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Extrapolitics


There is a lot to cover from the past month. The elections in Turkey–five more years of Erdogan. The end of Title 42 in the US–replaced by even stricter asylum policy. The new Illegal Immigration Bill plowing toward passage in the UK–on track to upend asylum, anti-trafficking and safeguarding protections. The crisis in Sudan–thousands have fled and no cease-fire is holding. The battle over Bakhmut–Russian forces have occupied the Ukrainian city, which is now devastated. Migrant push-backs in Greece–finally there is evidence of what we already knew, that abandoning asylum-seekers at sea is common practice.


These developments are ongoing, against the backdrop of the bulldozer-like progression of Constitutional amendments in my country crushing decades of civil and environmental rights organizing. Headlines of mass shootings and distant catastrophes flicker in the foreground. Meanwhile presidential candidates in the US are gearing up for 2024. Because my background is in political science, and because I am often the only American in my social circles, people like to ask me, what will happen, you think? I do not yet know, but the pull of right-wing extremism is terrifying and popular and has led me to feel rather pessimistic.


I think about all this in the context of the work I’m doing lately. A few weeks ago I started working for an NGO in London called Xenia. I am consulting with them on strategic outreach, fundraising and scaling. It’s a women-run organization which is focused on creating community and improving English skills with migrant, refugee and asylum seeking women in the UK. What I love about this kind of work is how immediate it is, and how useful that feels. I attend our sessions and get to know the women who come, who volunteer and who organize. I also participate in events and forums to connect with other organizations in the migrant and refugee sector. It gives me hope that local community building, as stretched as it is, can be a place of power and advocacy. That there is something valuable in feeling we are at home in the place we live (especially when our ‘real homes’ are somewhere else), and that feeling is very much contingent on the presence of others around us who get it. Having this foundation can give the confidence to fight for better conditions, to get involved in politics, to take care of each other.


It brings me back to Sunday, last week. I went over to the park in my neighborhood, to join Govend, a Kurdish group which does dancing workshops in the summer. It was a beautiful warm afternoon (the kind we have been so anxious for in London) on a long holiday weekend. Everyone had spread out under the trees in a mosaic of picnic blankets and snacks and friends and family and acquaintances. At the same time, we kept checking Twitter as the Turkish election results accumulated during the afternoon. The music played and the circle of dancers expanded and contracted. The election results did not look good. The Kurdish voters, who in London are overwhelmingly progressive and had put their support behind the opposition candidate, despite the CHP’s long history of anti-Kurdish sentiment, were disappointed and not entirely surprised. We kept dancing.


All this is to say that I believe this is room for both. There is room for paying attention to what’s going on in the world around us, and it is important to understand the impact of those changes and to push for better conditions and fairer societies. There is also room for what Jeffrey Edward Green calls ‘extrapolitical solace’. In his book, The Shadow of Unfairness: A Plebeian Theory of Liberal Democracy he writes about how socioeconomic status will always determine our place in life, such that even in democratic systems we find our lives to be darkened by plutocracy, evinced in the distinction between the most advantaged classes and the experience of the many. Thus as second-class citizens in liberal democracies, it is highly unlikely we will ever have great influence on the world’s politics or economy. And so if at times we need to sign out of Twitter and just dance, because we have done our part and maybe it made a difference and maybe it did not, then that is also a suitable and laudable response. There too is power in it.


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