Politics and Pretend Paper Planes

This week, I found myself pausing before opening the Twitter app on my phone. Do I want to see more poll numbers? I asked myself. Do I need to read more headlines that make me angry and concerned? No. I don’t. But, as a journalist, an avid follower of the news, and someone who has a genuine interest in politics, it’s hard to look away from it all.

That doesn’t mean it’s easy to look at, though.

It goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyways: this election cycle has been crazy. It takes a toll. When you see that children have begun echoing Trump’s rhetoric. When you see that a black church was set on fire and vandalized with the words ‘Vote Trump’ in what appears to be a hate crime. When you see that the person who has said so many offensive things on Twitter—not counting his real-life statements—that the New York Times could fill two entire print pages with the statements is actually gaining in the polls.

Donald Trump didn’t create this hatred and negativity—he simply gave the existing movements of racism, sexism, xenophobia, you name it, a common point to rally behind. He took all of the isolated crusades of darkness in America and drew a web to connect them. Racist remark by racist remark, sexist comment by sexist comment, scandal by scandal, he united a dark movement of hatred and fear. Trying to avoid this movement on social media is like trying to stay dry without an umbrella when it’s raining. It’s impossible. And it’s not going to end with the election.

Sometimes, you need a break to remind yourself of the light. A break to feel hopeful about the future of humanity, and to remember that it is in fact possible to move forward. A few nights ago, I found this hope in the exact same place I so often lose it—Twitter.

I saw a Tweet about a website called Paper Planes. When you open the site, you’re given a (virtual) piece of paper to fold up like a paper airplane. After adding your location stamp, you use your phone to throw the plane into the world. Text on the screen tells you how many other planes are flying with yours—the plane I just sent off was in the virtual airspace with 1,027, 747 others—and then you are given a net to use to catch your next plane. I just unfolded a plane that had been to Israel and Warsaw, Poland. Then I added my location stamp, folded it up, and sent it away for someone else to discover.

The site is as simple as that: no usernames, no messages or texts. Just you, your phone, a virtual paper plane, and a million other people doing the exact same thing all over the world. You don’t know anything about the person who sent it—you have no way of knowing their political affiliations, or if they even care about the American election.

All you know is that they, like you, decided to take a few seconds out of their day to fold imaginary planes and send them across the world. In such a deeply negative period in politics, it’s refreshing to feel unity with people around the world from something as simple as a plane on a phone screen.

A website with a million paper planes can’t stop Trump (I wish it could, though). It can, however, serve as a powerful reminder that despite all of the things that make us all different, we can almost always find common ground. When we do this, we begin to see other people less as a frightening group to stay away from and instead as people who aren’t that different from us. Unfolding a plane and seeing it is filled with location stamps filled me with hope at the possibility of cooperation, acceptance, and positive change.

Lately, it’s easy to become absorbed in social media and news about politics and forget the things that make us human; the things that bind us together and allow us to rise above hatred and fear. Sometimes, being reminded of these things is as simple as throwing a pretend paper plane and remembering that there is always a very real possibility that things will get better (if we work to make this happen). As Albus Dumbledore said in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, “Happiness can be found even in the darkest of times—if only one remembers to turn on the lights.”

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4 thoughts on “Politics and Pretend Paper Planes

  1. I am reading this piece on November 9 – the “day after.” Thank you, Sherina, for turning on a light in a dark place for me today. This piece demonstrates the power of writing. You wrote this before the election results. I’m reading it afterwards, stunned and unbelieving. Your writing is more needed and has perhaps greater impact today than the day you wrote it. It’s made a difference for me. Thank you for using your skills as a thoughtful writer.

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