Berlins and Outs,  Feeeeelings

Keine Familie ist illegal

People from the US are allowed into the Schengen Zone (of which Germany is a part) for 90 days at a time. If you want to stay longer, you need a visa or a residence permit. June 25th was my 90th day in Germany, and, on June 28th, I got a residence permit that allows me to live here through March 2019. So, technically, on June 26th and June 27th, you could have called me an “illegal immigrant.”

Keine Familie ist illegal (No family is illegal)

I mention this because immigration is complicated, and it’s a helluva lot more complicated for people who don’t look like me and/or don’t have the money I have. I mention this because (white) English speakers have a tendency to claim the term “expat,” but E and I moved here for work, so, doesn’t that make us “economic migrants?” I mention this because more than one person in Germany has joked with me that I must have moved here to get away from Trump. I mention this because a lot of bad decisions came out of the Supreme Court last week and I have no doubt history will look unfavorably upon them. I mention this because knowing my opinions are on the right side of history is cold comfort.

On Saturday, E and I went to the Families Belong Together demonstration in Berlin. There were about 100 people there, including several families with young children. We stood beside the Tiergarten, across the street from the US Embassy and, fittingly, the Holocaust Memorial. On our way to the protest, we biked past the longest stretch of the Berlin Wall that is still standing – the East Side Gallery. E bikes past that wall everyday on his way to work. Do I need to draw more obvious parallels or does it suffice to say that Berlin is an interesting place to live in this political moment?

Part of the East Side Gallery: Es gilt viele Mauern abzubauen (It is necessary to reduce many walls)

I’m very sad and scared for the US people right now, which is why I felt the need to write some of these thoughts down. It can be easy to get overwhelmed by the news and start to tune out the injustice in the world. I’m trying not to do that, and instead sharing these unfinished, imperfect thoughts. In an effort to be useful, I’m going to end with some lists:

5 Ways I’m Trying to Stay Politically Engaged and You Can Too:

  1. The Coalition Berlin: I’ve found it helpful to like or follow political groups on Facebook in order to see when events and demonstrations are happening. In Berlin, I’ve recently followed Democrats Abroad Germany – Berlin Chapter and The Coalition Berlin. If you’re looking to connect with local groups that are already fighting the good fight, you can start by seeing if there’s a Black Lives Matter chapter near you.
  2. Call Your Girlfriend: This podcast, hosted by Renaissance woman, Aminatou Sow, and journalist, Ann Friedman, is a lifeline. I love listening to these incredibly smart women talk about politics and pop culture so much that I still tune in even when the news is bad. If podcasts aren’t for you, find your own enjoyable way to keep up with the news, whether it’s Last Week Tonight or The Daily Show or theSkimm. This shouldn’t be the only place you hear about what’s going on in the world, but it should be something you genuinely like and would find interesting even if the world weren’t a dumpster fire.
  3. VotefromAbroad: If I don’t live in the US, do I still have Congressional representation? Turns out the laws vary by state! Vote from Abroad is the website I’m using to find out who and what I’m eligible to vote for. If you live in the US, you can use your city or state’s website – remember, midterms matter!
  4. SisterDistrict: Speaking of midterm elections… Sister District focuses on state races “with the strategic goals of (1) flipping Republican-held state chambers (2) holding fragile Democratic majorities in state chambers, and (3) making blue inroads in badly gerrymandered states.” I learned about this organization from Call Your Girlfriend and they highlighted that volunteering for or donating to Sister District can be a good option for folks in deep blue areas. Sister District will assign you a candidate to support in a race you might not have thought about otherwise. This is just one example of a group you can learn from and support. The important thing in my mind is to pick something and commit to it.
  5. Trans Lifeline: With commitment in mind, find an organization you love and set up recurring monthly donations to them. I had recurring donations to Trans Lifeline and The Trevor Project for almost two years, and only stopped them when we moved to Berlin because we needed to reevaluate our finances. It’s on our to-do list to sit down together and pick an organization (or two) that we want to donate to. Being politically engaged is a work in progress.

5 Ways I’m Trying to Practice Self-Care and You Can Too:

  1. My Brother, My Brother, and Me (MBMBAM): The McElroy Brothers have been recording this absurdist advice podcast since 2010 and it is a delight. The spin-off show The Adventure Zone, where they play Dungeons and Dragons and other roleplaying games with their dad is even better, but it’s more linear. I can jump into MBMBAM whenever I need a pick-me-up and even if I miss some references, something those good, good boys say is sure to make me laugh out loud. My other jump-in-whenever-pure-joy podcast is Hark! The Holiday Music Podcast hosted by my brother and his partner, RJ. They “listen to every Christmas, Hannukah, New Year’s, winter, holiday, et cetera song, review them, and rank them from best to worst.” Technically the show is linear since they’ve been building the list for three years now, but the format is easy to follow even if you jump in on their most recent episode. If podcasts aren’t your thing, please find something for yourself that is purely for fun and brings you nothing but joy.
  2. Queer Eye: I was sick a couple of weeks ago and binge-watched Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot. While I’m not usually a big fan of reality tv, there’s something to be said for human stories about taking care of yourself and living your best life. Watch something heartwarming and remember that there’s love and empathy in the world. If you’ve seen Queer Eye already or just want a different recommendation, might I suggest the best show on television: Steven Universe.
  3. @Dog_Rates: This twitter account rates dogs, usually with puns. Charming and kind. Always brightens my twitter feed 14/10. Make sure your social media offers you a little light in these dark times. Lin Manuel Miranda’s good morning and good night tweets also fulfill this need. And/or if you’re not super into social media, make a “things that are just nice” folder filled with pictures, quotes, or links that make you smile or laugh. Maybe include this dog.
  4. Janelle Monae: At least dark times make for great art. Look no further than Janelle Monae’s latest album Dirty Computer and its accompanying music videos. There’s joy to be found there and anger and power.
  5. “Drink some water, take your meds, call your person”: This is the sign off of the podcast Another Round (currently on hiatus). Usually, the hosts, Heben Nigatu and Tracey Clayton, say this line and then riff on it, suggesting other things that are good for your health like going outside or brushing your teeth. It’s a call to action for self-care. So here’s me riffing on it: move your body and eat plants and get enough sleep. Remember that even in times like these, your personal needs and goals still matter. What you do isn’t frivolous. If you’re an artist, make art. Your livelihood is still your livelihood so keep doing that too. You don’t have to quit your day job to become an activist. Do whatever makes you excited to be alive and here on this planet because you deserve to be here. We all deserve to be here.

Emma Holliday is well-traveled. After 5 years in Boston, she and her husband upended their lives to move to Berlin where she is currently writing a (funny) book about travel and grief and attempting to learn German.


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