and pleased they had imparted their wisdom, given their grades, and that we had all learned quite a bit about learning itself.

Everyone sat in long rows across the wide, but not deep, floor of the Saal, comfily within a few rows of the stage––excellent positioning for the capture of expressions and gestures from the podium. Towering above the Saal, backing the Commencement speakers and filtering the light and sounds of the street, a stained-glass window glowed with motifs of labor and bounty. The finicky Berlin late–spring sun chose to shine in through the window upon the stage of graduates just as their diplomas were awarded. Flowers and leather-bound Bard-red diplomas, printed in the most graceful Latin, were distributed along with admonitions to excellence and advisor–selected, red–ribboned books for each of the graduates.

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