Two weeks in Trump’s America


Pier 39 – San Francisco

Dario, a native Brazilian, was the first person I met when I landed in the United States two weeks ago. “I have been learning English for 1 month and been living in America for 4 months” he told me, as he drove me from SFO airport, through Oakland and up to Berkeley, where I will be studying for the next 6 months. We exchanged some broken English and I learnt about his 15-year-old son who recently enrolled in High School.

The second friendly face I met was my house mate, Manisha, Indian born, she emigrated with her family here 20 years ago. After graduating a year early from college she is now working hard at a San Francisco start-up. I often hear her on the phone to her parents switching between English and her native language with ease.

Ali, a local coffee shop owner, welcomed me with a beaming smile and a handshake when I bought a coffee before my first class on the following Monday. “I don’t know what is happening with Mr Trump, it’s concerning” he said, as he asked me about my studies, Brexit and told me I was always welcome in his café.

In the introduction meetings for other visiting student researchers I met people from all over the globe, Iran, Turkey, Germany, the Philippines and the Netherlands – to name just a few. We conversed in speculation about what Trump will do in his presidency, but felt assured that as we had arrived before the inauguration, we had lucked out.

I watched the inauguration on my first Friday in the US, I winced at Trump’s hypocritical message and wondered how long it took his speech writer to plagiarise lines from Avatar, Bane and Bee Movie. But I still held onto some level of optimism that he wouldn’t be able to do anything that disastrous – at least not right away.

I had always planned on attending the San Francisco Women’s March on the Saturday. Not necessarily to join in with the chants and voice my grievances, but I could tell it was going to be historic and I wanted to be a part of it.

The 15-minute queue just to get out of the Bart station confirmed my suspicions and by 5.30pm I was marching down the road, in the pouring rain, with 100,000 women, men and children. The various signs demonstrated the diverse reasons why people were there; reproductive rights, LGBTQ rights, equal pay, immigrants’ rights.

Women's march San Francisco 21/1/2017

Women’s march San Francisco 21/1/2017

With over 2 million people marching in the US alone, I don’t think anyone went to sleep that night without feeling emboldened that there was a strong force against what Trump stood for and planned to initiate.

Yet, that feeling of optimism and unity took a knock the following Monday, when Trump signed an executive order to block federal funds being used to “provide or promote abortions”.

The five days following that first executive order have been tumultuous. Protests have taken place nearly every day, particularly in neighbouring Oakland, and everyone you speak to has no idea what’s coming next.

When the news broke on Friday that Trump’s latest executive order, banning all refugees for 120 days and immigrants from 7 Muslim majority countries for 90 days, had come into effect my mind immediately turned to the people I met when I first arrived.

Though they are all citizens, Trumps actions are surely enough to make any non-Anglo-Saxon feel unwelcome or uneasy.

America is a nation of immigrants and the often used term “melting pot” couldn’t be more accurate. According to Pew research, today 14% of Americans are foreign born, compared to 5% in 1965, in the last 50 years 59 million immigrants have arrived here and by 2055 the US will not have a single racial or ethnic majority.

When you’re in a country surrounded by people from all ethnicities, nationalities and creeds, it boggles the mind to see what Trump is doing. Despite his election win suggesting the majority of Americans would agree on his immigration stance, 57% say “having an increasing number of people of many different races, ethnic groups and nationalities makes the United States a better place to live”.

On Saturday I received an emergency email from UC Berkeley’s International Office. “For the near future, Berkeley International Office recommends minimizing international travel due to the changing nature of the new administration’s policies on visas and U.S. entry.” Signalling this could only be the beginning of what’s to come.

Over drinks with some fellow international students we discussed the email and what the next six months could have instore for us as visiting immigrants. One student from Turkey said, “At least he’s honest. At least we know what his game is.”

As a journalism student I can’t help but feel a pang of excitement for what I am witnessing and the opportunities before me. But as a human being, I am also scared and anxious for those who have already begun to feel the effects Trump’s Presidency.


Media Scaremongering Over Iran Needs to Stop

The latest sensationalised headline flashed across my timeline last week,  “Iran’s Supreme Leader thinks America created Isis” and so the never ending media battle over Iran’s image in the west wages on.

The relationship between Iran and the West has been one of long-standing contention. It started way before the 1979 Islamic Revolution which resulted in the famous American hostage crisis. The troubles between the two started with the 1953 CIA-MI6 coup of the democratically elected Iranian President Mossadeq. For what possible purpose would the freedom fighters of the West wish to depose a democratic president you ask? Obviously the most typically Western grievance, Mossadeq wished to nationalise Iran’s oil and share its wealth with the country, rather than it all being funnelled to the UK and US.

Over 50 years on, with Iran still the only theocracy in the world and under the ultimate control of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, Western relations have barely progressed. There was a possibility of easing of tensions in the aftermath of 9/11, when Iran showed compassion and sympathy for America with candlelit vigils in the streets of Tehran, promising to provide search and rescue missions for American pilots, and were key in the formation of the new Afghan government. Though these positive steps were soon completely obliterated when President Bush included them in his axis of evil State of the Union speech in 2002.

In recent months the media scaremongering over Iran’s nuclear programme is once again a topic of controversy. Talks in Geneva have become difficult and unmovable, but rightly so. The media tells us Iran is a stubborn aggressor who demands nuclear weapons. However in reality, under the 1968 Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which many Western states are party to, Iran is well within their right to enrich uranium to a certain level. They have stated time and again they do not wish to produce nuclear weapons, as it is against their Islamic code, they simply want to enrich uranium for civilian purposes.

It would be appropriate to point out here that under the NPT the countries which had existing nuclear arsenals at the time of signing were under instruction to disarm their weapons over time. Yet 40 years on and America still has 7,315 nuclear warheads with no sign of completely disarming any time soon. So this violation is ignored, yet Iran’s right to enrich uranium is viewed as a threat to the world and must be quashed.

A few weeks ago it was reported that a US plane landed in Iran carrying at least 100 American passengers. Immediately the Twittersphere erupted into pandemonium and news sources ignited with exaggeration over false reports about the plane being ‘forced to land’ by Iranian fighter jets. With comments such as “glad I’m not on that plane”, “let’s hope it doesn’t last for 444 days this time” and “American hostages” bandied around. In reality, there was just an issue with the flight plan and after providing the American passengers with food and drinks the issue was cleared up and the flight was on its way to Dubai.

Once again, the media feels the need to create this mass hysteria and unfounded controversy surrounding Iran. In fact the country can be viewed as a more rational actor than many other states the West is allied with and possibly even the West itself. The last official military engagement by Iran was the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, which was initiated by Saddam Hussein, who invaded Iran just after the Revolution. Since then, there have been countless American engagements, which could portray them as a more dangerous state than Iran. the obvious example being the invasion of Iraq in 2003 on the grounds of false information over the presence of WMDs. Nevertheless, time and again Iran is viewed as an irrational actor on the world stage.

I am in no way condoning a lot of the human rights violations Iran commits. The most recent example being the imprisonment and lashings of young Iranians in Tehran, who recorded themselves singing the Pharrel Williams song Happy in public. However, if America can be allies with Saudi Arabia who beheaded 19 people at the beginning of August for charges such as “sorcery”, does the possibility of making peace with Iran seem that impossible?

Iran is a relatively stable country in an ever changing and volatile region. The West would be wise to make peace and formal relations with such a state if they wish to ever reduce their presence in the Middle East, rather than continually scaremongering and hyping tensions over unnecessary and unfounded allegations.

By Lizzie Roberts

Please note, I chose this feature image [Credit: John] as it ironically came up first when I searched “Iran”. It is of old anti-American graffiti which was all over Tehran after the 1979 Revolution. A lot of it was taken down and painted over during Khatami’s Presidency.