As it turned out - though more because of permits and permissions than the vast time difference - the first of the Womens' March peaceful protest events on inauguration day took place right here in Tokyo, the night before that darkest of days (our time).
The organisers of the march posted on the event page only the day before that this was not to be an anti-Trump protest and that the focus was meant to be exclusively on equal rights and female empowerment and solidarity, but uh, well, we wouldn't be holding protests for our basic human rights if a bunch of farcical, moronic, misogynistic, white supremacist, corrupt and crooked religious extremist millionaires with no qualifications hadn't just taken power, now would we?!
Plus I had hardly any hours in January and started this shit on like Monday.
At first I thought, oh cool, another chance and lots of free time to use up more of
my art supplies (including my "Skerples", fake Sharpies from Korea) and draw something.
But Side A turned out a lot better than expected.
I shared it together with some of The Economist covers from last year that
I thought captured the situation especially well.
Side B I finished in a mad rush the night of the march ("I'm angrily painting a vagina!")
and slapped onto Side A with some tape and a chopstick handle and ran out the door,
with no comma because there was no pause inbetween.
When I first got to the meeting point at Hibiya Park I was like, "Damn,"
because we were all expecting like maybe 100 people, but it was clearly more.
Local media was covering the event and it was really exciting to see all those
pink pussy hats and signs and little girls under the bright lights but otherwise surrounded
by darkness, with local TV crews interviewing people here and there.
The whole thing was extremely orderly, well-organised, and positive.
We had to pause here for a long time because there's apparently some rule about not being able to march more than 4 people shoulder-to-shoulder alongside traffic, but it was smooth sailing after everyone squished together a bit more. Hats off to the people who made this possible, really.
The only selfie!
My phone sucks in the dark!
I wish I'd taken my nice new camera, this pic especially would have been
very moving, I think. This little girl is also in the video, near the beginning.
It was a lot more than 100 people.
Major media outlets videoed and photographed us as we marched down 六本木通り, one of Tokyo's main thoroughfares, to Roppongi. The Associated Press, Mainichi, and others vied in a controlled and polite way for photos of my dramatic sign. CNN also followed the group.
The only person who interviewed me was a random middle-aged Japanese woman with a tape recorder who asked in English what I thought of 竹島, or 독도 as I first learned it, which is a completely inconsequential little smattering of jutting rocky islets that both Korean and Japanese people are brainwashed into thinking are important by government propaganda.
I once had an impassioned argument with 11 year-old Korean kids that I've talked about more than once about how it's completely bullshit that there is valuable oil and natural gas under the seafloor there (maybe, but not enough to matter), and that sometimes people in power want you to be super angry about things that don't matter or that aren't true or both so that you won't notice the other shit they're pulling.
Here in Tokyo last year - at one of the stations you use to access the controversial Yasukuni Shrine, of all the appropriate places - I kept passing this poster in the subway that depicted the islet cluster and said emphatically in kana, something along the lines of "this is ours".
At one of the larger subway stations in Seoul there's a little scale model of it in a plexiglass case that, naturally, says the same thing. In both countries the occasional random little seafood restaurant, often in a smaller or even rural town, will be named with the respective version. In those restaurants or any others it is a bad idea to bring up this topic even with the most level-headed and well-educated Korean and Japanese people, especially men over 30, and especially if you use the other name.
So, you know, I basically told her that I thought this and the territorial dispute with Russia were ridiculous and pointless and that Japan had bigger shit to worry about, and she was pretty stunned. Clearly that wasn't what she had been looking for; a heavily left-wing protest is kind of the wrong place to be snuffling for nationalistic apologist nonsense, lady!
We were warned at the beginning of pro-Trump counter-protesters, and Other Me emerged - I can't see that word now without first reading it as "ermahgerd" - from the shadows like, "Fuck, I really hope I get to kick someone in the face tonight," but there were a grand total of four or five of them on one corner, plenty far away from us, and accompanied by an absurd number of creepily statue-like police officers.
This is also in the video. It was a total joke.
Fuck them completely.
The march ended at a tiny park called 港区立三河台公園, just before the main intersection in Roppongi and not far from the more popular Hinokicho Park behind Midtown.
This is the only picture I found of us on social media later. I really like it, especially because Rejon's sign was hard to read in the dark but you can see it here, because of the way this woman in the foreground is holding her sign in her mouth, and the way you can see a man with one of the plastic candles several women and kids were holding.
I forget where this group said they were from, but they were admittedly your stereotypically
loud Americans, and were photographed and shared very heavily. But obviously they were super nice, and it was great that they came out as a large unit of family and friends.
So yeah when we ended in that obscure little park one of the organisers (the one screaming the final chant to rally us all to the finish line in the video) basically told us to disperse and gtfo because we didn't have permission to gather like this in that place lol. Fair enough!
Even though I only found one pic that includes Rejon and me, Nicole pointed out the next day that the first image in the gallery accompanying Mainichi's article about the event is of my sign.
While searching for overseas media coverage of the event, which it turned out between 500 and 600 people had attended, Hannes found that an international development site called Devex initially put Side B at the top of their article about it, too. I was pleased to have gotten a chance to make a better protest sign featuring my preferred term for our country's form of government - because "mostly or technically a representational republic" just doesn't have the same ring to it - than this lazy one from Occupy Phoenix several years ago:
Did I mention that this one really pretty chick marching in front of us ended up being someone who works or interns with policymakers in D.C. and got interviewed by a TV crew?
The next night I stayed up into the wee hours of the morning to watch the inauguration live in its entirety. It honestly wasn't as bad as I thought it would be and obviously the Hellmouth didn't open as someone was speaking at the podium like in Buffy, but seeing it happen was still pretty surreal.
Rejon and I both said independently of each other, as I'm sure any number of other people have, that it still feels like someone pulled one of those train track switches at the last second and we veered into an alternate dimension or future, the wrong one.
"Universe B sucks!", as she put it to her parents.
By now everyone is long past the various memes that arose from this clusterfucky shit parade, ranging from Propaganda Barbie to Dubya's exhausted sigh-inducing inability to get his poncho on to the look Michelle gave the camera when Melania gave her that dumbass box. There was the "What's in the box?!" from the movie Se7en analogy to the "oh look, she's giving Michelle's speech back" reaction to my personal favourite, the quintessential 90's kid style one Rejon shared in our group chat:
"Look, I can't stress this enough: do. not. push. the. red. button."
Perhaps the most telling aspect of the speech was the repeated and emphatic use of and focus on the phrase, "America First", which sounded ominous to anyone who actually gives a shit about the pitfalls and dangers of right-wing populist nationalism. That article is from The Atlantic, by the way, because I'm not a braindead shitbird who reads sensationalist blogs with bombastic emotionally-charged rhetoric (lol see what I did there), and I think everyone needs to check it out. "America First" meant, in the 40's, "we should really stay out of World War II", but with a number of very prominent anti-Semites with colourful histories that demonstrate those views at the helm, it was recognised fairly quickly for what it really is: a phrase not only nationalistic and isolated, but anti-Jew and ultimately white supremacist.
When you do read that Atlantic article you'll notice that the hate-peddling, bloated corpse of Philip Seymour Hoffman (known colloquially as "Steve Bannon") is awfully excited about not only having written this speech but about the fact that such a thing as this thoroughly disgusting White Power movement has not been seen at this level of political office since Andrew Jackson. The average person, who apparently and very frustratingly tends to be inexplicably incapable of Googling and/or reading beyond the headline of anything, would probably say, "Oh, I vaguely recognise this guy from the $20 bill, he was a president early on, cool".
Well, this guy was staunchly anti-corruption, but in an ironic twist, his administration was full of it and began what historians recognise as "an era of decline in public ethics" as he not only failed to rotate people into and out of key positions but appointed a whole bunch of his friends (here we go, starting to sound relevant) after a pretty shameful inauguration during which an unruly Mongol horde of his uncouth Appalachian supporters mobbed the White House and destroyed a bunch of shit to get at the refreshments.
He was a ragey man who dueled and fought and, even though the guy who tried to assassinate him failed, other people did succeed in shooting him. You might be familiar with the folk punk band Andrew Jackson Jihad, who shortened their name to AJJ because they "no longer wish to be a living reminder of President Andrew Jackson. Interesting historical figure as he was, he was an odious person and our fascination with him has grown stale".
Well, the guy was this and that, you say, but we're not exactly sliding downhill all that fast, and what do I care about the opinion of an obscure and somewhat pretentious band from where you went to school? Oh but wait, that was just the intro.
Pretty much the dude's whole family was killed directly or indirectly by the British, and in some cases tortured, as he himself was just a little bit when captured by them. So, understandably, like pretty much any other Scots-Irishman worth his salt, he despised and fought them.
But hold up a sec: he also fought Indians all his life. And not in a way that you can just sort of nod and agree with like the first type of fighting he did, either: he gleefully slaughtered them. He gleefully slaughtered Creeks in the War of 1812, gleefully slaughtered Seminoles for sheltering runaway slaves just because he felt like it (there was no war or anything going on, he did this entirely of his own initiative), and sat back and let the whites of Georgia pass discriminatory laws against the Cherokee, which ultimately culminated in the infamously cruel and inhuman Trail of Tears, unabashed ethnic cleansing for which he was directly responsible.
To use a quote from the Colin Woodard book I recently enjoyed very much, in an address to Congress, Jackson said that Indians "have neither the intelligence, the industry, the moral habits nor the desire of improvement which are essential to any favorable change in their condition. Established in the midst of another superior race, and without appreciating the causes of their inferiority or seeking to control them, they must necessarily yield to the force of circumstances and ere long disappear." (taken from his Fifth Annual Address to Congress, 3 December 1833)
I hope those blank lines have the desired effect of emphasis.
Other nations followed the Cherokee to dusty and desolate reservations in Oklahoma. Between 2000 and 6000 of the Cherokee alone died of incredibly shitty things like exhaustion along the way. Considering that there were only about 16,000 of them marched out of Georgia, we don't even need to go all the way to the top end of that estimate to have killed off more than a third of them.
Oh, you think, well that is pretty bad and openly white supremacist.
Did I mention that Jackson owned up to 300 slaves, and that most of the websites you'll find when you search for information about this focus on the fact that he was supposed to have been pretty nice to them, "a model slave owner" even, and that he even allowed the women to have children?
How do people not realise how shitty it is to be a slavery apologist?!
"Oh, but he wasn't completely terrible to his human property as far as we know"?! Dafuq?!
Lucky for you, Jackson, that you were sterile. How many children would you have fathered with your wife's young and attractive and almost certainly unwilling house ladies if that had been possible?
That we have entered an era of Jacksonian populism is really not a fucking good thing. You can read about it in The Economist, Foreign Affairs, and The Wall Street Journal, among others, and you should do. Bucking against globalism by returning to an outdated platform of isolationist white supremacy and an anti-education, anti-intellectual (because originally those were synonymous with "anti-Yankee") stance because you lost your job in the manufacturing sector to some kid in Vietnam or Indonesia or a robot is a stupid, stupid thing to do. Your job's not coming back and neither is coal, and you should have seen that coming. If you're too old or poor or stubborn to go back to vocational school and learn a new skill, then at the very least don't fucking vote against making that more affordable and feasible!
To come full-circle and digress a bit, the 1941 political cartoon by Dr. Seuss lampooning the phrase "America First" has made its rounds on social media as well. It's interesting and sad writing about this in retrospect.
Yeah, it's like that, Bernie. That's how it feels.
That Sunday we had a boozy brunch to hang out and catch up after our holidays abroad. Hannes and I were in Germany, of course; Rejon went home to Georgia; and NiQui was in beautiful snowy Yamanashi (she didn't go abroad like last year, when she went to Spain).
Naturally we also had a lot to talk about, since it was right after the Inauguration From Hell and everything. We all drank a lot and the brunch continued throughout the day and into the night: we (minus Hannes) ended up going to the cheap Indian place to have curry for dinner, since we were super hungry again like 8 hours later.
See that stuff on the table? NiQui brought us cute souvenir biscuits from Yamanashi, and I made her a birthday card and gave both her and Rejon gifts, some of which were for Christmas but that I brought from Germany afterward.
Someone's had a couple glasses already!
I made Southwestern-style jalapeño cream cheese omelettes, apple cinnamon oatmeal (that didn't turn out that great because I heaped too much of it in and we just have a tiny broiler not an oven urrrgh cooking here is hard), and a white wine grapefruit cooler, plus a wide variety of pastries I bought: orange croissants, crispy chocolate danishes, and four-cheese mini calzones. Oh yes, cooking for more than two people with so little space and such inadequate appliances is tricky, but I like doing these for a reason.
Other interesting things we talked about included ethnic and cultural minorities in the U.S., since we were talking about white supremacist populism and that American Nations book, which I wanted to read but didn't yet have at that point.
Rejon told us about Geechees, which we learned are the same as Gullah people, who live on islands off the coast of Georgia. If you're the kind of American 90's kid who gets that Michelle Obama meme, then you almost certainly remember the Nick Jr. show Gullah Gullah Island, which was sort of a cross between a very regionally specific Sesame Street and a simple family sitcom. It taught, in addition to universal values like friendship and honesty, examples of the type of creole they use, the designation of which is where their name as an ethnic minority comes from, and about their strong story-telling tradition.
I had always thought that show took place in the Bahamas, but as it turns out, those people speak an almost identical creole and are descendants of the same Gullah tribe brought to the lands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico as slaves.
Point is, things like this are too interesting and worthwhile to discount as inferior or whatever else; we need to learn about and appreciate them. The U.S. has pretty much always been a racist oligarchy run by the monied elite and monopolising corporations, but this is its last hurrah as such.
By 2040 Caucasians will no longer be the majority ethnicity. For years now the U.S. has been the second-largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, and by 2025, Hispanics (I know, very general catchall, but here comes a startling statistic) are expected to comprise one quarter of the population of the country.
This right here, this shitty wave of right-wing white populism being driven by the aging Boomers, it's a dying cry, the death throes of the imperialistic, Anglo, Eurocentric world that has dominated the planet for an arguable number of centuries beyond living memory.
It's the uncomfortable eve of a global demographics shift that cannot be halted or altered. In one hundred years, most of the people alive in the world will be African. The overwhelming majority of people in the world will be black or dark brown. The reptile mind of the white man who is insecure, selfish, exploitative, and so largely incapable of fundamental change is tingling with some faint knowing and the sense of this, and he is lashing out in response.
"But you're white too," you're thinking. "You're dad's British, too. You're like, really white."
I know. One of the main reasons I marched though, the difference is, I have no problem with people who aren't.