by Kelsey Mc Lendon
In a crowded room at the Literaturhaus in Stuttgart, members of our Democrats Abroad Women’s Caucus gathered with about 180 people to listen to Rebecca Solnit perform readings of her newest book, a collection of essays titled, The Mother of All Questions, and answer questions about literature, activism, and the future of American politics.
Solnit’s book begins by challenging the notion that a woman’s capacity is limited solely to childbearing rather than creations of the mind. Recalling a talk she gave on Virginia Woolf, Solnit described how the line of questioning quickly turned to reasons for why Woolf didn’t procreate instead of focusing on what she did create—her exceptional written work. In fact, one of the things Woolf famously wrote about was dismantling expectations for women to be the “Angel in the House.” Nearly 90 years later, women continue fighting against this ideal, and Solnit’s book argues that we must refuse questions that attempt to define what it means to be a woman. Instead, Solnit says, we must reject simple answers and embrace the unknown.
When reflecting on the literary canon, Solnit remarked that a book without a single woman in it is about humanity, but a book with a woman protagonist is a “woman’s book.” Knowing that we learn to imagine the world from the literature we read, it’s no wonder that straight, white men in particular often cannot imagine themselves as anyone else—they’ve never had to do so. In this way, diverse stories have never been more important because they provide us with different lenses through which to view the world and invite questions about whose stories are being told. Thanks to literary giants of the past like Woolf, James Baldwin, Gabriel Garcia-Marquez, and so many others, we’ve seen an explosion of diverse literature in the past few decades that asks all readers to listen and reimagine the world.
In conjunction with examining whose stories are told, Solnit’s book also prompts readers to consider silence—specifically, who has been silenced historically and currently. Perhaps the loudest breaking of that silence recently has been the #MeToo movement. While it seems like #MeToo was a sudden wave of unleashed stories, unprecedented support for those stories, and demands of accountability, Solnit reminds us that #MeToo was a culmination of previous, long-term efforts of women (often women of color) speaking out. As demonstrated in the #MeToo movement, stories grant the previously silenced the ability to be heard and grant everyone else opportunities to broaden their perspectives.
Placing these notions of silence, stories, and listening in context with the larger political climate, Solnit urged the audience to remember that elections are the bedrock of democracy but daily actions are what preserve it. If we are to recover from the Trump presidency, it is imperative that we read about the past, listen to each other’s stories, and, as Rep. John Lewis has said, make “good trouble, necessary trouble.” November is still far off, and we must work every day to defend our basic rights and democratic values. Referencing an article in The Guardian, Solnit stated that historical studies suggest it only takes 3.5% of a country’s population (about 11 million people in the U.S.) to topple an unpopular regime through sustained nonviolent opposition.
Solnit announced that an upcoming campaign to impeach Trump will be starting soon.
The Women’s Caucus international book club, Books Abroad, will discuss The Mother of All Questions at our next meeting on Sunday, October 21. Please join in!
Below is a list of readings that Solnit referenced throughout the evening:
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
The writings of Subcomandante Marcos
“Peculiar Benefits” by Roxana Gay
Healing from Hate: How Young Men Get Into―and Out of―Violent Extremism by Michael Kimmel
The weather was warm, the mood was celebratory as hundreds gathered in the middle of Stuttgart to stand up for Science and listen to distinguished scientists from our region’s many Universities discuss the future of research. Speakers included rectors from both of Stuttgart’s Universities, as well as representatives from Karlsruhe Tech, and Heidelberg. Dr. Radhika Puttagunta, American scientist and Democrats Abroad Stuttgart chapter member, was there to share her perspective, and even gave a shout out to our valiant DA voter registration team, pointing out how important it is to vote in defense of science! Dr Puttagunta is the group leader in experimental paraplegiology and Neuroregeneration at the University of Heidelberg Clinic.
Here are her remarks:
“Standing here in Stuttgart, the city known for the invention of the automobile, we do not need to sell you on innovation or science. Germany leads the world in recycling and renewable energy because you take climate change seriously and want to preserve the environment. Here in Germany, I have worked at the University of Tuebingen where Noble prize winning developmental biologist Prof. Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard can be found alongside the location of the first isolation of DNA by Johann Friedrich Miescher in the castle laboratory. I now work at Germany’s oldest and most renowned university, the University of Heidelberg, where I believe that Germans understand the benefits of science and innovation, however we are not here only to support that claim but to also see where we can do better.
You may ask why did I myself decide to become a scientist. I can tell you for certain it was most definitely not for money or fame. I am a scientist because I am curious and want to know how the world works around me, how the human body functions, what happens when it no longer functions as intended and how I can address those problems and add to our knowledge base. Classically trained as a geneticist I now work on understanding how to get nerves to grow again after damage from a spinal cord injury. Not an easy task but incredibly fascinating. Such intense curiosity as my own is common in our young children. Think of that baby that keeps dropping things on the floor and wondering why it falls, rediscovering gravity over and over again, especially later on with their own bodies. Or at a playground, children discovering centripetal forces differ from the center of the merry-go-round to the outer edge where more force is needed to keep you from falling off. Or the enthusiasm of kids involved in planting seeds and realizing what it takes for that seed to germinate and grow. Children are just born curious, it is how they explore their world, and some cultures are better at cultivating this curiosity and turning out amazing scientists. Both my home, the United States, and my adopted home, Germany, do a wonderful job with young children, letting them be little explorers and scientists. However, as the amount of knowledge and information we have access to grows over time we seem to move away from learning how and why things work and move further toward extensive testing on this newly acquired information. By doing so the schools are pulling us away from pursuing that curiosity we are naturally born with. By the time I see students at the University the only question I get asked is usually if this is on the exam or part of their grade. We cannot raise the next generation of scientists if we do not instill in them this desire to know more, to discover, to question, to tinker, to build, to fail and to succeed. We need to let that curiosity spread through our schools, train our teachers to foster this desire and stop overloading with excessive testing. We as parents at home need to encourage our kids to dream big, be creative and imaginative, build, question and read everything they can get their hands on to answer those questions of why and how thus stimulating new ideas. At the University level, we as lecturers need to push our students to think, to question, to solve, to further our understanding, not to just recite and pass exams. Innovation comes from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, questioning our understanding or limits of knowledge and discovering the unknown. The key here is that culture and society is often driving discovery through their desires of how to educate the next generation. This means that you have a greater influence on science than you probably imagined. This also rings true for the type of science that is found to be worth funding. Your voice matters when you vote, you influence the future. For my fellow Americans out there, I urge you to go the booth we have set up here and register to vote this year. Your voice not only impacts the US, it has an impact on the world and there is no greater time than now to have your voice heard.
If we speak on a global scale, the current world population is made up of 50% women, however many scientific fields remain dominated by males. There is nothing wrong with that, but what is to say that is the best we can do? We are ignoring the input from half of our population! How do we know that together we would not do better? In fact we already know that diversity in science is essential, studies from various fields show that diverse groups are consistently more successful than groups of the “best” people who are virtually identical. There is no single test to find who is the best for problem solving but we do know that we work better in groups and science is not an independent sport, it is most definitely done best collaboratively. Published studies that have more collaborators tend to be more cited by other scientists, indicating they are of more value to the field. So if we want success in science and we want to push discovery and innovation forward than we must embrace diversity. It is not a matter of who is better but that when we put our collective heads together we are stronger than any one group alone. Here I am referring to diversity not only of gender but also ethnicity, sexual identity and orientation, immigration and family status. Each person’s experiences make up not only their life story but their unique intellectual and working perspective. Be this from experiencing motherhood, being an immigrant or dealing with homophobia. Once upon a time the US understood this and took in so many scientists from all walks of life from all over the world and those scientists went on to become the Noble prize-winning immigrants such as Einstein, Werner von Braun and Günter Blobel (signal peptides). Nearly 40% of Noble prizes awarded to the US are to immigrants. Why is that? Not only does the US encourage independence and creativity but by encouraging immigration they have let different perspectives and approaches come in to solve and innovate. So they have an environment that encourages the formation of diverse groups and these groups go on to do amazing things. Germany once lead the scientific world 150 to 100 years ago, until unfortunately they limited diversity but today Germany is embracing its role as a world leader and understands a diverse nation is a better nation, economically, scientifically and socially. Today’s choices will reflect in what Germany produces scientifically in the coming decades. I can say from personal experience at work where I am surrounded by people trained in fields very different from my own and with personal backgrounds equally different from mine that I am a better scientist because of a diverse environment and those around me also benefit from my unique perspective. “ R.P.
We need you to march with us!
The CSD Political Pride Parade is one of Stuttgart's biggest events of the year. And we are marching again!
Help us show support for our LGBTQ Community, now more than ever, and let all of Stuttgart know who we are and what Democrats believe!
We need as many members, family and friends of Democrats Abroad as possible to join us for the parade.
You can get creative with sign-making if you'd like, help us carry banners, flags and posters, or just help us pass out our flyers along the parade route.
Last year our chapter marched in the Pride Parade for the first time. Not only were we enthusiastically welcomed by the organizers and had tons of fun, but our chapter also saw its largest jump in new memberships following the march.
So, if our job is to reach out to Americans abroad, then this is a fantastic (and fun) place to start!
The details have been finalized by the amazingly efficient organization team and we now know exactly when and where we will meet:
Begin lining up at Böblingerstraße, between U-Bahn stop Erwin Schoettleplatz and Adlerstraße. Click here to see a map
Look for line up position numbers written in chalk on the sidewalk.
Our Position number is 85, so we will be towards the end of the parade line.
The parade starts to move. The route will be the same as last year. You can view the parade route here
For more information about the event, click here
If you are unable to participate in the entire parade event, just join us along the parade route when you can.
We’ve marched, we’ve phonebanked, we’ve registered and we are ready to pop our ballots into the mailbox and hope for that blue wave on November 6th.
But then what?
Join the Stuttgart Women’s caucus as we travel by train to Berlin for an all-day workshop that will help us re-focus, re-vitalize and re-empower us all for the fight ahead!
We would like to get a large group together to make it more fun and more economical for us all.
And we are especially hoping to get a men’s group together as well!
Step 1: RSVP for the actual event in Berlin by clicking here
Step 2: RSVP below or on our facebook page so that we can get an idea of numbers coming from our region, and make group reservations.
We can work out shared hotel rooms and possible homestays as well.
Step 3: when we know who’s coming we will work out details by pm/mail
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