‘They said it couldn’t happen here.’

I haven’t yet finished reading Sinclair Lewis’ 1935 novel It Can’t Happen Here. I’ve been trying to read it for months. I borrowed it from the library twice and still haven’t made it to the last page. I know how it ends, though, and it leaves more questions than answers.

Written between the world wars and at a time when Hitler’s true motives were unknown to most Americans, the novel describes the rise of a fascist American demagogue who turns the United States into a dictatorship. It’s an unsettling read. Until yesterday, it was speculative fiction. Now, it’s almost an instruction manual.

Sorry, Sinclair. Turns out it can happen here.

Today I attended a symposium on digital collections. I’d been really excited about going, and I wound up getting a lot out of the day, but this morning my heart just wasn’t in it. As I walked from the bus stop to the venue my thoughts were, naturally enough, given over to the news from America and what that would mean for me, an educated twenty-something white lady from the Antipodes.

In the last eight years, has American politics directly affected my day-to-day life? No. Has it affected the laws I live under and the way I view government? A little bit, but overall not much. Will the new administration affect my day-to-day life? Possibly, but there’s an ocean and layers of government between us, not all members of which will be receptive to his ideas. I’m fortunate to be so far away.

Am I in any position to affect or change anything in America? Concretely? Practically? No. No I am not.

But what can I do? I can act locally. I can ensure that what has come to pass abroad does not rear its ugly head in my city. I can support, with my time and/or money, causes and organisations that seek to better our society for all who live here. I can raise awareness of good people doing, saying and thinking good things. 

Most of all, I can use my skills as an archivist and a librarian to take information and information literacy to the masses. If people are gonna get all their information from Google and Facebook, let’s try to make that information reliable and accurate, and show people what they might be missing. If people are currently inclined to believe everything they hear, let’s gently educate them of the perils of that habit. If people are being ill-treated as a direct result of the election, let’s show them how they can record and preserve their experiences.

I can’t change the world, but I can record it.

This realisation has helped me process the news from abroad. At first, like most people, I was upset, anxious and terrified. Deep down I still am all those things, but I can’t be those forever, and my privilege enables me to focus on practical steps. The world needs people who can document these uncertain times. I can only hope to be one of those people. Without hope, we are truly finished.