Place is the fabric of our lives; memory and identity are stitched through it.
I picked a theme for this week’s column before we picked a president. I’ve been reading a book Unruly Places: Lost Spaces, Secret Cities, and Other Inscrutable Geographies, about the disorientating places that force us to think about the neglected but fundamental role of place in our lives. The book by Alastair Bonnett has been my preferred reading for the past week and as I read the sections on lost spaces, hidden geographies, enclaves and breakaway nations, dead cities, ephemeral places, and spaces of exception, I started seeing connections to our current political climate and how our recent political battle was really a battle for place. And by place, I don’t just mean the actual geography and spaces we inhabit, but also the cartographical psycho-geography that place represents.
In the presidential contest of 2016, talk of walls and borders beat out themes of building bridges and unity. The electoral map told the story – a sea of red states bleeding through America’s heartland with the majority of blue states concentrated on the coasts. It is clear that we live in a nation divided, two different nations occupying the same place.
What I believe the campaign brought to the surface in all of its vitriolic and hateful rhetoric was the undercurrent of disenchantment and anger that half the country feels. They want a change from the usual politics. They want to return to a time when you don’t need advanced education or specialized skills to get a good paying job with benefits. They want a place where they don’t have to compete globally…a place of closed borders and unclimbable walls. In essence, an ephemeral place, a space that no longer exists.
Like half the nation and most of the world, I feel like I woke-up in a strange place. “When borders change, some unlucky communities end up on the wrong side of the wire and wake up to find they are foreigners in their own country,” the author notes. The place I fear our nation has become, or I guess has always been, had been previously hidden geographies nostalgic for a time and place where racism, sexism, and xenophobia were acceptable. I know eventually the surprise will dissipate, we will get over the shock, and we’ll organize against the bigotry and ignorance that has surfaced from these hidden spaces because the promise of this nation is that it is a place that belongs to all of us.