One of the first big bads I ever experienced was Nazis. We weren’t allowed to watch sex in tv and movies, but violence was allowed, and I saw plenty of WWII content. Then, in 4th grade, I overheard my mom tell my older sister about the antichrist before bed one night1. Suddenly, I was regularly having vivid dreams of antichrist Nazis storming our house where we hid in vain. This continued for years. In adolescence, these dreams morphed into kidnappers and sexual predators. Either way, I often had dreams where I knew I was in danger, attempted to hide somewhere that I normally found safe, and was inevitably found by the person causing that danger.
Yesterday on Instagram Live, Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez described the events of the January 6th insurrection as she experienced them. She was made aware of the danger to herself. She made decisions to help keep herself safe. She had a moment where she needed to hide and feared that Nazis had come to hurt/kill her.
It was literally the stuff of nightmares. My nightmares.
I feel really unsettled. There are a lot of general reasons, like the fact that our nation’s capitol seems extremely vulnerable to white supremacists, and that the breech to the building seems to have been allowed to happen. There’s the fact that Republicans have stayed their course of denying the legitimacy of the election and downplaying the seriousness of the danger to their colleagues.
I also feel personally agitated. This didn’t even happen to me, but hearing my childhood nightmare played out to a real person makes me queasy.
A lot of people are opposed to calling these predominantly white, male protestors Nazis. I won’t reshare any of the images, but there is ample documentation of the hoard wearing pro-Nazi, anti-Semitic paraphernalia. In addition to that, they are trading in fear. They are afraid of losing power to women, queer people, and racial minorities. They are afraid that what they and their ancestors have done for centuries will be done to them when they are out of power. And they want anyone who opposes their dogmatic, narrow understanding of who should be self-determining to be afraid also. The Nazis of WWII traded in fear, so much so that they haunted my childhood nightmares, 50 years after their reign ended.
The Neo Nazis of today are trading in fear.
And I am afraid.
I am afraid for the future of democracy here. I am afraid that more people will get hurt or lose their lives2. I am afraid that the slow corrosive chipping away at historical progress will lead us into the dark ages, while people fighting for new progress will fail, even amid occasional wins. I am afraid that Democrats won’t pass strong legislation, then lose control of Congress in 2022 and our chances of transformation will become nil. I am afraid, because I am a woman and there’s a long history of violence against women being ignored. I am afraid for my Black and brown friends and neighbors, because there is a long history of violence and systemic oppression against them being downplayed and ignored. I am afraid that our democracy works better for Nazis and crooks than it does for working people.
I want to say I am hopeful. There are things to be hopeful about. We have 2 years to reverse course, do some healing, and create meaningful limits on cravenness and corruption in our federal government. More people who think like me are running for office at every level and winning. Those are facts, but not how I feel.
We will not heal and move forward through executive order or through papering over the pain and fear. That’s not how it works. The people who tried to overthrow our democracy, including elected Members of Congress need consequences. They are a cancer, and we don’t negotiate with cancer. We cannot be a healthy democracy as long as they and their ilk hold office and are willing to deploy violence and the fear of violence to get their way.
I was helpless in my dreams, paralyzed with fear, fear that stayed with me even in waking hours. But that’s a lie. Awake, I can take action. Awake, I am in charge, not just a witness to my own fate. The demise of our democracy is not inevitable. We can be democracy together. We must be democracy together.
1 Note to parents: whatever scary things you believe in, whether antichrists or climate change, don’t tell your kids about them right before bed.
2 This fear is really just the reality since we are going on one year of a pandemic that was largely preventable. See also medical apartheid and environmental racism.